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My name's Clifford Stumme, and I explain the deeper meanings of popular songs. Let's have a conversation about what you think about the songs and go deeper together. Feel free to email me at clifford@popsongprofessor.com with questions or ideas!

What does "The Judge" by Twenty One Pilots mean?

What does "The Judge" by Twenty One Pilots mean?

Lyrics Meaning of "The Judge"

Since even Tyler Joseph doesn't know exactly what "The Judge" is about, explaining it may be more difficult than usual. He sings, "I don't know if this song / Is a surrender or a revel / I don't know if this one / Is about me or the devil." While that seems like something he should have sorted out by now, with a little help from the rest of the song, listeners will be able to forge their own way through what is actually a very beautiful seventh song on Twenty One Pilots' new album Blurryface.

The song is musically unique on Blurryface mostly because it has a light, airy feel AND A UKULELE. It's a mid-speed song and features a lot of na-na's and oh-oh's. "The Judge" sounds more like fun punk rock than anything else on Twenty One Pilots' album, but it also feels a little bit like something Jason Mraz would come up with if he died his hair cherry red and wore black jackets all the time. Whatever the song's exact nature, "The Judge" is a really good song with deep lyrics about faith and salvation.

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The Meaning of "The Judge"

The intro is one of the few times (maybe the only?) that Twenty One Pilots has used filler in a song. After intensity-increasing synth, Tyler repeats, "Na na na na, oh oh," three times. It serves as a light lead-in for a song that's not as surface-level serious-sounding as some fans probably have begun to expect from Blurryface.

The first verse, like most of the song, is about either Tyler or the devil (who could be represented by Tyler's alter-ego Blurryface). Tyler refers to this person as "the leader of the bad guys." This "leader" happens to be a singer, and his voice is "soft and soaked in pain," which is also a perfect description of Tyler's voice in other songs where he sings about his own insecurities and the fact that he has a Blurryface alter-ego who makes him feel alone and afraid.

Tyler "heard the echo" of this voice "from [Blurryface's] secret hideaway" and concludes that "[h]e must have forgot to close his door / As he cranked out those dismal chords." This seems to be a description of Tyler encountering the dark, depressive, and "insane" part of him that writes sad and needful songs like "Heavydirtysoul." Blurryface seems to be "the devil in him" who feeds doubt and insecurity into his life.

The pre-chorus has Tyler singing, "I found my way / Right time, wrong place / As I pled my case." Tyler is at a judgment seat or in a courtroom, but he's "on the wrong side of the law," and he's pleading his case. He doesn't want to be sentenced; he wants to be set free.

So, in the chorus, he shouts, "You're the judge, oh no / Set me free." Based on Tyler's faith (which shows up in other songs like "Taxi Cab"), this song is probably aimed at Jesus. Tyler knows his "soul's freezing," and when he says that "Hell's hot for good reason," he's acknowledging that he knows his "HeavyDirtySoul" belongs in Hell, but he's begging for mercy: "So, please, take me."

In the second verse, after a few more na-na's and oh-oh's, Tyler sings, "Three lights are lit / But the fourth one's out," which (thanks to some geniuses on Genius.com) is probably a reference to Tyler's distracted and intense mental state. He's getting tired and deteriorating. He sings, "I can tell cause it's a bit darker / Than the last night's bout." After fighting "the leader of the bad guys," he realizes that there's a "drought / Of light bulbs in this house," so he decides to "head out" and to go elsewhere.

So, he "head[s] [d]own a route [he] thinks is heading south / But [he's] not good with directions." Tyler tries to make sense of things, but he fails because he really doesn't know how to live life well on his own. Instead of arriving at the destination that he wants, he ends up "hid[ing] behind [his] mouth," making excuses for his "imperfections." Even when he goes before the judge, he has no good reasons for mercy-only excuses.

He's "a pro at imperfections" and he's "best friends with [his] doubt." The two things that he brings to his defense trial are acknowledgements of his failures and his unfaithfulness, which, in Christian theology, Christ requires for salvation (1 John 1:9). However, in the context of the song, song-character-Tyler seems to be fulfilling these requirements unknowingly, simply being the vulnerable person he usually is in his music.

In addition to being imperfect and doubtful, Tyler's "mind's out / And now I hear it clear and loud." Just like the lightbulb, his thoughts aren't working correctly, and now that he knows even the darker parts of himself, he exclaims, "Wow / I probably should've stayed inside my house." He realizes that he can't make this journey on his own and that giving up likely would have been wiser.

So, Tyler goes back to pleading his case before "The Judge," giving up on setting himself free of Blurryface. Between two sets of pre-choruses and choruses, Tyler sings a bridge that adds one more level of meaning to the song.

He sings, "I don't know if this song / Is a surrender or a revel," but it could actually be both. The upbeat rhythm and chord structure seem to be celebrating Tyler's giving up of his own strength, his surrendering, and his begging for grace. After that, he sings, "I don't know if this one / Is about me or the devil." Tyler doesn't "demonize" the devil in his song and instead seems to accept responsibility for what "the devil" (or Blurryface) does in his life. He recognizes that he's the one with issues and that he can't blame it all on someone else. So he's asking for mercy.

Ending with the lines, "You're the judge, oh no / Set me free," Twenty One Pilots' "The Judge" seems to be a testimony of Tyler Joseph's faith. It shows him acknowledging his problems, agreeing to responsibility, and asking for help from Jesus. Whatever listeners' religious/non-religious background, "The Judge" serves as a vulnerable exploration of salvation and an interesting take on Christian spirituality.

What'd you think of "The Judge" by Twenty One Pilots? Who do you think "the leader of the bad guys" is? And is the song about Tyler or the devil? What song would you like me to explain next?

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