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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 "Polarize" by Twenty One Pilots mean?

What does "Polarize" by Twenty One Pilots mean?

"Polarize" Lyrics Meaning

My first strategy to discover "Polarize's" meaning was to find a source that explained polarization. A lot of people wear polarized sunglasses, and they're advertised as something special, but do any of us know what "polarize" actually means? Of course, then I realized that reading the lyrics first would have been more helpful. The lead singer, Tyler Joseph, defines the word in one of the verses, so I needn't have wasted the time. But my search was worth it, and the information learned will come in handy later as we explore the meaning of Twenty One Pilots' ninth song on Blurryface, "Polarize." 

"Polarize" reminds me of something that Panic! at the Disco might come up with if they went just a tad bit more pop. The song involves some yelling and screaming, but it also mellows out at points for Tyler to sing to his audience a little more vulnerably. The exact style is hard to pin down, but punk rock or alternative rock are close approximations. The song's lyrics are a plea for help to "polarize" and for help to be a better person.

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The Meaning of the Lyrics of "Polarize"

Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun, Twenty One Pilots’ two members, begin “Polarize” with the chorus. Tyler sings, “Help me polarize, help me polarize.” Polarization is a process that causes sunglasses to only accept lightwaves that are coming straight towards the glasses, reducing glare from other reflective surfaces. Wearers of polarized sunglasses are able to see exactly what they are looking at more clearly than usual.

Of course, polarization is also the process by which things are “polarized,” or separated into two distinct groups. (Think of the north and south poles or the two ends of a magnet.) Based on these two definitions, Tyler wants his life streamlined and sorted. As polarized sunglasses sort between the directions of light waves and a magnet has a north and a south end, Tyler wants himself to be clear and organized so that his decisions can be well made.

He continues singing, “[D]own / Those stairs is where I’ll be hiding all my problems.” Like a hoarder, Tyler has kept his problems an unsorted mess, and he wants his basement cleared of them. Apparently, he’s not the only one either: “My friends and I, we got a lot of problems.” Tyler feels what his audience feels.

The first verse is addressed to a mysterious “you” that could be either God or Tyler’s human audience, but is likely God. Tyler sings, “You know where I’m coming from / Though I am running to you.” Tyler’s running to this person--Proverbs 18:10 sounding similar--suggests that he is indeed talking to God. God knows that Tyler has problems, but Tyler wants to be sure to let God know that he is running to Him. To highlight his own confusion and bewilderment, Tyler shouts, “All our feelings tonight,” reminding God of his request for polarization.

In the pre-chorus, Tyler lists a few specific ways he’d like to improve his life: “I wanted to be a better brother, better son / Wanted to be a better adversary to the evil I have done.” He wishes he could have been better for his family and would have liked to have had the good in his life outweigh the evil. He wants desperately to be a good person.

But he must confess his failure: “I have none to show to the one I love.” He feels that he’s failed before God and perhaps even before the other humans that he loves. He sings, “But deny, deny, denial.” He’s seeking help now and must fight even himself.

To achieve success, he returns to the chorus, again begging for help in polarizing. He admits his problems and continues to ask for the assistance that he and his friends need.

Then for his audience, he defines polarization: “Polarize is taking your disguises / It’s separating ’em, splitting ’em up from wrong and right.” Polarizing is about being real and destroying facades. It’s about confessing and being honest, sorting out what’s good and what’s evil so that a person can know what’s true and what isn’t. Tyler continues, “It’s deciding where to die and deciding where to fight.” Once a person knows who he/she is, he/she can decide what battles to fight and what’s worth dying for.

One of Twenty One Pilots’ messages is that acceptance of the truth about one’s self will enable a person to know the truth of what must be done outside the self in the rest of the world.

In the bridge, Tyler sings, “We have problems,” accepting the truth about himself. He admits that “Domingo en fuego,” which is Spanish for “Sunday on fire.” Sunday is sacred, a day of rest, so when it’s being attacked, nothing else is safe, including Tyler’s “halo,” which he’s lost. A beautiful day and a facade of outward goodness are destroyed.

Tyler still wants to know where God is and doesn’t feel strong enough to find him. He sings, “You’ll have to come and find me,” and the rest of the song has a few variations of the chorus, contains a few repetitions of “We have problems,” and ends with “I wanted to be a better brother, better son,” highlighting Tyler’s ultimate desire to be a good person.

The Truth of the Self

Tyler asks his audience to access and admit who they are, to go “down / Those stairs” to open up their problems to themselves and to the world. He explains that once you polarize and get rid of disguises and figure out what’s wrong and right, you’ll be able to decide “where to die and . . . where to fight.”

But what’s so powerful about the truth of the self? Well, interestingly, Tyler’s not actually relying wholly on the truth of the self and “who a person is.” Knowing “who you are” is truly important, but he also says that a person’s self must be sorted “from right and wrong,” concepts that he seems to believe are absolute. Thus, he’s sorting out what’s good about him and what parts of him are “problems,” which he admits that he has.

Tyler wants to look at the truth of the self through the lens of absolute truth, so that he can make judgments about himself. Once he knows what’s right and wrong and has figured out himself-once he’s polarized-he’ll be ready to rise up and die for a cause that is “right” and “good.”

What do you think about “Polarize” by Twenty One Pilots? What about the truth of the self? What is truth and how do you find it? What would you die for? Are you ready to die for something? 

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