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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 "We Don't Believe What's on T.V." by Twenty One Pilots mean?

What does "We Don't Believe What's on T.V." by Twenty One Pilots mean?

"We Don't Believe What's on T.V." Song Lyrics Meaning

It's wonderful when a singer says exactly what you've been thinking, and I experienced that twice while listening to "We Don't Believe What's on T.V." Tyler Joseph has a real talent for being "in tune" with other members of his generation, and Twenty One Pilots' tenth song on Blurryface is a fun, ukulele driven example of that.

The song sounds part punk rock, part Ingrid Michaelson, and part "House of Gold" from Twenty One Pilots' Vessel. The song is fun, fast, and flippant (Tyler introduces the second verse with a "All right, second verse!") and claims exactly what the title says. "We Don't Believe What's on T.V." is entertaining and energetic and a good example of how diverse and energetic Twenty One Pilots really is.

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The Meaning of the Lyrics

Tyler begins the first verse with the song's title and follows up with the explanation "[b]ecause it's what we want to see / And what we want, we know we can't believe." T.V. is good at showing people what to want, like in commercials; however, Tyler and his crowd know that when something "seems too good to be true, it probably is."

When things they want are shown, they laugh and remember that they "have all learned to kill [their] dreams." They've grown up in a world where the things that they wanted to do or to be as kids are things many will never accomplish. Reality has hit them hard, so they are unwilling to believe in something good being promised.

But while T.V. is unreliable, Tyler wants to still trust people. He sings, "I need to know / That when I fail you'll still be here." Some hardcore fans think this could be about Josh Dun, the drummer, while others think it's about Tyler's fans; and others still think it's about Jenna Black, Tyler's wife.

Fans suspect Josh because of the later reference to "selling your hair." Josh's hair is currently a giant pink mohawk; thus, the line could refer to Twenty One Pilots using his hair to draw attention.

The line being directed at fans makes sense because Tyler later mentions singing "you pretty sounds," something he regularly does for fans. Based on different things he's said on social media, he seems to derive satisfaction from the pleasure his audience takes in his songs. After Blurryface leaked, he tweeted, "[D]o you like them?"

However, if the song is to a specific person/group, the best guess is probably Tyler's wife, Jenna Black/Joseph because of the large role she plays in "Tear in My Heart." Tyler's struggled emotionally, and his wife has challenged him to be a better person. In addition, Jenna Joseph does have good-looking hair, which would explain Tyler mentioning it in the chorus and pre-chorus.

In the pre-chorus, Tyler sings that if Jenna "stick[s] around" after he fails, he'll "sing you pretty sounds / And we'll make money selling your hair." Tyler won't care about his failures. He'll just write songs for Jenna (or possibly his audience-that's not completely ruled out) and they'll survive by selling her hair; he realizes that he doesn't need success-he just needs her. If the target of the song is the audience, "selling your hair" would simply be a reference to living off of whatever comes to hand.

In the chorus, Tyler sings, "I don't care what's in your hair / I just wanna know what's on your mind." He doesn't care how she decorates her hair or what she wears. He simply wants community with her. He "used to say I wanna die before I'm old / But because of you I might think twice." A lot of people fear living into old age and having to suffer weakness of mind or body. Tyler suspects that it might be worth it if he could be with Jenna.

For the second verse, he sings, "What if my dream does not happen?" Even though Tyler had "learned to kill [his] dreams," he appears to still have some; perhaps he's learned to not find them in what the media and culture show him. His dream, whatever it is, is far more personal, and he's still afraid of not attaining it.

He asks, if his "dream does not happen," how he would go about telling his friends. When he "wake[s] up from a dreamer's sleep," he doesn't "want to know who [he] would be." When reality hits and his dream falls apart, he's worried about who he'll become, but, as the next repetition of the chorus shows, he's decided that as long as Jenna is with him, he'll be okay: "I need to know / That when I fail you'll still be here." His remaining dream is to be with her.

T.V.'s Promises

Television does promise things that are too good to be true. It tries to make those things seem attainable for an "reasonable" price, but Tyler, and perhaps the rest of his generation, who have had a hard time getting jobs and affording such things, may be less likely to act on such commercials.

This same generation was told that college was the way to achieve success; now they have an average student loan debt of nearly $30,000. College's promises have failed and left many unemployed. If everyone commits to working harder and get a little lucky, this won't turn out too terribly for them, but a consumerism-oriented, commercial western culture and mindset can also lead to further debt and poverty, leaving people to live vicariously through television, books, movies, and even pornography. Through these venues, they can escape from the disappointments they suffer when they observe those who have excess money.

T.V. offers the perfect opportunity to do this, and in the case of Twenty One Pilots' "We Don't Believe What's on T.V.," Tyler and Josh seem to be lightly commenting that they won't be enslaved to a circle that promises people dreams they can't obtain.

They realize that dreams aren't always fulfilled and that many (if not all of) the dreams T.V. promises are false. Because vicarious living isn't actually fulfilling, Tyler and others are disillusioned with T.V. For now, Tyler seems to be seeking fulfillment in personal relationships with loved ones, but what others in our generation ultimately will do has yet to be seen.

What'd you think of "We Don't Believe What's on T.V."? Do you believe what's on T.V.? Is it healthy or dangerous to watch other people who are living "good" lives?

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