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I'm Clifford Stumme, and I use literary analysis and research to explain the deeper meanings of pop songs. Feel free to leave a comment or to email me at clifford@popsongprofessor.com with questions or ideas!

What does "Lane Boy" by Twenty One Pilots mean?

What does "Lane Boy" by Twenty One Pilots mean?

"Lane Boy" Lyrics Meaning

Apparently, now it's time for Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun of Twenty-One Pilots to take on the entire music industry. In "Lane Boy," the two attempt to explain a musical style that seems to change with every Blurryface single that they release. The songs are intense and interesting, and this one, musically especially, is supercharged, a good match for the aggressive lyrics. The song describes the band's break from the direction of the music industry as well as a commitment to an entrepreneurship that doesn't focus on money.

As you can hear, "Lane Boy" is unique among Twenty-One Pilots songs. The drums are still intense and, at times, a driving, reggae-style off-beat continues to come out strong. But otherwise, the BPM is faster than most of their songs, the vocal effects are fairly new, and the lyrics are some of the most pointed and aggressive they've written. The music in "Lane Boy" is unique, and so is the message.

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The Meaning of the Lyrics of "Lane Boy"

"Lane Boy" is a rebuttal of the idea that any band should stay in it's "lane." Tyler Joseph will have none of it and uses this song as a platform to proclaim that he and Josh will not be defined by their earlier musical style.

He begins by singing about his opposition: "They say, "Stay in your lane, boy, lane, boy." The whole song pivots around this idea of someone telling Tyler to stay in his lane, to keep writing the music that defines him and that he's chiseled a niche out in. Many listeners were disappointed by early Blurryface releases because the singles didn't seem to be typical Twenty-One Pilots material, so the "[t]hey" could refer to anyone who complains about the band's new musical innovations.

Tyler responds to the above command aggressively: "But we go where we want to." He will continue to defy expectations and write music that he likes, even if his preferences change. Those people "think this thing is a highway, highway"; his "haters" believes that writing music is either something that goes in one direction or that has a specific destination, which could be money, fame, or success, an idea that Tyler doesn't agree with.

Tyler finishes the chorus by asking, "But will they be alive tomorrow?" This could refer to the suddenness with which perfectly crafted pop songs rise and fall from listeners' favor or how different styles come and go. Either way, Tyler seems to be asking whether trying to please those who may not care or who may change their own standards the next day is worth it.

In the first verse, Tyler explores so much so quickly that it's difficult to summarize accurately, but his quick rapping touches on several things including artistic integrity, perfection, and personal struggles. While "[t]hey [still] think this thing is a highway" and that Tyler should try to copy the songs he's been writing, Tyler retorts that "[i]f it was our way / We'd have a tempo change every other time change." Combining tempo and time changes is not only complicated but also experimental and unique. Suggesting such a thing is equivalent to him saying, "We compromise a little, and you wouldn't believe how different we'd be if we could."

Tyler explains that though he "wasn't raised in the hood," he knows "a thing or two about pain and darkness." Those experiences led him to write songs, and without music, he doesn't "know how [he] would've fought this."

However, the pop music industry isn't nearly as personal as Tyler's music, and he knows it. He claims that the songs playing on the radio "are so heartless." They're perfect and highly fine-tuned so that musically and lyrically there's nothing wrong with them, but Tyler doesn't think they're helpful. He sings, "Don't trust a perfect person, and don't trust a song that's flawless." Tyler believes that the industry is only replicating its own successes, giving people only the entertainment that they want over and over; he doesn't believe music should be like that and wants it to be more personal.

By saying, "[h]onest," he admits that some of the songs on Blurryface "feel common." Whether "common" means ordinary and boring or that the song conforms to the industry's standards and aren't avant-garde, he doesn't make clear. But both interpretations fit with his main argument, but in the next line, he says that he's "in constant confrontation with what [he wants] and what is poppin,'" suggesting that "common" is actually more likely to refer to "popular."

His final two lines in the first verse are another accusation of the industry. He sings that "[i]n the industry it seems to me that singles on the radio are currency." Incredibly catchy songs released as singles are where artists make their money, but Tyler's "creativity is only free when [he's] playing shows." He wants to be with his audience and connect with people personally. Neither relationships nor concerts ever go perfectly, so these two lines highlight Tyler's preference of vulnerability and relationship with people over trying to be perfect.

After Tyler asks whether they'll "be alive tomorrow" in the second chorus, he apologizes: "I'm sorry if that question I asked last / Scared you a bit like a hazmat in a gas mask." Popular artists' earnings come from singles on the radio that stay on the Billboard Hot 100 for weeks at a time. Tyler reminding listeners that even popular songs can be forgotten could be quite a frightening thing for some singers.

Tyler then sings, "If you ask Zack / He's my brother, he likes when I rap fast." Tyler's rapping is a unique style of his own, something that listener's really do love. Listeners trying to pressure him to do it more often in his songs is easy to imagine, but Tyler is ready for them: "let's backtrack, back to this / Who would you live and die for on that list?" The list he mentions is probably something like the Billboard Hot 100 (which is full of people who compromise artistic integrity so as to give people what they want), and the point he's making is that though the songs are written and performed perfectly, no one really knows or likes the artists personally. They're "perfect" and their songs are "flawless," but they don't feel human or trustworthy to Tyler.

To finish the second verse, Tyler sings an ode to his own loved ones. He claims that "there's another list that exists." He says, "Forget sanity, forget salary, forget vanity, my morality / If you get in between someone I love and me / You're gonna feel the heat of my calvary." Whether it means compromising money, success, ego, or his own conscience, his natural tendency is to protect those he loves over valuing all of those other things. He wants people to think about those they love, rather than those who simply make "flawless" songs.

The rest of the song is a repetition of the ideas in the chorus, except for one repetition of an idea from the first verse: "All these songs I'm hearing are so heartless / Don't trust a perfect person and don't trust a song that's flawless." These two lines summarize Tyler's central idea. Why should he worry about making the type of music that everyone wants to hear? He's far more interested in writing songs that are vulnerable and honest and true.

What'd you think about "Lane Boy"? Is Tyler right? Is the pop music industry really heartless? And is his music better?

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