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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 "Fake You Out" by Twenty One Pilots mean?

What does "Fake You Out" by Twenty One Pilots mean?

What does "Fake You Out" by Twenty One Pilots mean?

I became a Twenty One Pilots fan my first year of grad school when I was meeting up with some friends in a parking lot. Twenty-One-Pilots-Early-Adopter Heather had her car door open and was playing "Car Radio" pretty loudly. The song sounded weird, and I didn't think much of it, but I kept hearing it around, so I pulled it up on YouTube and eventually bought it or something (maybe used Spotify?).

Before long I was the biggest Twenty One Pilots fan...actually, never mind. I've met more enthusiastic members of the Skeleton Clique. Some of these people are crazy. And for good reason too. Twenty One Pilots is a phenomenal band.

But I was a big fan--that's the main point. These songs were deep. They meant something. They were super fun to listen to, and I loved/love the blend of styles. And they've impacted me heavily. (Thanks, Twenty-One-Pilots-Early-Adopter Heather!)

Well, based on the way CliffordStumme.com works, I have to explore only very recent songs, or no one will care enough to read them. But I held a contest on my Faceboook page the other day, and one of the prizes was picking a Twenty One Pilots song for me to explain.

So, thanks to Facebook-Contest-Winner Kevin (who you can find on his Tumblr and Instagram), let's discuss "Fake You Out."

The Meaning of the Lyrics

Before we discuss anything, watch the last two minutes of this video that FB-Contest-Winner Kevin sent me:

"Lyrically it just talk about what it talks about. It's hard for me to explain it. . . . It's really about just putting on a facade for people. You know I think about being on stage, trying to look cool. . . . I'm trying to look cool just so that people think that, like, I'm worth listening to or something. This song kind of touches on how we constantly have to, like, lie to people about who we really are. And it gets dangerous when you start lying to yourself. And so I like this song 'cause it's a moment of honesty for me."

Now, you may not fully understand how each stanza relates to what Joseph is saying here, but we do have the big picture perspective. The song is about pretending to be something you're not and being afraid that other people will find out. It's a very personal song, and it's worth dissecting, so let's get into the line-by-line.

Intro

In the intro, Tyler Joseph sings, "I want to drive away / In the night, headlights call my name." Later stanzas will make this clearer, but he essentially wants to escape a difficult situation and is drawn away by the promise of things being different elsewhere.

Chorus

[Edited from first edition thanks to some wonderful commenters:] The chorus seems to be addressed to God. In it, Tyler tells God that he'll "never be, be what you see inside / You say I'm not alone, but I am petrified." Even though he believes in God, he can't shake the feeling of being alone and feels as separated from others as he feels separated from "the closest star."

Stars are far away, but we still describe them by comparing them to other stars and thus say that some of them are "closer" than others. It's ironic to Tyler Joseph that people use a word like "close" to describe a star and wonders if God feels the irony too when He uses the same word to describe Himself in relation to Tyler. Whether God does or not, Tyler still says God "feel[s] twice as far" away as even the closest star.

He continues singing, "And I'll fall down / And I'll break down / and I'll fake you out / All I wanna." He feels alone, but he doesn't want anyone to know. He wants others to think that he's cool and has his life together, so he'll keep failing on his own but putting up a facade for others and (he hopes) God to see.

Interlude

[Also edited thanks to wonderful commenters.] Here's where Tyler Joseph gets incredibly honest and open with God and others. He admits that he's "so afraid / Of what you have to say," a sentiment that will be echoed later in "Stressed Out" where he sings, "My name's Blurryface / And I care what you think."

He continues by explaining that the reason he's so afraid right now in particular is that God isn't near him. Joseph has this moment to be "quiet now"--God feels distant right now--and "silence gives you space," so he finds it hard to feel close to God. The distance and the lack of "real feeling" contact with God tempts Tyler to think that he can "fake out" God and others into thinking that Tyler is cool and that he has his life together.

Verse 1

In the only verse in the oddly constructed "Fake You Out" (more on that in a minute), Joseph sings a quick message of encouragement--quick because it's just one stanza and quick because he raps fast in his unique style.

He sings, "It's the same game today as it always is," to explain that things don't change and that he's still struggling with things--his problems don't just go away. He continues, "I don't give these places fake my name explaining this." Obviously, the grammatical structure here lends itself to his rapping but not to clear understanding. Essentially, it seems that he's saying that he doesn't commit fully to letting everyone know who he is; he keeps up the facade in many of the places he goes.

He explains that "the wrists of my mind have the bleeding lines / That remind me of all the times / I have committed / Dirty dirty crimes that are perfectly form-fitted / To what I've done and what I'm doing." The bleeding lines refer to cutting, but Joseph's brand of cutting is different. He lacerates his own mind with memories of all of the bad things he's done, and he punishes himself mentally rather than physically. And the problem is that he hasn't stopped doing those things he hates yet. He's continuing to make these mistakes and to have to fight against them.

He describes his chaotic thought process as "brewing and losing and spewing infusing" to show that his mind is a mess. But he's not the only one. His claim is that "that's what all the kids are doing"--they all have this same struggle, and they're trying to figure things out too.

He elaborates by singing, "What kids are doing are killing themselves / They feel they have no control of their prisoner's cell." They want to feel free of their own minds and to be able to just be happy without having to war against their own minds.

Tyler explains he knows what they feel when he sings, "And if you're one of them, then you're one of me / And you would do almost anything just to feel free." He's thoroughly convinced that he's right when he sings, "Am I right? Of course I am / Convincing me otherwise would take all night."

Now up to this point, the song's been pretty hopeless and dark, but with the last two lines of this stanza, Joseph gives a small first step to a solution: "Before you walk away, there's one more thing I want to say / Our brains are sick, but that's okay." Having these thoughts is normal; it's part of life. And we are going to have these struggles, but others are having them too, and we have to just ride them out--"take our time on our ride" if you will.

Of course, this stanza seems like a departure from the song's original topic, but it all makes sense. You see, these struggles we're having on the inside--they're what we're trying to fake other out about. We don't want them to know that we have these struggles and that our "brains our sick." We want to look like we've got it all together. When Joseph sings, "[B]ut that's okay," he's saying we need to not lie to ourselves and we need to be careful about faking others out too.

Deeper thoughts on the meaning of "Fake You Out" Twenty One Pilots

First, I want to take a moment to compliment Twenty One Pilots on their unique song structure. So many songs out there follow a simple Verse 1-Pre-Chorus-Chorus-Verse 2-Pre-Chorus-Chorus-Bridge-Chorus model, and we do not have that here with "Fake You Out." There's only one verse, and the lines surrounding what could have been a very simple chorus are incredibly blurred. Check out the lyrics, and you'll see what I mean.

Second, do you realize how powerful these words are? And how much they speak to struggles that so many people are going through? I have these struggles too, and the fact that I can listen to such beautiful encouragement in "Fake You Out" means so much to me. Twenty One Pilots has put together a really good thing here, and I'm glad that it's open for so many of us to listen to and be encouraged by.

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