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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 "Morph" by Twenty One Pilots mean?

What does "Morph" by Twenty One Pilots mean?

“Morph” Lyrics Meaning

(The following blog post is a transcript created by Xalma of the below video.)

It is time to explain “Morph”, the third song on the album Trench by twenty one pilots, and I happen to think that it is probably the most intricate, and the most carefully crafted; every word means something; the symbolism is incredibly intricate. There's a lot to this song, and I would say that out of all the songs on Trench, “Morph” might be the one that shows the highest level of craftsmanship in the creation of the lyrics. So without further ado, let's jump into the first verse:

 

Verse One

Can't stop thinking about if and when I'd die
For now I see that "if" and "when" are truly different cries
For "if" is purely panic and "when" is solemn sorrow
And one invades today while the other spies tomorrow

 

This is a really interesting comparison in contrast here, which is something that Tyler Joseph is doing very well in this situation; he says “can't stop thinking about if and when I die”; so he is talking about “it” and about “when” in relation to death. The two statements here are “what if I die someday?” and then the other one is “when will I die?”; so within those two questions he says “for now I see that if and when are truly different cries, for if is purely panic”; when you ask yourself “what if I die?” it's easy to panic about that; and it's funny because we all know we're going to die, but if you say “if I die” it makes sense to say something like that, but it feels somehow like he says, it's panic, it's fear. Now he says “and when is solemn sorrow”; so yeah, you think to yourself “I am going die, it's just going to happen, I know it”. Then in the fourth line we have “and one invades today all the other spies tomorrow”; so one of them is like “yep I see myself dying one day in the future”, and that's the second one; and then there is the first one, “what if I die?”, and it kind of ruins your day thinking about something like that.

So then he jumps into the next half of this stanza, and there's a lot more intricate things, there are lots of very-difficult-to-explain things here, but April helped me out a lot, and a lot of you guys have been emailing me and tweeting at; so it's been very helpful to hear from you guys; but here is what we've got.

 

We're surrounded and we're hounded

 

and because we've just been talking about thoughts of death, it could mean a lot of different things, it could mean depression, it could mean suicidal thoughts, it could mean fear, panic, anger, betrayal, or basically any sort of negative feeling or emotion; and you take it a lot of different ways, depending on how Tyler intended it, then he says

 

There's no "above", or "under", or "around" it

 

we just cannot get away from this kind of stuff

 

For "above" is blind belief and "under" is sword to sleeve

 

and that seems to be a reference to maybe believing in a higher power to come and save you; and if you put a sword into a sheath it's kind of like you're giving up the fight, and you're stopping, so that could be a reference to suicide or just giving in to the temptations, and then he says

 

And "around" is scientific miracle,

 

which could be like “alright I don't want to die, so I'm just going to wait till they can freeze me like Walt Disney, and then they can resurrect me in a few years, and I will never have to die, I can just keep on living forever!”; but then he says

 

let's pick "above" and see
For if and when we go "above", the question still remains
Are we still in love and is it possible we feel the same?

 

he says “yeah, let's pick above, let's have this blind belief in a higher power to save us, and let’s see for if and when we go above, both if we die, and when we die; so when we're considering these questions of “if” and “when”, how are we are going to feel? You know, because he says “the question still remains, are we still in love and is it possible we feel the same”; I've seen a couple of different interpretations of this line, and my favourite was the idea that if you are believing in a higher power or like a loving God, you are actually wanting him to save you because you love him, or because you want to be with him, or are you just doing it out of fear, because you are afraid of the opposite of death.

Other than that I don't know exactly what that line. So, a quick review these are the three different ways of dealing with the problem of death, going above, going under, and going around; the going under is kind of like accepting it, the going around is trying to get past it, and the going above is asking for help from a higher supernatural power like God. Then he says:

 

And that's when going "under" starts to take my wonder
But until that time, I'll try to sing this

 

and when I first heard that line I thought he was saying it takes his sense of wonder, but now I think it means something like he starts wondering about it, it takes his wonder, his propensity to wonder about things, it takes it and makes it about that. What would going under look like? What would that mean? Giving up or surrendering to these things that we’re surrounded by and hounded by, what would that look like?

 

Chorus

If I keep moving, they won't know
I'll morph to someone else
What they throw at me's too slow
I'll morph to someone else
I'm just a ghost
I'll morph to someone else
Defense mechanism mode

 

I felt like a lot of people were really confused by this, or a lot of people had theories going in a lot of different directions, and so to kind of give the average of all of those different ideas, I’d say that he's saying “I'm going to adapt, I'm going to adjust to my surroundings, maybe I'll try to be somebody slightly better in some situations” or “I'll just try to go with what's easy in other situations, if I keep moving they won't know, I'm going to keep fighting”. It sounds like he's not really committing one way or the other, maybe he's just waiting until it's his time to have to make that decision, and he's just trying to keep moving before that decision hits him too hard; or maybe the bishops are coming after him, or it could be a reference to the Banditos.
And so, when he says that what they throw at him is too slow, and that he'll morph to someone else, it means that he can change his skin and become something else, before they make him have to answer that question, so he keeps avoiding the question, maybe he's a ghost, the defense mechanism mode, he is avoidant, it makes it difficult to catch him; and I think that the word “Morph” kinds of says it all.

Then we jump into verse two, and this is where it gets really interesting, the rap here is probably my favourite stanza from the whole album, just for the sounds sake and not necessary for the words, my favourite words will probably be something from “Neon Gravestones”.

 

Verse Two

He'll always try to stop me, that Nicholas Bourbaki
He's got no friends close but those who know him most know
He goes by Nico, he told me I'm a copy
When I'd hear him mock me that's almost stopped me

 

now Nicolas Bourbaki seems to be the name of a collective of mathematicians and scientists from the 1930s, their group invented the “Ø” which is a part of mathematical vocabulary, that twenty one pilots uses to stylise their name, so maybe there's a little bit of a history with thinking about this symbol and about these guys, and what they talk about; I've seen people point out how the group tried to prove God and the devil's existence mathematically, which has some obvious philosophical implications and things like that. Nicolas Bourbaki goes by Nico, like he said “those who know him most knows he goes by Nico”, so he's Blurryface, he's Tyler's Bishop, the one that oversees his sector of the city; and we don't really know how Nico’s different from the other bishops yet, but that's the one that Tyler has to deal with, and that's the one who's chasing him in the Trench music videos. Tyler says “he told me I’m a copy” which could mean a lot of things, it could mean that he's insecure that his music isn’t original, which we know is crap, because there's nothing like twenty one pilots as far as genre goes, but it could also mean that he's a copy of Nico, it could mean that he is like a younger version of him, and then Nico's trying to say “yeah, you're never going to be better than me, you're trying to be a good person, you're trying to stay away from bad thoughts, but you're just a copy of me, you're the copy of the worst side of you”; and I think it was actually April who helped me come up with that interpretation there, which I appreciate.

When he says “when I hear him mock me that almost stopped me”, it could be about writing music, it could be about fighting, and just living life, and for Tyler I think all three of those things kind of go together, so I feel like it kind of encompasses those.

 

Well we're surrounded and we're hounded
There's no above or a secret door
What are we here for?

 

the line about how there is no above is weird, I don't think he's saying that there's no God, because inside of  the album cover they thank God, literally and specifically, and I think they do that in almost all of their album covers if not all, and so that line is the line that really trips me up, I'm confused there, and I'd love to hear what you guys have to say about that, but I think basically he's saying like right now, at this moment in time, there's no above and there's no quick fix to this, or it feels like there's no above kind of a “Trees” moment.


If not to run straight through all our tormentors?
But until that time I'll try and sing this

 

I think he feels like he just has try to like beat it, and go through Nico, and to try to go through all of the people who doubt him more, the feelings that doubt him, and the things and the ideas that doubt him, and he's having to just deal with that as a human, and in a way that seems like that's life. So that big blockade that he feels like he’s having to deal with, he thinks that he just has to run through.

Now I agreed with just about everybody else when we started talking about the bridge, because there seems to be no rhyme, or reason, or method, or purpose, or meaning on God's green earth for what the bridge means, but we're going to give it a little bit of a shot,

Bridge

I'll morph to someone else
Lights they blink to me, transmitting things to me
Ones and zeroes, ergo this symphony
Anybody listening? Ones and zeroes
Count to infinity, ones and zeroes

 

The symphony seems to be a reference to the song and to the album as a whole; the ones and zeros could be him gathering information, and learning things; ones and zeros refers to digital technology, and so he could be talking about mixing and mastering the songs for this album, and creating them; and when he says anybody listening could be another reference to the fact that this is a song; “ones and zeros count to infinity”, so maybe he means that it takes a long time and sometimes it feels pointless.

Finally there's the outro where we have

 

Outro

Not done, not done, not done
Josh dun

 

which was a pretty cool moment, then he goes back to “I'll morph to someone else”, and so morphing is not necessarily a bad thing perhaps, he might just be saying that “I'm not done, I'm not giving up, I'm not going under”, and it seems like not done and morphing are just like what he said, just a defense mechanism mode, a way to keep on fighting this fight.

That was “Morph”, and like I said, it’s probably the most intricate song, and it is well-put together, and just like beautiful song, particularly in those verses, but also perhaps one of the most confusing, in fact it's my most confusing song from the entire album.

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