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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 "Chlorine" by Twenty One Pilots mean?

What does "Chlorine" by Twenty One Pilots mean?

“Chlorine” Lyrics Meaning

At this point, we officially have launched into the songs from Trench that are the most confusing to me, and that I feel the least well-equipped to be able to explain; but we are going to jump into one of the most confusing songs from this album “Chlorine”. You can watch the music video so you can maybe relate or get more of what we’re going to talk about today.

Ned saved us. We made the record because of Ned
— Tyler Joseph

I think that “Chlorine” shares some thematic similarities to “Tear in My Heart”; remember when he was basically talking about his wife Jenna, and how sometimes being in a relationship with her, and being married to her, it can be painful, and it’s like having a tear in his heart, but overall, it helps him to grow stronger, and it makes him feel alive, she helps him become a better person; and based on the song “Chlorine”, I think that Tyler Joseph has a very similar relationship to the songwriting process. A lot of people have theorised that this song is about suicide, but I don’t see it, it doesn’t carry out throughout the entire song. People say “Oh! Sipping on chlorine is a way to kill yourself”, and I’m sure it is, but I believe it’s just a metaphor, just in the same way that a tear in your heart apparently makes you stronger, happier, and more alive, but it’s also painful. Chlorine is poisonous, yes! But it is also a cleaning agent, and so Tyler’s insides have never been cleaner, then when he writes a song, and why I have said that it’s about songwriting is actually confirmed by Tyler in an interview this year, as he had this to say about Ned, the cute creature in the “Chlorine” music video,

“Yeah, Ned is a cool guy. He’s our friend who represents a lot of things. It’s hard to explain, Ned is our friend in real life, he was the director of this video. We’ve been friends and cooperating for a long time and it’s very cool to work with loved ones, the projects turn out to be very special, we really feel each other”

and then he continued to say,

“Ned really does represent a lot of things but specifically, I guess you would say he really represents this idea of creativity, trying to take care of it, and trying to please it, or appease it. It’s kind of that thing in you that tells you whether or not something is good and when you get to the stage we’re at you realize listening to that becomes more and more important, because a lot of people start talking, and trying to influence you and the decisions you can make creatively”

And now, let’s jump into the lyrics, Tyler Joseph starts the song with the chorus,

Chorus

Sippin' on straight chlorine
Let the vibe slide over me
This beat is a chemical,
beat is a chemical

“vibe” is a giveaway that it’s about songwriting, and maybe in some way the music itself, the beat is the chlorine here; and again, that is another music reference,

When I leave, don't save my seat
I'll be back when it's all complete
The moment is medical, moment is medical
Sippin' on straight chlorine

and that could be a reference to the hiatus, or just him leaving to go and write music in his basement. When he says that the moment is medical, I think he is kind of letting us know that he’s not using chlorine to kill himself, this “chlorine” is actually cleansing, and it is a healing process for him. Then we have verse one, where it is a little bit more confusing, and he says,

Verse One

Lovin' what I'm tastin', ooh
Venom on my tongue, dependent at times
Poisonous vibrations, ooh
Help my body run

Sometimes he needs songwriting to be able to cope, even though it can be difficult, as he’s dealing with a lot of venomous things; “poisonous vibrations” is the music, that helps his body to run, it helps to function, leading into the refrain where he says,

Refrain

I'm runnin' for my life
Runnin' for my life

and so there are these elements of life and death existentially, spiritually, mentally, and/or maybe emotionally; and what seems like poison on the surface, dealing with these issues, and bringing them out into the open, is actually a medical moment. Verse two gets even more confusing,

Verse Two

Fall out of formation, ooh
I plan my escape from walls they confined

so, are things going crazy? I don’t know. “Walls they confined” seems to be a reference to Dema, he’s trying to get out of the city, that’s the city where the bishops or Blurryface keeps him captive.

Rebel red carnation, ooh
Grows while I decay

It could be a reference to how the colour red is the colour of the bishops, and so as that colour grows stronger, Tyler grows less strong. And then as if verses one and two weren’t confusing enough, we have verse three,

Verse Three

Hide you in my coat pocket, where I kept my rebel red
I felt I was invincible, you wrapped around my head

 the best theory that April and I could come up with is that he maybe is talking about a pair of headphones, the rebel red could be a reference to his “Blurryface” red beanie, and he kept it in his pocket, or maybe the beanie is what’s around his head, not headphones, I really don’t know! We honestly don’t know for sure on this one, and I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments about this one. Whatever it is, it’s obviously something that’s sort of a security blanket, maybe it helps him keep connected to other people, or to healthiness, maybe it helps him to write music, or maybe it is music itself.

Now different lives I lead, my body lives on lead
The last two lines may read incorrect until said
The lead is terrible in flavour
But now you double as a paper maker

the different lives could be about him being famous now; and his body lives on lead, which is a type of poison, and again, he’s drawing strength from poisonous bad things, but now it doubles as a paper maker, which he finds ironic, that the thing that helps him to stay alive emotionally, spiritually, and mentally, the songwriting process, is now helping him to make money. He says,

I despise you sometimes, I love to hate the fight
And you in my life is like
Sippin’ on straight chlorine

So maybe he sometimes despises Blurryface, or the somewriting process, and he loves to hate that fight, and who wouldn’t hate that process?! The painful process on sipping on straight chlorine.

And then, obviously, as if the three verses weren’t confusing enough, we have the outro, where we get lines like,

Outro

I'm so sorry I forgot you
Let me catch you up to speed
I've been tested like the ends of
A weathered flag that's by the sea
Can you build my house with pieces?
I'm just a chemical

 Okay… Thanks Tyler, you’re making my job so easy…

“I’m so sorry I forgot you” could be about the skeleton clique, thought I don’t think that he’s forgotten them, so not sure there. “Being tested” probably refers to some of the existential emotional spiritual psychological and mental crisis, or just the problems that he had to face, or maybe he’s talking about the song writing process; it could also be directed to God, Tyler is a Christian, or at least comes from a Christian background, so maybe he is talking about him being sorry that he sometimes forget about God, and maybe that’s also why he’s asking him to help him “building his house with pieces” because Tyler feels that he’s just a chemical, or that he’s not as powerful and that sometimes he needs help from someone else. I am really not sure.

Honestly, with this outro, and some parts in the song, I think we are just going to wait for somebody, anybody, to be able to interview them and ask them “Hey, what’s going on Chlorine, Tyler?”; because he’s purposely mad this vague enough that it’s going to take some puzzling through.

You can watch the video on the song lyrics here,

And so, this was “Chlorine” by twenty one pilots, the fifth song in the record Trench, such a beautiful song, but it’s also confusing, but we love it. And while we’re on the topic of twenty one pilots, don't forget the “How to Write Lyrics Like Twenty One Pilots” Course!

https://how-to-write-lyrics-like-twenty-one-pilots.teachery.co/

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