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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 "Neon Gravestones" by Twenty One Pilots mean?

What does "Neon Gravestones" by Twenty One Pilots mean?

“Neon Gravestones” Lyrics Meaning

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

This song is probably the most unwieldy, difficult to talk about, and controversial song on Trench; some things are going to be said in this song, or even in this review or explanation that I think could very very easily be taken the wrong way, so I want to caution you guys that things could get really deep in this song explanation; we're going to handle it respectfully, and it's going to be good, but let's go ahead and explain.

Today we are talking about “Neon Gravestones” from Trench by twenty one pilots, the seventh song on the album. “Neon Gravestones” is super contentious, there's a lot of potential for hurt feelings or misunderstandings here, and that being said, I think that Tyler has probably said it in the song exactly the way that he meant it best to be said; and so it's difficult for me as a song explainer to come in and try to explain it in a simpler way, because it could be very easy for me to miss something, or missay something; so I'm going to try to handle this with a lot of respect, but if you get offended at all, you need to go and read the lyrics for yourself, you need to read what Tyler said himself. If I poorly explain it, or don't fully explain the gravity or the intensity of what he's saying, don't let me misshape your appreciation of this song; and by appreciation I don’t necessarily mean that you appreciate it like “wow this is a great song”, I just mean how you intake it, how you understand it.

So that being said, let's consider the context of what twenty one pilots is briefly, twenty one pilots has talked a lot about suicide, depression, suicidal ideation, and suicidal thoughts in their songs before; guns for hands is the one that sticks out the most, where he basically says I know what you feel when you think about suicide at night, and you tell your parents that it will never happen again, and he says instead of thinking about those thoughts, just think about the music, get lost in the concert with me for a moment; he provides an alternative; and so that's kind of a lot of what Tyler Joseph has talked about with suicide in the past, and in this song, he's basically saying “all right we've kind of gotten to a certain point, and other things have gone wrong, and we need to fix those”. So in the first few lines he sets the stage,

 

Verse One

What's my problem?
Well, I want you to follow me down to the bottom
Underneath the insane asylum
Keep your wits about you while you got 'em
'Cause your wits are first to go while you're problem-solvin'

 

he's basically saying this is going to get scary crazy, and it's going to be difficult,

 

And my problem?
We glorify those even more when they...

 

and he just trails off, and doesn't say anything, but it's implied especially later on that he is talking about when they killed themselves; but he continues,

 

My opinion, our culture can treat a loss like it's a win
And right before we turn on them
We give 'em the highest of praise
And hang their banner from the ceiling

 

now here he's talking about glorifying celebrities’ suicide; and I don't know particularly which ones he's thinking of, I'm sure the context there is just going to mean a lot to your appreciation of the song, maybe the celebrity suicide that you are thinking of will colour how you'll appreciate this song; and it would be great to know which ones Tyler in particular was inspired by to write about this. The two that stick out the most in my mind are Robin Williams and Chester Bennington; but he's saying that these suicides are,

 

Communicating, further engraving
An earlier grave is an optional way, no

 

his concern is that this celebration whenever a suicide happens is communicating to people that suicide is an acceptable choice, it's an optional way, but he firmly responds with that last word in that verse “no”, to contradict that message, and in the chorus we hear,

 

Chorus

Neon gravestones try to call (Neon gravestones try to call)
Neon gravestones try to call for my bones (Neon gravestones try to call)
Call (For my bones)
Call, call, call (Call, call, call)
Call (Call)
Call (Call)

 

and neon gravestones seem to be a reference to vialism, the religion of the bishops, it seems something that popped up in the lore and the hiatus, and he has talked in another song “Nico and The Niners” about how the neon lights unlike fire, don't actually burn that hot, they're just bright, shiny, and flashy; and the neon light seems to be a reference to fame, trying to call for his bones, wanting him to commit suicide as well, because he knows he would get more famous as a result. He says in verse two,

 

Verse Two

What's my problem?
Don't get it twisted
It's with the people we praise who may have assisted

 

so is his problem with people who have glorified those who've committed suicide? or is his problem with those who have committed suicide? It's unclear to me which he is probably referring to, but in either case, whichever one he's referring to, he's saying that they have made that suicide look like an acceptable option; he then talks about those neon lights,

 

I could use the streams and extra conversations
I could give up, and boost up my reputation
I could go out with a bang
They would know my name
They would host and post a celebration

 

he's talking about how when celebrities commit suicide, people celebrate those celebrities even more; but then he comes down hard as he says,

 

My opinion will not be lenient
My opinion, it's real convenient
Our words are loud, but now I'm talking action
We don't get enough love?
Well, they get a fraction

 

and the implication here could be that we shouldn't be waiting until after people are gone to truly love them, like their death should not be what sparks our love for them, but their life and our time with them should be; then he says,

 

They say, "How could he go if he's got everything?
I'll mourn for a kid, but won't cry for a king"

 

which is something that people might ask a lot, like “why does this super famous rich person commit suicide? They’ve got everything they ever wanted”; and Tyler responds “all mourn for a kid but won't cry for a king”, where the king could be a reference to a celebrity, but Tyler doesn't offer further explanation than that in this verse.

And in the first bridge he gives a very interesting request, he says,

Bridge One

Promise me this (Call, call)
If I lose to myself
You won't mourn a day
And you'll move onto someone else
Promise me this
If I lose to myself
You won't mourn a day
And you'll move onto someone else
(Ooh, call, ooh, call)

 

he's obviously talking to his fanbase, or the people who would celebrate him, and he's saying that he doesn't want them to dwell on somebody who's dead, he wants them to move onto somebody who is alive; then after that we hear the chorus again,

 

Chorus

Neon gravestones try to call
(Neon gravestones try to call)
Neon gravestones try to call for my bones
(Neon gravestones try to call)
Neon gravestones try to call
(Neon gravestones try to call)
Neon gravestones try to call for my bones
(Neon gravestones try to call for my bones)

 

then we hear in the second bridge,

 

Bridge Two

'Cause they won't get them
No, they won't get them
They won't get them
But they won't get them

 

and that's him saying “I'm not going to commit suicide for such a reason, and I'm not going to commit suicide for any reason, I am going to be successful in staying alive”; and then we get to verse three, which is probably the most intense verse or stanza in this song, he starts out saying,

 

Verse Three

Don't get me wrong, the rise in awareness
Is beating a stigma that no longer scares us

 

here he is probably talking about the stigmas around telling people that you have depression, because it's probably gotten easier for people to say “hey I do have depression, and I am struggling with suicidal thoughts”,

 

But for sake of discussion, in spirit of fairness
Could we give this some room for a new point of view?

 

so he wants to bring up another perspective on this conversation; and he challenges people who are listening, he asks them,

 

And could it be true that some could be tempted
To use this mistake as a form of aggression?
A form of succession?
A form of a weapon?
Thinking "I'll teach them"

 

and there's a couple of different ways you could look at that last line, but I think that he's saying that people might be tempted to commit suicide as a way to maybe boost what people think of them, maybe people will start to feel bad for them, something like a “13 Reasons Why” sort of way, or maybe they just want the people to start to care about them a lot more than they cared about them when they were alive. This is one of those really iffy lines, where I feel like it could go a couple of different ways, so that's my best theory there, but I'd love to hear what you guys think about that particular line; but he continues,

 

Well, I'm refusing the lesson
It won't resonate in our minds
I'm not disrespecting what was left behind
Just pleading that it does not get glorified

 

again I think the easiest way to explain and understand this is that he keeps saying that culture, situations, or people want to keep throwing death or suicide at us, as something to glorify, and he keeps saying “no I'm not going to disrespect that, but we need to talk about what is alive right now, we need to be glorifying life”; and he emphasizes that really heavily in these last few lines,

 

Maybe we swap out what it is that we hold so high
Find your grandparents or someone of age
Pay some respects for the path that they paved
To life, they were dedicated
Now, that should be celebrated

 

and I think we can all agree that however old you are, however old I am, or anyone else's, we've gone through some difficult things; we can think to times that we've cried, times that we've struggled, times that we felt like life just didn't make sense; and if you take however long you’ve lived, and you divide that into 60 or 80, and you figure maybe you have to go through other difficult things in life as well; life can be a difficult thing, but that doesn't make it any less worth it; but when we look at people who have gone through what we've gone through multiple times over, those people are dedicated to living, and Tyler is telling us that they and their lives should be celebrated.

“Neon Gravestones” is obviously a very relevant, detailed, and intricate song to try to work our way through, there's a lot that are going on in this song; and so I think we have to be respectful with our opinions as we talk about it. I hope that I haven't said anything that has hurt anyone in my discussion of this topic; I know that Tyler very carefully chose his words that he would be able to speak his truth in the most powerful, but considerate way, that he always does; and so I would just ask that you consider what's being said here, look at the lyrics for yourself again, make up your own mind about this song, and think about what is being said, discuss it with people.

So this was “Neon Gravestones” from Trench by twenty one pilots, such a heavy song, but it had to be as it tackles such a subject; the thoughts and ideas in the song are thoughts and ideas that are worth considering, even if you find that you disagree in some way, you still need to consider what's being said here, because it is interesting, important, and dare I say it could even be life-changing.

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