100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #3: “Stressed Out” by twenty øne piløts

Song #3 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Stressed Out” by twenty øne piløts. It’s the highest-ranking of their six songs on this list (“Tear in My Heart” was #7, “Ride” #19, “Heathens” #61, “Jumpsuit” #67 and “Chlorine” #87), and is also now one of my favorite songs of all time. Released in November 2015 as the fourth single from their spectacular album Blurryface, the song became a massive hit, reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot Rock Songs, Mainstream Top 40, Adult Top 40 and Alternative charts, where it spent 12 weeks on top. It peaked at #2 on the Hot 100.

For those who’ve been living under a rock, twenty øne piløts is a duo from Columbus, Ohio consisting of the ridiculously talented vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun. Incorporating a wildly eclectic mix of genres – including hip hop, rap, alternative rock, pop, reggae, ska, psychedelia, electronica, new wave, folk and funk – and employing a vast array of instruments and synth sounds too numerous to mention, they create music that’s complex, innovative, exciting and totally original. With their unique sound, not to mention Joseph’s distinctively quirky vocals, they sound like no other act, and their music is immediately recognizable.

Blurryface is a loose concept album named after a fictional character called Blurryface, who Joseph said “represents all the things that I as an individual, but also everyone around, are insecure about”, namely, our doubts, fears and self-loathing. Joseph wore black paint on his hands and neck during their live shows and music videos for the album, almost apologizing: “Very dramatic, I know, but it helps me get into that character.”

“Stressed Out” was written by Joseph and produced by renowned musician and producer Mike Elizondo, who’s worked with such diverse artists as 50 Cent, Eminem, Carrie Underwood, Fiona Apple, Mastodon, and Ry Cooder, among others. Elizondo was a bit perplexed during the song’s production. In an interview with Billboard, he recalled: “At the time I heard the song, I had no idea what Blurryface was, [and I was] kind of scratching my head going, ‘Dude, uh, what’s Blurryface?’” Well, it’s a brilliant alternative rap-rock song about facing the burdens and responsibility of adulthood while longing for the simplicity and safety of one’s childhood, as well as touching on the insecurities of being a musician. I love the droning, deep bass-driven groove, spooky synths, discordant piano keys, Dun’s pounding drums, and Joseph’s monotone vocals that convey the angst and uncertainty expressed in the clever lyrics.

I wish I found some better sounds no one’s ever heard
I wish I had a better voice that sang some better words
I wish I found some chords in an order that is new
I wish I didn’t have to rhyme every time I sang

I was told when I get older all my fears would shrink
But now I’m insecure and I care what people think

My name’s ‘Blurryface’ and I care what you think
My name’s ‘Blurryface’ and I care what you think

Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out (oh)
Wish we could turn back time (oh), to the good old days (oh)
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out

We’re stressed out

Sometimes a certain smell will take me back to when I was young
How come I’m never able to identify where it’s coming from
I’d make a candle out of it if I ever found it
Try to sell it, never sell out of it, I’d probably only sell one

It’d be to my brother, ’cause we have the same nose
Same clothes homegrown a stone’s throw from a creek we used to roam
But it would remind us of when nothing really mattered
Out of student loans and tree-house homes we all would take the latter

My name’s ‘Blurryface’ and I care what you think
My name’s ‘Blurryface’ and I care what you think

Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out (oh)
Wish we could turn back time (oh), to the good old days (oh)
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out

We used to play pretend, give each other different names
We would build a rocket ship and then we’d fly it far away
Used to dream of outer space but now they’re laughing at our face
Saying, “Wake up, you need to make money.”
Yeah

We used to play pretend, give each other different names
We would build a rocket ship and then we’d fly it far away
Used to dream of outer space but now they’re laughing at our face
Saying, “Wake up, you need to make money.”
Yeah

Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out (oh)
Wish we could turn back time (oh), to the good old days (oh)
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out

Used to play pretend, used to play pretend, bunny
We used to play pretend, wake up, you need the money
Used to play pretend, used to play pretend, bunny
We used to play pretend, wake up, you need the money
We used to play pretend, give each other different names
We would build a rocket ship and then we’d fly it far away
Used to dream of outer space but now they’re laughing at our face
Saying, “Wake up, you need to make money.”
Yeah

The delightful video was directed by Mark Eshelman, and filmed primarily at drummer Josh Dun’s childhood home and the surrounding neighborhood in Columbus. It portrays Joseph and Dun as both children at play and young adults grappling with the onset of adulthood, their parents and siblings looking on in bemused disapproval. It’s been streamed more than 2.1 billion times.

2 thoughts on “100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #3: “Stressed Out” by twenty øne piløts

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