Yes, 21 Pilots are Indeed “Stressed Out” –Song Analysis Part 2

So, here we go! Let’s finish this blog entry. Onward and upward!

A glance at the Wikipedia interpretation of 21 Pilots’ “Stressed Out” lyrics raises two questions:

  1. Why did someone take the time to analyze the lyrics of a pop song and post it on Wikipedia (of all places?)


  1. Why has the obvious message of the song been suppressed? Censorship via the Internet? No… Just another example of reducing complex ideas into sound bytes or clichés that are much easier for the masses to comprehend.

According to Wikipedia:

“The song focuses on nostalgia for childhood, the pressure of adulthood, and family relationships, and speaks from the point of view of ‘Blurryface,’ the album’s title character. The line, ‘My name’s Blurryface, and I care what you think’ is heard throughout the song, alluding to marketing the duo did for the album…”

Alrighty then.


Nostalgia for childhood? The pressure of adulthood? Family relationships?

I think there’s more to the song’s lyrics than that. Heck, I didn’t major in English in college for nothing! Nope, I did it all for the blogosphere…

Ehem… (Coughs knowingly…)

Honestly, the title of the song speaks for itself. What does it mean to be “stressed out?” Is being stressed out a good thing? Not really. A normal event? Not necessarily. Well, maybe nowadays being stressed out is the new normal for those of us who’ve reached “adulthood.” Being happy and healthy perhaps is abnormal in this era of working 2-3 jobs—one during the day, another at night, and the other over the weekend. Sleep? That’s for sissies… What are ya’? Some kind of weakling? Fuh-get-abahdt it!

According to the Random House Webster’s College Dictionary, “stressed out” means “afflicted with or incapacitated by stress.” One is “afflicted” with illness, not by good health. By the same dictionary, to “incapacitate” is “to deprive of ability, qualification, or strength; disable…” Yep, incapacitated means disabled, deprived. To be stressed out is to be rendered disabled, helpless by too much stress. We’re not talking about healthy stress (if there is such a thing.) When we talk about being “stressed out” we’re talking about being overextended, being harmed by too much stress. So to say that the lyrics allude to the “pressure of adulthood” is a bit of an understatement.

This suggests that the song deals with a lot more than nostalgia for childhood and adjusting to adult responsibilities. Nope, the song suggests something more sinister—a growing number of disenchanted adults. The fact that “Stressed Out” has been a number one hit is also telling. Lots of us can relate to the song’s lyrics. (In fact, I read recently that suicide has become one of the top causes of death by injury and is on the rise here in the US. That’s quite a serious matter, don’t you think?)

Now, let’s address “Blurryface.” A marketing idea, perhaps. But it closely resembles the term “bleary-eyed.” Something becomes blurry when a smudge or smear renders it indistinct, obscure or unclear. A blurry face would be a face that is hard to see. “Bleary” has a similar meaning to “blurry” but refers to eyes that are “blurred or dimmed, as from sleep or weariness.” To be bleary-eyed is to have “inflamed or teary eyes,” most likely due to fatigue or perhaps… stress? Since the face is larger than the eyes, being blurry-faced rather than just bleary-eyed suggests a greater feeling of fatigue that takes over the entire face. I’m not bleary-eyed. I’m blurry faced! It is the face of stress, of being over-worked and overridden with student loan and other debt.

Ha Ha! Taking this interpretation thing a bit too far, am I? I am, after all, a former English major, so possibly a bit bleary-eyed, blurry-faced and immersed in massive debt myself.

Okay, so how about the red, white, and blue imagery in the video? You know, the vocalist comes home to meet his brother, and his brother (perhaps not so coincidentally) is wearing a shirt with white stars over a dark background. Okay, on my computer screen it appears more black than blue, so maybe it’s not blue, but the imagery is still there. Hmm… Where have we seen white stars over a dark background before? Umm…  Yes, that’s right! In the American flag! And, of course, his hair is red. When the two cycle off together, the vocalist is still wearing his red hat, and red and white strips of ribbon (stripes?) hang from the bike handles. So what we see are red and white stripes and stars. Stars and stripes—evoking the American flag. The implication is that there is something about American culture that teaches us that our main goal in life should be to make money. Don’t sleep. Don’t dream. Don’t create. Just go to work and make money! Struggle! It’s the American way!

So, I would argue that there is a lot more to this song than Clifford Stumme or Wikipedia would allow us to believe. I’m not suggesting that Twenty-one Pilots intended any political message with this song. They are pop stars, right? How often do pop stars write songs that have political or otherwise intellectually stimulating tales to tell? (Sadly, this is no longer the sixties. Yes, I feel the Bern too, but I don’t feel the peace and love that we’ve heard so much about related to the sixties era.) But a message lies within these lyrics whether it was intentional or not. Sometimes we write songs, and a message comes through the words that surprises even the songwriters themselves.

American culture is focused on accumulating money and material things, racking up massive debt then working constantly in an effort to pay it off. And, guess what? That doesn’t make (most) people happy. Big surprise! Many of us would like to turn back time. We want the leisure time to dream and to be free once again. We don’t want to grow up—not because we’re afraid of responsibility but because we want to enjoy life, not suffer through it. We wake up in the morning, not because we want to but because we are ordered to: “Wake up! You need to make money!” We work for money—not because we enjoy our work or even the life it enables us to afford. We’d rather live in tree house homes—makeshift, tiny houses that offer us little materially, than be saddled with student loan debt that enslaves us for life.

There’s lots more I could say about this song, but I need to end it here. Lots of other ideas and opinions await their chance at written expression.


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