Twenty-One Pilots: My Musical Homecoming

As yellow petals rain down through flashing lights and wild applause, eight words renew the audience’s exhilarated screams: “We are Twenty-One Pilots, and so are you.” These words probably don’t mean anything to most people, but for me, they mean that I’m right where I’m supposed to be—that even though the long-anticipated concert is over, the duo’s music will always represent a homecoming, no matter how far I’ve traveled.

Wide, bright eyes and glaring grins fill our faces as we let the yellow-clad crowds push us through the exits. Already we’re reliving our favorite songs, swiping through the pictures of the moments we’d been lucky enough to catch. Already we want to go back, to experience it all again. The pounding beat of their opening song meets us as we start the drive back to school. We share theories about the lyrics on their newest album Trench, and I catch myself already thinking about how I’ll remember this moment later. In a week. In a month. In a year.

Whenever I return to Twenty-One Pilots, after not having listened to them for a while, I inevitably flashback to three years ago. Their album Blurryface played on an endless loop in my car, interrupted only by runs of their first album, Vessel. It was my senior year of high school, and everything was changing: friends, relationships, our future plans. But this music linked us together—some people I would have never otherwise talked to—and for the first time in high school, I felt like I had a group of people I belonged with. A tight feeling expanded in my chest as we sailed in the wake of my car’s headlights, screaming along with lead singer Tyler Joseph. We argued about what the songs meant, sitting in the parking lot after school, Josh’s drum solos bumping from inside the car. We took road trips to two of their concerts, losing our voices before we even made it to the show.

On move-in day at the University of Iowa, I wore the Twenty-One Pilots t-shirt I’d bought at their first concert I went to, probably in some hope of catching another fan’s eye and making a connection. I got a few compliments, but in the following weeks it felt like the more times I answered: “Twenty-One Pilots” to questions like “What music do you listen to,” and “What’s your favorite band,” people only gave me a smirk and shook their heads.

I started to worry that I was stuck in high school, that I wasn’t moving on like everyone else. What music was I supposed to like? What was the best music for making friends? “You know, like Indie and stuff,” became my vague answer to people’s questions about my music taste. I even tried listening to rap more, so that I would know the songs at parties. I stopped listening to Twenty-One Pilots for a while, stopped wearing my t-shirt, left the poster rolled up at the back of my closet when I moved from my dorm to an apartment. On the long drives home for breaks though, I would put in their CDs again, and feel that familiar tightness in my chest.

When I heard this year that the band was going to release their third album Trench after a two-year hiatus, I couldn’t help but get excited. This music had been with me during the biggest years of my life so far—the transition from high school to college—and I couldn’t ignore it. I started playing their music on repeat again, and when the anticipated release date finally arrived, I wasn’t disappointed.

Their music had grown and changed with me. The chaotic sonic mashup of loud lyrics and beating drums—which I’d loved so much in the first two albums—had mellowed. Tyler’s screams still echoed in a few of the new songs, bringing back that familiar sense of nostalgia. Yet these new lyrics seemed more understated and laden with meaning. Each word was purposeful, and I felt like I was following a storyline, connecting each song to the next. The familiarity in their music meant I was coming home, but the new lyrics also marked a different time in my life, one separate from my world three years ago.

By the end of the concert, my throat is raw, my limbs exhausted, and I’ll admit it, a few tears prick at the corners of my eyes. Besides the exhilaration at seeing Twenty-One Pilots in concert—this band whose words I’ve listened to countless times through my car speakers—I take away the feeling that I don’t have to be self-conscious about listening to them. Most of those people who smirked when I told them what my favorite band was aren’t in my life anymore. They came and went, but this music has stayed with me and still makes my heart beat faster even though I’ve heard it a thousand times. Standing in a crowd of 17,000 people, I realize that if there’s one thing this band has taught me, it’s that I’m never alone. My screams melt into the rest of the audience’s as Tyler and Josh join together to take a bow. Tyler’s words send another final wave of applause around the venue: “We are Twenty-One Pilots, and so are you.”

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