Special thanks to Twenty One Pilots Community member Dynoys for the featured image. Find more of their work here: https://derpibooru.org/profiles/Dyonys
Twenty One Pilots (Scaled and Icy formatting) has steadily been taking over the airwaves since Stressed Out launched Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun into the musical stratosphere. Picking the top 10 Twenty One Pilots songs from their discography, which includes the recently released Scaled and Icy, is not an easy task. The easy way out is to just list all of their songs. But I’m up for a challenge. This list was made using Self-Titled, Vessel, Blurryface, Trench, Scaled and Icy. I also included some of the one-off songs like Level of Concern and Heathens in the consideration. Regional At Best was excluded from the list as most of the songs were reworked for Vessel after the signing to Fueled by Ramen.
With all of that out of the way, there are a few things for new listeners of the band to understand. Tyler and Josh are Christian and this comes across in many of the songs, or not, depending on your interpretations. This is some of what makes Tyler’s writing so dynamic and interesting. On top of that, it makes it so that I am extremely comfortable jamming out throughout the house or in the car in front of my daughter, Chloe. There is not one song with any profanity, yet the songs still feel current and don’t suffer from that restriction. Most of the explanations here will be from my perspective and interpretations and why the songs mean something to me, but I’ll also explain a bit about what Tyler is likely trying to convey through the lyrics and music.
The list that follows is, like all of our lists, personal opinion. Twenty One Pilots have broken several records. As of 2019, they were the first band to have two consecutive albums fully certified gold. I won’t be using sales, streaming numbers, Billboard rankings, or any other statistics to back my list. I’m simply going to explain my reasoning behind what I feel are the 10 best songs, especially for new listeners, from the band. Keep in mind this is a non-lore (DEMA) list which we will cover at a later date. A final note. I listen to a playlist called tøp ordered. This is comprised of Self-Titled, Vessel, Blurryface, Trench, Scaled and Icy, with the stand-alone songs thrown in between albums. I honestly can’t say I dislike a single song or album, but, this is a list so I had to dig deep and not shy away from picking 10(ish).
Honorable Mention – Friend, Please
Okay, this is kind of a cheat to make the list 11. While Self-Titled is not my favorite album by a long shot, it is very good overall. I wanted to include a song from the album on this list, but I couldn’t cut the rest to make it fit. So after mulling over Addict with a Pen and Fall Away I decided to give the honorable slot to Friend, Please. While the song feels a bit like Muse it also shows a hint of what was to come in future albums from Joseph. This was before Dun joined the band and brought his energetic percussion to the rest of the tracks on the list and Self-Titled shows that Dun is more than just the guy in the back on drums. He makes a huge difference. So, Friend, Please grabs the 11th spot on our list as an honorable mention.
This is the song that took tøp from a cult favorite to a mainstream band. With massive success, the song found its way into a pop culture very quickly. It even showed up as a song in Fuser for mixes, which worked well not only for the game but for even wider exposure.
The song does a lot to convey the difficulties that come with being an adult today. Blurryface has a bit of lore behind it, but for those listening to the song on its own it can be read as another faceless person in the crowd; a number in the office. You aren’t special. You are just part of the masses and you are constantly stressed out about how you will make it through the day.
A key lyric that shows Joseph’s incredible command of language hits home for me as I am starting my non-writing career and facing down student loans.
“But it would remind us of when nothing really mattered, out of student loans and treehouse homes, we all would take the latter.”
It’s the use of “latter” and how he says it here that makes this line so memorable and clever. Stressed Out is a great song and extremely insightful.
Tear in My Heart is a fantastic song about love and has one of the greatest breaks in any song.
“You fell asleep in my car, I drove the whole time
But that’s okay, I’ll just avoid the holes so you sleep fine
I’m driving here I sit, cursing my government
For not using my taxes to fill holes with more cement”
When I first heard the song I laughed when Tyler sang “My taste in music is your face!” I couldn’t figure out the meaning so off to the internet I went. From genius.com I found this explanation and thought it sounded pretty dead-on:
“Songs found on the radio are quite accessible and generally popular. (They elaborate more on popularity in “Lane Boy.”) Meanwhile, Jenna (Tyler’s Wife) is not accessible or necessarily popular; others can’t enjoy her company as Tyler can.”
Since learning that, my wife and I often yell this at each other. The song is a great example of how dynamic Twenty One Pilots is as a duo. The song break gives a solid taste of how one song from the band can feel like multiple.
Shy Away was the first single off of the latest album Scaled and Icy and it is a significant tonal shift when compared to the songs from the preceding album, Trench. It has a bit of an 80’s vibe. For me, this is a song about stepping up and forcing yourself to do that of which you are afraid. The song also allows Joseph to highlight his vocal abilities and Dun keeps a solid and memorable beat (but not his most memorable, that comes soon).
Many fans were a little slow to fall for Shy Away as it was such a departure from the band’s previous sound on Trench. Trench is a much heavier, darker album in general, and Scaled and Icy is much more of a radio-friendly pop album. It was a big change, but as the Beatles before them, Twenty One Pilots is nothing if not experimental and unafraid. Shy Away is a fantastic song to follow the darker tone of Trench and stands on its own as a song that will be traveling the airwaves for years to come.
Level of Concern is a standalone song that was the first of the pandemic songs; the rest coming on Scaled and Icy. The song is clearly about that initial feeling of falling for someone and then wondering if that feeling continues for the long haul. There is a general fear in the song and while I rarely relate to this exact feeling, the song does similarly hit me when it comes to confidence in the decisions I make in my life. This site, for example, is a huge undertaking and has had some impact on my family.
Ultimately, going back to school, trying to get a site off the ground, and take care of the people that work hard here, all give me a level of concern that leaves me with some uncertainty. I don’t want to disappoint the people that have supported me and this song taps into that fear and lets me vocalize it. Music is what gets me through bad moods, bad days, and lifts me up, and lyrics are often as important as the beat. This falls perfectly between a good song to chill-jam to as well as one that makes me feel a little less alone in my fears.
Never Take It is an important song that is hidden in a very pop-heavy album. While it tells a different story when taken in the context of Twenty One Pilots’ DEMA-verse, it stands on its own as a song about the difficulties of having discussions about anything in our current environment. I have lost acquaintances by speaking about political or social issues that they disagreed with so vehemently that it ended all future discussions or conversations. The song talks about how “they” are trying to weaponize us, and there is something there. Those in power can write the narrative of how we view the world. Depending on where you get your information, you, I, other people, won’t listen to valid points that go against our worldview.
“Why cure disease of confusion when you’re the treatment facility?” can literally be taken as an attack on pharmaceutical or medical companies holding back cures to continue to push pills and procedures on us. And while I don’t buy into this completely, it is a question that is worth asking and one that makes you realize that maybe we are being over-medicated when we don’t need to be. It is much easier to numb us to the pain of living than to help us face and overcome that pain.
I read a review shortly after the album released and the reviewer was not a fan of the break where Tyler says
The summer I watched the tube, I saw enough
Taught myself to play guitar, tearing it up
And my advice on those two things that I picked up
You better educate yourself, but never too much
He felt that this was bragging in a song for no reason. Something along those lines. How I take this is if you spend your life consuming media you’ll never chase what you have inside of you as potential. It resonates with me as I recently finished my degree and immediately dove into learning about web design and coding, and a little drumming. Do I want to be an expert? Probably not, but the constant stream of new information has done a great deal in overcoming some of the depression or malaise I have felt over the last few years.
Holding on to You has a strange video. I was torn between this song and Ode to Sleep as I feel they were the first songs that solidified the schizophrenic-pop genre that tøp has defined. The song doesn’t hold the same lyrical importance for me as many of the other songs on this list, but it has one of my favorite sections of any song that tøp has created. Halfway through the song I just lose it and any hard surface starts getting slammed as I scream the lyrics;
“Lean with it, rock with it
When we gonna stop with it?
Lyrics that mean nothing, we were gifted with thought
Is it time to move our feet to an introspective beat?
It ain’t the speakers that bump hearts
It’s our hearts that make the beat”
And maybe that’s the whole point. Maybe I don’t have to get something specific and deep from every song I hear. I just need to feel the music sometimes and let it become part of me. Maybe that’s why I like the song so much, it allows me to just lose it to a song without thinking.
This comes after a very soft breakdown with a beautiful vocal from Joseph singing “Entertain my faith.” Then immediately, the above section hits. Minimal percussion backs an increasingly impassioned cry to lean with it, rock with it. This song can take me from a near-sleep state to being energized enough to run a marathon.
This is where I lose some readers as this is the only entry from Trench. Chlorine is an incredible song on its own, but let me explain why it is the only track from the fantastic album. Trench is not an album with songs that I listen to on their own. If I’m going into the Trench I’m putting on my Jumpsuit and I’m sticking with it until I Leave the City. Trench is a concept album that works best when consumed as a whole. Individual songs such as Smithereens, Neon Gravestones, and Nico and the Niners all were very close to hitting this list, but ultimately Chlorine just clenched the spot and other songs from the other albums felt better as stand-alone parts of a playlist.
Like Holding on to You, Chlorine does not hold a lot of lyrical meaning to me as it relates to my own life. Certain aspects click a little with moments in my history, but ultimately it is a song that I just enjoy on its own or as part of Trench. It is a fantastic song that showcases Twenty One Pilots’ musical talents.
Heavydirtysoul was so close to being my top pick for this list. This is the song that got me into tøp. As a huge fan of a wide variety of music, the raw, deceptively complicated drum beat from Dun and the ridiculous flow from Joseph quickly transitions from a heavy percussion-driven flow to Dun and Joseph completely flipping into a song that just pops off with a driving beat and incredible vocal hook. This goes back and forth throughout the song. And I can’t get enough. Of the almost 150m views on YouTube, I’ve likely been a good 100k alone. The switch in time midway through the song just adds more weight to make this a pure banger. It also inspired me to go get my own drum kit and start learning to play. I’m not much of a drummer yet, but if I can learn this one song I’ll feel I’ve accomplished something special.
Before I break this song down I need to make sure that those that are struggling with suicidal thoughts know how to seek help. And please, make sure you talk to someone before making that choice… there is always hope.
I’ve attached the best live version of Trees as the second video. Trees is the essential tøp jam. Interpret it how you want. It speaks to different people in different ways. It is very clear who the song is written for, but the brilliance is the lyrics are left open for the listener to choose who that person is. Any time someone tells me that tøp is that band that did the song about being stressed out I point out that Dun and Joseph are more than that and present this song or these two videos as evidence. The few times I’ve had to do this have created converts. This is the song I use to bring people into the Twenty One Pilots fold and I feel that any list that doesn’t put Trees at the top is missing something about the band as a whole. Opinions vary, but Trees stands far and away as the song that Joseph wanted to sing with the crowd. And he does. The song took on a very different feeling in the Scaled and Icy streaming concert when he sang it alone; it seemed as if he struggled to sing it without the fans. And it is something every fan should look forward to doing as they start heading out on tour again.
There it is. Our top 10 Twenty One Pilots songs. This is a completely subjective list. Disagree all you want and drop it in the comments. I’d love to hear your favorites. There isn’t a bad tøp song in my opinion. There are just good, great, and amazing songs and I wanted to list some of the best here. Keep things civil. We are all fans of something and we don’t have to agree on subjective opinions, we can even argue about them, but ultimately, they are opinions.
I’ll be back in the future to break down the DEMA lore that I hinted at here in another article and put together a list of songs that are key to understanding the story that Twenty One Pilots is building in their universe. Be good to each other and feel free to share this list with anyone you think will enjoy it. No ads, no login requirements, no tricks (we even went without affiliate links for this one). Just share it, especially with people that may need to hear some of these songs, and bring the joys that come from incredible music to others.