Struck by Russ Ramsey, Free for CAPC Members
Death’s party-crashing ways are detailed in a new book by Russ Ramsey, titled Struck: One Christian’s Reflections on Encountering Death.
“All these songs I’m hearing are so heartless.”
—Twenty One Pilots, “Lane Boy”
Of the adjectives available for describing the musicianship of Twenty One Pilots, “heartless” would be far from fitting. Composed of Ohio natives Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun, the duo’s latest album, Blurryface, has catapulted them to new levels of popularity. Since the album’s release in May of last year, they have accumulated numerous artist, album, and song of the year awards, secured their first single for a blockbuster film, and, as of July, surpassed one million sales in the United States—a remarkable achievement for such a young and eclectic musical career.
Blurryface reminds us to be slow to despair. By the grace of God there will be a better tomorrow.In many ways, their style defies categorization. Blurryface boasts a range of musical influences, including hip hop, piano rock, electronic synth, reggae, alternative rock, and the occasional ukulele. It shouldn’t work, but they have managed to find a cozy home in the hearts and minds of fans around the world. Certainly, some of their fame is rightly attributed to their wide-ranging style, but they have also proven that skillful wordplay speaks deeply to contemporary listeners.
Fan testimonials routinely tell of the solidarity they feel with Joseph’s lyrics. Throughout the album, he speaks candidly about vulnerable topics like anxiety, depression, shame, guilt, and suicide. In fact, the title “Blurryface” doubles for a fictional character Joseph invented to help himself confront his personal insecurities through song. Since the album’s release, he has greased his neck and hands with black paint for every music video and live show to represent visually his experiences with insecurity, which he has described as surfacing in feelings of suffocation and anxiety over what he creates with his hands.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Joseph said, “This character helped me understand my insecurities and why I have them and how I compensate for them. I give it a name and a seat at the table so I could really stare at it and analyze from that perspective.” From beginning to end, Blurryface cleverly addresses the human condition, seeming at times like eavesdropping on a therapy session.
In “Lane Boy,” Joseph laments the lack of depth in modern music only to confess his own temptation for cheap popularity (“I’m in constant confrontation with what I want and what is poppin’”). “Doubt” plays like a prayer any honest believer has offered, eloquently describing fears over his internal uncertainties and asking for help (“Don’t forget about me / Even when I doubt you / I’m no good without you”). “Stressed Out” yearns for days long gone, times absent of the burdens of adulthood and the pressures of fame (“I was told when I get older all my fears would shrink / But now I’m insecure and I care what people think”). The final track, “Goner,” draws to a close with Joseph repeatedly screaming, “I want to be known by you,” a line that in many ways encompasses the purpose of the album.
But it’s impossible to walk away from these songs feeling hopeless. For all of its raw authenticity, the most courageous aspect of Blurryface is its willingness to dream of a better tomorrow. And along with the band’s popularity, Joseph and Dun have invited their fans to pull up a chair at the same table, giving them the boldness to confront their own demons. Known for their Christian faith, the two allow their convictions to seep into the music they create all the while avoiding explicitly Christian statements as well as the unrealistic simplicity that often accompanies much of faith-based artistry today.
They are willing to lean into brokenness with a vision for hope, but not one bent on resolving their listeners’ pain between the bridge and final chorus. Instead, their music initiates a conversation, sharing vulnerably and asking for the help to move forward. Rather than indulging in honesty for honesty’s sake alone, Blurryface provides a helpful model for what it means to welcome community into personal pain with the hope of brighter days ahead. In this way, the Christian hope has an undeniable presence in their music.
Competing in a music scene that regularly veers towards hedonism, thoughtless thrills, and empty promises, Twenty One Pilots brings a refreshing level of authenticity to an otherwise cliché-heavy culture. Midway through the album, Joseph utters a line the duo has clearly taken to heart: “Don’t trust a perfect person and don’t trust a song that’s flawless.” Recognizing the temporality of their fame, they have sought to craft a message that meets listeners in their troubles rather than relying on polished radio play to keep them relevant. In many ways, their entire discography extends a simple comfort to their listeners: “You are not alone.”
There’s no questioning the artistic talents of both Joseph and Dun, but fans have gravitated towards the band’s work because they recognize it as a musical expression of their own experience. After all, who in life has not been dealt a blow by insecurity? Who is free of fear? Worry? Anxiety? In the end, each of us contends with our own “Blurryface” as we bear the burden of existence, some days feeling much heavier than others. And through it all, we have the choice to carry it alone or alongside one another, to remain silent or request help, to trust in self-reliance or boldly hope for a better future.
There are no silver bullets for the struggles of life. We are broken people in need of one another. Even more, we are broken people in need of something greater than ourselves to mend our condition. That’s what Blurryface communicates—our longing to be known by those around us and, more importantly, by our Maker. It’s an encouragement towards honesty and an invitation to patient hopefulness, both in the ways we bear our pain and seek its remedy.
Blurryface reminds us to be slow to despair. By the grace of God there will be a better tomorrow. In the meantime, he has given us the opportunity to serve each other by taking the time to listen and help carry the burdens of life. We do so trusting in his sufficiency for today and his promise that one day these sorrows will meet their end. The journey will have its trouble, but that is part of being human. By grace, one day we will see our Creator face to face. Until then, we can lean on those in our midst, reach for a hand, ask for a hug—we are not alone.
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