INSIDE OUT: Heathens… Heroes… and Hunks. Fans carry unlikely duo to the TØP

twenty one pilots at WaMu Theater. (Photo by Sunny Martini)
For TWENTY ØNE PILØTS , the road from Ohio to the American Music Awards was long, but on Nov 20, 2016, their fanbase, called The Skeleton Clique, carried their heroes and delivered them to the doorstep of the AMAs in LA where they won two awards, Favorite Pop/Rock Duo and Favorite Artist – Alternative Rock.

On Sunday, February 12th, the 59th Grammy Awards will be telecast globally, and Twenty One Pilots were nominated by their peers for five Grammys. You can be sure that The Clique will be majorly boosting the show ratings  and that the duo will walk away with a few awards.

Grammy Nominated Categories:

  • Record Of The YearStressed Out
  • Best Pop Duo /Group Performance – Stressed Out
  • Best Rock PerformanceHeathens
  • Best Rock Song – Heathens
  • Best Song Written for Visual Media – Heathens

No one was more surprised by their success than Lead Singer Tyler Joseph and Drummer Josh Dun themselves. Instead of a pretentious, political, or forced attempt at a humorous acceptance speech, the duo gave heartfelt credit to their fans for putting them there. Joseph: “We’re not really used to this type of stuff. There’s a lot of people we want to thank not just for this award but for everything that has happened to us this past year. Just in case this is the last award we ever win, we want to thank one particular group. We know a lot of artists thank their fans but we really want to cut through the noise and say to our fans, you guys changed our lives. I don’t know why you weren’t invited, but the next best thing is you sent us in your place and we’re honored to represent you here in this weird thing we’re doing tonight.” If you follow Twenty One Pilots, they have always given credit to the fans and on this night under an international spotlight, they shared their success once more with their beloved Clique.  In their second acceptance speech for Alternative Artist of The Year, they credited their success to live music performance. Joseph: “We want to give this one out to all the bands who are trying to make it, slugging it out in their home towns, touring, setting up their own gear (cheers erupted) and to all the people who go to live shows, even the small shows, live music is still alive and that means a lot to us.” Their humility is genuine and one of the keys to their enormous success.

The Blurryface album catapulted this small-town Ohio duo from anonymity and into world stardom, resulting in record breaking global show attendance, record sales, #1 hits, and fan devotion not seen since The Beatles.  The duo didn’t set out with the intent to become saviors to today’s troubled youth, but Joseph’s candidness about his struggles with depression resonated globally with youth. Fans developed The Skeleton Clique, where all are welcome and social status and labels don’t exist. Instead, fans found acceptance, love, and a family of friends who share in an insane love of TØP. Fans line up hours and even the night before a show, share food, fan art, sing, and witness to each other as to how TØP’s music influenced or saved their lives. It’s common to read youth posts about how TØP saved their lives, and the word heroes is dropped frequently. The adoration is also returned by Joseph and Dun, who have a strong connection with their fans. It’s not something a record label could ever fabricate, nor can it be duplicated. Musically, Joseph has a way of mixing dark lyrics with a spoonful of sugar, which helps the medicine go down as he pens dark to happy tunes. The fans knows every word and Joseph gives them plenty of opportunity to fill the room with their voice. The Joseph & Dun bro-mance is deep, combined with their Midwest nice-guy boyish charm, engaging fan videos, and music that touches the soul of our youth. This has landed 2 of their singles at the same time on the Billboard Hot 100, where only two Rock acts have achieved that status, Elvis and The Beatles. What is “it” that draws youth to them like a moth to a flame?

Meet 18 yr old, Sierra Tester from Lake Tapps, WA, who is also an up-and-coming singer/songwriter under the name of Sierra Lauren. She credits the influence of TØP for helping her through some personally rough times and being able to pen them into relatable songs she hopes will resonate with others who might be experiencing something similar.

SMI: What is it that makes teens connect with TØP so deeply?

ST:  For me, Twenty One Pilots is so much more than just a band. I feel like teens can connect with them so easily and deeply because in their appearances; on stage, in interviews, etc, they’re goofy and so real, it’s a nice break from the typical celebrity that is so consumed with their work and fame that they don’t pay attention to the fans. On social media especially, Tyler and Josh post in a way that is inclusive. They let you know that they’re listening, let you know that you are important and that you matter. Tyler and Josh go the extra mile in making sure their fans know they are important. That is the whole aim of their music, to help The Clique realize that they need to stay alive. Teens can connect with them so deeply because Tyler and Josh have gone through things that people are usually scared to talk about (like depression, anxiety), and their music speaks about those things loud and clear. Tyler once said that “kids will come out of the dark to see if there are truly people just like them”, and I think that sums up The Clique really well. Twenty One Pilots has given teens a chance to realize that they’re not alone, and their music has given people hope.

SMI:  I’ve twice witnessed Joseph check-in with the pit to see how they’re doing. He lets them know that everyone takes care of one another in the pit and if anyone feels in danger, or is threatened or hurt, to raise their hand and get his attention and he’ll stop the show and get security in there. At a show in Seattle, a fan needed help and Joseph asked the pit to split down the middle to let security in. I also watched a video where he stopped a show when a male fan got too boisterous in the pit and roughed up a female fan. He had him thrown out. Which is an example of why I and parents admire them. And btw, you’ll see lots of parents rocking out at the shows.

SMI: Sierra, how many songs do you know all the words to?

ST:  I found Twenty One Pilots about 3 years ago, on Pinterest, strangely enough. Someone was posting inspirational quotes one after the other. For a month, I pinned these quotes not realizing they were TØP lyrics, and then when I figured it out and started listening to their music, I was hooked. Like Tyler said at the Seattle show, they never know how to describe their music, like what genre it falls in. I’ve never liked Rap or Techno Electronic music, and I’ve never heard ukulele in popular music, but somehow, they combine it together with lyrics that have a very important message, and now I find it hard to listen to anything else. There are very few songs that I do not know all the lyrics to. Like “Kitchen Sink,” a bonus track off of Vessel, that rap is killer, I have yet to master it. The lyrics are so meaningful, that you want to learn all of them, because the best part of any  TØP concert is singing along with Tyler and thousands of other people to lyrics you know and love. Especially when it’s a wicked fast rap and you NAIL it!

SMI:  Name your favorite TØP song, video, and why.

ST:  My favorite TØP song… That’s a hard one. I’ve literally tried to answer this question for the past 3 years and I can’t.  I’ll say “Message Man from BLURRYFACE, “Migrane” from VESSEL, “Addict With a Pen” from Self-Titled, and “Forest” from REGIONAL AT BEST. I’m so sorry but it’s like picking a favorite child, you can’t do it! Those songs are my favorite because I personally can connect with the lyrics, and I feel like even if no one can pick a favorite, everyone has their Twenty One Pilots song and it speaks volumes as to who they are, what they’re going through. My favorite video is HEATHENS. When that video came out I watched it 12 times without stopping because I wanted to catch every detail, and the song itself is amazing. The Heathens video really shows the connection between Josh and Tyler. Near the end when Josh disappears and Tyler is surrounded by the guards, he just looks so empty and depressed, and it shows how much Tyler needs Josh, which is important, because a lot of bands don’t have that friendship. It’s a unique connection, which is also one of the main reasons why teens can connect with them so easily.

SMI:  Did you prefer the more stripped down BLURRYFACE tour which focused on simpler musical arrangements or the new Emotional Roadshow tour full of visuals, electronica, and more technical music arrangements? It was obvious they had more money to spend on the second tour.

ST:  I liked the original BLURRYFACE tour, but I loved the Emotional Roadshow more. I think it really captured the energy that the fans feel when they listen to the music, and to have that come alive in a concert setting was beyond awesome.

SMI:  The duo have been called heroes and hunks. It’s prom and you need a date. Josh or Tyler?

ST:  Josh hands down. Tyler’s married. But if Tyler was single I would still choose Josh. (No offense Tyler!) Josh is just a teddy bear, and he likes cats so that pretty much seals the deal for me. He’s just… He’s Josh Dun! Who wouldn’t go to prom with him? Heck, Tyler would go to prom with him! 

SMI:  What was your favorite moment of the Emotional Roadshow? Hamster ball, magic disappearing trick, the 3-band sing-a-along?

ST:  My favorite part of the show was at very end, where Josh and Tyler stand on the platforms held up by The Clique and play the drums at the end of “Trees.” The confetti flies everywhere, the smoke erupts from the stage, the entire crowd screams “HEY” at the same time, and everyone cries when Tyler says “We’re Twenty One Pilots and so are you.”

SMI:  Your favorite TØP Lyric?  Mine is: “Wish we could turn back time, to the good ole days, when our Momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out.” I also identify with: “Used to dream of outer space and now they’re laughing at our face saying, “Wake up you need to make money-Yo” I can identify with the desire to step back into my Ohio childhood and no responsibilities.

ST:  This is way harder than picking a favorite song. Oh boy. My favorite lyric would have to be  “If it wasn’t for this music I don’t know how I would’ve fought this” from Lane Boy, because Twenty One Pilots music has helped me get through some tough times in my life, and I know it has helped countless others do the same. One more thing I’d like to add. Usually when I listen to a new artist, it’s a phase of 3-4 months where I listen to mostly that artist’s music, then I get tired of it and move on to a different artist. With Twenty One Pilots, I’ve listened for three years and I’m not in the least bit bored of their music. I love Josh and Tyler, everything they’ve done for so many people and everything they stand for.”

Thanks Sierra. For all the naysayers who criticize the music, it’s not just the music, it’s the connection one feels to the music and its performer.


Robin Fairbanks has spent 30+ years in the Music Industry in many capacities. Working in the Seattle music scene since 2006 as a Manager/Booker, she’s known for her ethics and artist development skills. Robin has guided the careers of many, but most notable as the former Manager of Seattle Garage/Blues band Fox and The Law for 3.5 years. Robin has spent the last 2 yrs consulting with Artists who seek her help as a Music Consultant and Publicist with Setlist Music Solutions LLC. She also gives of her time as an advisor to Seattle Wave Radio, an Internet music station where she helped shape its sound as the ROCK Channel Music Director for 2+ yrs upon its launch in 2010 and where you’ll find her music blog, “Bird On A Wire“. In 2014, Robin also worked as a Contributing Music Writer for Guerrilla Candy.