Conflicting images of the self in Twenty One Pilots’ “Fairly Local”

Like an onion, there are many layers to unravel in Twenty One Pilots’ Fairly Local, so let’s start from the outside, the title: “Fairly Local”. The song title is a rather odd phrase because one is either local, or one is not. ‘Fairly’ suggests that one is close to, but not completely integrated in the locale in question; a part of and yet not a part of a larger community. Perhaps we could pick up something of a desire to fit in, yet having a sense of alienation at the same time.

The two main verses are mirror images of each other: the first negative, the second positive. Both make contradictory statements of identity, and we detect the inner turmoil of someone struggling to define oneself based on conflicting messages: the negative criticisms one hears from others and one’s belief in one’s own innate goodness. Each line in the first stanza is a direct contradiction of its corresponding line in the second stanza, except the one in which both agree that the self is ’emotional’. But is it the kind of emotion that is set in its path and results in cycle after cycle of destruction, or the type that is passionate in resisting temptation and seeks new paths towards redemption? This question is at the heart of one’s self-belief, and begs a resolution.

I’m evil to the core,
What I shouldn’t do I will,
They say I’m emotional,
What I want to save I’ll kill,
Is that who I truly am?
I truly don’t have a chance,
Tomorrow I’ll keep a beat,
And repeat yesterday’s dance.

 

I’m not evil to the core,
What I shouldn’t do I will fight,
I know I’m emotional,
What I want to save I will try,
I know who I truly am,
I truly do have a chance,
Tomorrow I’ll switch the beat,
To avoid yesterday’s dance.”

Image source: http://iamtunedup.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/maxresdefault.jpg

In this lighting, Tyler Joseph looks… uncomfortably warm.

At this point we can almost visualise the cliched cartoon of a character over whose shoulders hover a devil and an angel. In the first stanza the “devil” is whispering into our ears that “they” — the people who know us and know of us — have already condemned us for our choices and actions, and that there is no hope for redemption. The “angel” picks up the second stanza and promises us a chance to repent and learn from our past mistakes and failures. Looking at the lyrics alone, this familiar conflict seems straightforward enough, but when bringing in the visuals and the tonal quality of the music, peculiarly, at the part where the angel has finished speaking, the scene is lit in hellish red and lead singer Tyler Joseph’s vocals are distorted to make him sound monstrous. Perhaps he himself doesn’t believe in his own positive self-talk?

With the little smile that Joseph gives at the end of the video and how there always is light, yet Joseph and drummer Josh Dun are almost always engulfed in darkness, the video could also be evocative of the depressive episode of bipolar disorder. “I’m fairly local” is almost like saying I have been here before yet it is not the same I but rather the depressive I. Even when one is feeling hopeful during a manic episode, one’s mind is still hard-wired to soon fall back into depression. This depressive cycle eats away at the self, like how Dun’s drum kit keeps getting stripped away piece by piece.

Fairly Local is an enjoyable song because of its strong bass and addictive beat but what seals the deal for me is the enticement of solving a clever, lyrical puzzle. Although the musical approach this track takes is different from the tracks in their previous album, Vessel, it holds true to what the band believes in. They want their music to provoke thought and they have certainly done that with this delicious little enigma of a composition.

Released March 16th 2015 on YouTube as a single, teasing all their fans in anticipation of their new album Blurryface available May 19th 2015. Now I can’t wait to see how this song fits into the concept album Blurryface!

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