Welcome to Trench: How twenty one pilots Use Color to Signify Change
Sound of Style is a recurring series written by Logan Hannen breaking down style in the world of music and offering alternatives to musicians (sometimes) luxurious clothing choices
Color has been used in music for a long time to signify something. Think back to the 80s, where neon colors were splattered all over the place in an effort to signify the light an prosperity (and, admittedly, the cocaine use). In the 90s grunge scene, the colors were dulled some to help create the vibe that not everything was as good as the 80s made it seem. 2000s bubblegum pop focused on brightness and pastels to capture a more party-themed aesthetic. Hell, even the 1975 employed this by sticking purely to black and white for the cycle of their first record as a way to indicate their new kind of transparency in pop music. In recent memory, though, one band has gone and done this better than anyone: twenty one pilots.
Hailing from Columbus, Ohio, the duo of Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun have had a relatively normal rise in the music industry, despite the fact that their success appears to be overnight from the outside looking in. The band were considered local celebrities in Ohio, but outside of the state, it took two years of extensive touring to build up a following. Once they did, though, the A&R reps from various record labels wouldn’t leave the band alone.
Over the course of the following years, they would release two records (Regional At Best and their Self-Titled record) and tour even more extensively. Upon the release of their third album, Vessel, the band finally managed to sway the population of alternative music lovers and gain a wider reach. By the end of the Vessel touring cycle, the band were playing bigger shows than many of their contemporaries, and had a stage show that had become legendary for its sort of nervous energy, with Tyler constantly flip flopping between extreme confidence and shocking anxious retreat (often behind the zip-up hood of a skull sweatshirt - see below).
Of course, it wasn’t until the release of their fourth studio album, Blurryface, that the band began to see more mainstream success. This album was also the first where the band really doubled down on a specific color palette to identify the album cycle, or “era,” with. In the case of Blurryface, that meant black and red exclusively.
Okay, so they’re both wearing white tops in the image above, but the major focus was on black and red, something we’ve seen the likes of Green Day and even My Chemical Romance do before, but with Tyler and Josh, you can’t escape the overwhelming sense that the color palette was some kind of self-imposed mission statement, as if to say “we are always in danger.” And to a degree, that fits with the theme of the album.
Blurryface, and I’m definitely oversimplifying here, is meant to be the physical manifestation of Tyler’s anxiety and depression and just general mental health issues. Thematically, the album paints the character of Blurryface as a sort of omnipresent villain, the kind of looming force that can never be permanently banished, only held off. That’s mental illness in a nut shell, and it all gives off a sense of impending doom in spite of the good or bad things going on. Red has, historically, been used to signify danger, especially in art, so its use as the anchor of this era makes more sense than perhaps it seems like it does at first.
After a year of total radio silence following the end of the touring cycle for Blurryface, the boys came back in a big way with the release of a single and music video (“Jumpsuit”) and the announcement of their next album, Trench. With everything that came along with it, including a cryptic series of messages and even a game, one thing became abundantly clear - this era would be a continuation of Blurryface, and would also reign in its color palette to just one primary color: yellow.
Yellow, traditionally, is considered to be the most positive color of the lot, representing happiness and motivation as well as a sense of renewal. That very much captures the themes of Trench. If Blurryface was Tyler being beaten down by his anxiety, then Trench is him fighting back while also reflecting on the new anxiety of his and Josh’s rapid launch into the public arena. There are a seemingly infinite number of insane theories about the color yellow as it relates the the album’s actual story, which is way deeper than we need to get here, but all of this talk of color and eras does actually offer guys like you and me something of inherent value.
There is a level of thought and planning that goes along with the kind of work they do defining the eras of their band that is absolutely worth considering with your own outfits. It isn’t just about picking a “color,” but about considering not just what the specific items of clothing say about you, but what their design says as well. Black, for example, says very different things in t-shirts versus Oxford shirts, but the message it sends is only partly because of the shirt itself, and is a lot to do with the connotation of the color black in association (we see black button ups, and we tend to immediately jump to funerals as the vibe).
So the moral of the story here is this - if you want people to look at you differently, maybe assess the way you use color in your wardrobe to see if perhaps adding some color, or changing the ones you do use, can offer a new take on the perception of you that those around you have. Just, maybe don’t pull a Josh and dye your hair yellow. Or do. Up to you.
Levitate - This is the third single from Trench and is basically a 2 minute straight rap about letting people help you become better and also calling out those in your life that are not conducive to your positive growth.
Neon Gravestones - This is my favorite twenty one pilots song, hands down. Also from Trench, it deals with the subject of celebrity suicide and how we, as a culture, run the risk of sending the wrong message not just to famous people, but the average person as well.
Ode to Sleep - This one’s the single most twenty one pilots sounding song I’ve heard them release. Seriously, it’s impossible to explain to someone who hasn’t heard it so…check it out.
Other Articles in the “Sound of Style Series” by Logan Hannen