Teengirl dragged me to a gig where she described the band as “a screamo, ukulele playing, rapping, emo, piano playing, dance band” I thought this is a band that needs to pick a genre!
And so it was with no expectations I went along to see this gig in a tiny nightclub in Brighton filled with teenage girls and the odd very drunk thirty-something man – a few of whom got carried out of the audience by the bouncers while the teenagers all behaved themselves!
After my experience standing on the balcony of The Haunt looking down on the moving sea of bouncing girls I was moved to write an open letter to the two men of Twenty One Pilots.
Here it is:
Dear Tyler and Josh
As a mum in my early 40s with a life full of kids I don’t give over any of my time to listening to new music and new bands. So I had never heard of you and despite teengirl trying desperately to get me to listen to you and repeatedly telling me I’d love you, I am saddened to say I resisted and so you were entirely new to me when I saw you on stage in your balaclava masks that Monday night.
To be honest with you I wasn’t looking forward to seeing a band who rap. So I thank you from the bottom of my heart for not being stereotypical misogynistic, show off swag fuckery, violence inciting rappers.
I also appreciate that you don’t sing meaningless songs of great love or lost love or boppy pop shit with lyrics that make no sense or are overly sexually explicit for the age group listening to them.
With fame comes great responsibility: your songs could just be something to dance to or they could be the one thing that allows our teenagers to feel heard, listened to and understood. I am grateful to you for taking that responsibility seriously by writing poems (and I do believe them to be poetry) that can change a teenager’s intention, open their heads and their hearts. Too many in the public eye don’t take their responsibility seriously and far too many abuse the power given to them by the public (yes Mr Politician I am talking about you).
All we all want is to be heard and to be acknowledged, be that as adults, toddlers or teenagers and I thank you for writing lyrics and music that does just that.
I thank you for starting the conversation with our teenagers about self-harm and suicide, for opening your ears and your eyes so you can open theirs and mine.
Thank you for acknowledging that these very real and very strong emotions exist in their hearts and take over their brains. As a mum, I appreciate your fear for our teenagers and I am grateful to you for telling them you understand.
Because sometimes just the understanding from an adult is all it can take to save a young person from the pit of hell. Far too often we as parents and responsible adults push their fears to the side, don’t allow them to express them, tell them they’re not real, not to dwell on them, to just get over them.
As a parent I wonder if we do this because we are afraid that if we poke the monster, pull back the layers of this raw anguish we’ll make it worse for them? And so they never get given the tools to deal with the pain of simply growing up in a society that says it’s not ok to feel when all they can do is feel as they look inside only to find themselves wanting.
And then when our children hurt themselves intentionally we rail against the world, god, the internet searching for someone to blame instead of visiting some introspection into our lives.
Thank you for writing raw, honest and authentic lyrics and music that really, truly speaks to teenagers: lyrics that let them know its ok to be different, to be curious, to wonder what if, to question the status quo, to ask how it might be changed for the better.
Teenagedom is the beginning of all things self: an egocentric rollercoaster of self-awareness, independence and pushing the boundaries. And being a teenager means inspecting yourself far too often when the self-awareness monster rears his ugly head, feeling alone under the microscope of peers inside the institution we call school.
And so they pull down a mask and become a façade to fit in – something you, Tyler and Josh, obviously understand and are not afraid to admit.
I cannot thank you enough for being authentic, honest and real. You, Tyler, are a poet. I hear haunting spectres of Sylvia Plath and Stevie Smith in your words. When I was a teen their words were my saviours: they showed me I wasn’t alone, I wasn’t weird and that to question death and love in the same sentence was absolutely normal. I take my hat off to you for your intelligent metaphorical rhymes that speak volumes to my daughter and other teenagers.
I love that you put intense, honest and empathetic lyrics to a bouncy happy beat – a beautiful metaphor of teenagerdom. I feel your pain as I dance along. And I understand teengirl just that little bit more when she tells me her favourite Twenty One Pilots song – her favourites change with her moods. Just as I love that you break the music rules, don’t fit into a box and can’t be labelled.
Teengirl gets that you get her. She bounces to your beats and shouts along to your lyrics in thecool way only a teenager can. And I know that your words have gone a long way to helping her heal and understand.
Over my many years loving music there have been only a few musicians with whom I have become obsessed, even fewer who have touched me and spoken directly to me. In that short list you’ll find Janis Joplin, The Doors, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan and BrightEyes. And now, Twenty One Pilots have joined that list because I am already quite obsessed with your rhythms and your rhymes.
Thank you for respecting the responsibility of fame. Please don’t let the industry change you.
I can only begin to imagine how proud your mums are of both of you.
With lots of love and thanks,
PS What is a Pantaloon?