Tyler Joseph of Twenty One Pilots wrote their 2013 album Vessels without “knowing whether or not people were going to hear it.” That album proceeded to go gold in the U.S. Their newest album, Blurryface, went platinum. The 3rd single from Blurryface, Stressed Out, peaked at No. 2 on Billboard’s Hot 100, and has landed in the Top 10 on over 20 charts worldwide.
It’s safe to say that people are hearing his music.
What are they hearing though? What makes Stressed Out such a hit?
One reason for the song’s popularity is its lyrical content centering around insecurity and nostalgia. These universally appealing themes help the song resonate with a wide demographic audience. The clever fusion of familiar and unique elements is another, such as the Walk This Way inspired drum pattern and the theremin-esque synth that signals the arrival of “Blurryface.”
In this excerpt from Stressed Out Deconstructed, we explore two key characteristics that make Stressed Out so irresistible: the plethora of hooks it contains, and the disparate groove variations that take the listener on an engaging ride throughout the song
[Header1 header=” Hooks & Payoffs”]
Stressed Out contains the following memorable instrumental, vocal, and lyrical hooks that that accentuate its engagement value and impact.
[Header2 header=” Primary Instrumental Hook #1: Theremin-esque Synth“]
This hook appears in the in the sections that feature Blurryface – the protagonist’s inner demon of insecurity. Its eerie quality marks the presence of Blurryface in a unique, evocative, and memorable manner.
[Header2 header=” Primary Instrumental Hook #2: Acoustic Bass & Acoustic Bass/String Combo“]
The infectious rhythm put into effect by these instruments heightens the groove factor of the song in the intro, verse, turnaround, and outro.
[Header2 header=” Secondary Instrumental Hook: Kick/Snare Pattern“]
This highly recognizable and memorable kick/snare pattern is featured in Aerosmith’s 1975 hit, Walk This Way, and a multitude of other Hip Hop songs.
[Header2 header=” Vocal Hooks: Chorus“]
The chorus features two infectious and memorable vocal hooks that are reinforced in both stanzas. The melodic characteristics of these hooks appear in a slightly differentiated manner throughout the section, which prevents cookie cutter monotony from occurring.
[Header2 header=” Vocal Hooks: Bridge & Outro“]
The vocal melody that defines the majority of the bridge possess an infectiously playful, childish quality delivered in rapped/sung hybrid manner that easily gets ingrained in the listener’s head. It’s reinforced in both parts/stanzas of the bridge, and further reinforced in the second half of the outro albeit in a low pitch-shifted manner.
Additionally, the “wake up you need to make money” group shout vocal concludes each stanza in the bridge in a standout, highly memorable manner. This important line appears in the outro as well, in both a verbatim and differentiated manner.
[Header2 header=” Lyrical Hooks: Chorus, Bridge, & Outro“]
The primary lyrical payoff in the song is the title, Stressed Out, which appears in the chorus and turnaround sections. However, the line “wake up you need to make money” also functions as a key payoff/punchline. This is due both to its multi-section use (bridge and outro), as well as the manner in which it lyrically supports the impact of the title (i.e. the protagonist is “stressed out” because he needs to abandon the dreams of his youth in order to “make money”).
[Header2 header=” Primary Sectional Payoff“]
The chorus functions as the song’s primary sectional payoff. However, the ultra-infectious, hook-laden, repetitive and unique qualities of the bridge and outro are just as strong and memorable.
[Header1 header=” Engaging Groove Variation “]
One of the core factors that takes the impact of Stressed Out to the next level is the variety of disparate grooves found throughout the song:
No Groove: The first half of the first stanza (part X) of each chorus is devoid of a groove. Instead, it features a sparse/breakdown, serene characteristic.
Laid-back Groove: The majority of the song features a laid-back, head bobbing groove that is put into effect via the “Walk This Way” kick/snare rhythms and acoustic bass/pizz strings interaction. In the chorus, however, a differentiated laid-back drum pattern is featured.
Upbeat Groove: The second half of each chorus and the bridge features an upbeat groove that is put into effect via the more “Rocking” characteristics of the drums.
Bouncy Groove: The first half of the bridge and second half of the outro possess a “bouncy” groove which is primarily put into effect via the characteristics of the pumping lead saw synths.
I=Intro, A=Verse, PC=Pre-Chorus, B=Chorus, T=Turnaround, C=Bridge, O=Outro, X=First Stanza, Y=Second Stanza
[Header5 header=”Clever Element: Engaging Sectional Groove Progression – Chorus”]
The impact of choruses one and two is heightened via an engaging groove build that traverses each full section. Each begins with no groove, moves into the laid-back groove, and peaks with the upbeat groove.
In the third chorus the laid-back groove progression is omitted and the no-groove portion is prolonged. The section immediately jumps from no groove to upbeat groove heightening the impact of the chorus due to the stringent contrast between the two stanzas.