It does not happen often that fans need an hour or even longer to explain the story of an album. But in the world of Twenty One Pilots, that is as normal as the sun rising every day. Here is a look at the adventure that is being a fan of the band that does it unlike anyone else.
Fandoms come in all forms, shapes and sizes. Some may be bigger than others, some might be more active, more present and more famous than those hurdling around small indie bands on the come-up. If you would go and ask any band or artist out there about the importance of the fans for them, most would reply with the statement that the fans mean the world to them. Not so with Twenty One Pilots. Because according to the uber-popular alt-pop duo, the band and especially their music like we know and love them today would not exist. No wonder that the act of being the group’s fan has taken on a lead role in the lives of so many.
Usually, being a fan is easy, a hobby, a simple act of showing your love and support for someone’s artistry. Anyone can do it. It’s casual – at least for most people. But if there is one thing that placing yourself and existing within the group of the passionate and dedicated fans of Twenty One Pilots, better known as the Clique, isn’t, then it is casual. It’s a devotion for life. “Knowing that there is a group of people who understand you without explaining a thing is comforting. That means the world to me,”, explains the 52-year-old fan Jeff, better known as @cliquedad on twitter and the founder of the popular fan account @New_Era_News, which currently has more than 36.000 followers. “For the most part, I have experienced a warm and welcoming group of people that realise we each have something to offer one another. Together we are part of something greater than ourselves. I’ve made amazing friends, watched kids grow into adults, and met people from all over the world who I sincerely appreciate. There is this unwritten bond that we have with one another, even though we’re often complete strangers with totally different backgrounds.”
“There’s Definitely a mutually beneficial way that the fans and the band inspire one another.”– Ruth / @hotynation
In a unique way, Jeff got to see the Columbus-based band grow unlike many others – from a festival in 2012, with them playing in the middle of the day on a tiny stage, to watching them sell out arenas together with his wife and three kids. Still, Jeff’s story of love and passion for the talented duo of musicians is one that many other fans share. “This band and this fanbase are so unifying. Twitter is home away from home. It’s a place that I can call home, those friends there are my home, the band is my home,”, states the 17-year-old Chey, also known as @shlofolina, who has spent the better part of the last years deciphering every aspect of Twenty One Pilots’ moves and hidden messages, while also slowly but surely falling for the friends she has made on the way. “I just love bragging about the fans, the talent that they have, the drive, how smart they are. You don’t even have to like the band, but just spend a day looking at twitter and at what people say. You’re bound to fall in love with the people that are there because they’re just so unique in their own ways.”
Of course, like any other musical act that has set camp in the top 40 radio charts all around the world, Twenty One Pilots have amassed “casual” listeners who don’t partake in the mission of the fandom, who don’t take the time out of their day to share their love for the band online on a daily basis. Simply, the people who wouldn’t call themselves Clikkies. But this isn’t who the real deal is about. This story is about the people who know all about the world of Twenty One Pilots – one that is far more extensive, adventurous and unique than one might think at first.
“You‘re bound to fall in love with the fans because they‘re just so unique in their own ways.”– Chey / @shlofolina
It all started with singer and songwriter Tyler Joseph painting his neck and hands black and the introduction of one very special character – Blurryface. What at first seemed like the inspiration for the group’s fourth full-length record, which until now has held the title of the most-streamed rock album of all time, quickly had the Clique become suspicious and realise that the character, personified by Joseph himself on stage and in music videos, was just a portrayal of the singer’s insecurities and depressions. The antagonist of the dark fairy tale had been created. Later, in 2018, and after a year-long hiatus of complete silence, the narrative got prolonged with their following album ‘Trench’, a glistening concept album packed with all kinds of secrets and hidden messages. Then the protagonists of the story got introduced – Tyler Joseph himself, the character Clancy and the good guys, the Banditos (later also understood as the fanbase). And lastly, the world the thriller was set in was presented – Dema, a place ruled by the Bishops (let’s call them the feverish group surrounding Blurryface) and the celebration of suicide.
And what had already seemed too extensive to fully comprehend, got yet another chapter added to it with the band’s latest musical master ride, the bright and colourful ‘Scaled And Icy’. As a direct reaction to what happened with ‘Trench’, the record surprised the fans with its bouncy pop tracks and striking pink and blue visuals. It was such an extreme changeover from anything the duo had ever done before that fans all around the planet had yet another reason to be suspicious. Something had to be wrong. And it was, with the band later confirming that viewed from within the narrative planted in ‘Blurryface’ and ‘Trench’, ‘SAI’ was indeed a work done by the wrong hands, created as propaganda by the Bishops.
“I remember making bets with people when we first started, saying that Tyler was going to be on here one day, when I always secretly said to myself “no, he won’t”. But then he was.”– Carlo / Discord Clique
Naturally, for any casual fan, the narrative never truly mattered, because, of course, good music is good music, whether there’s a whole novel it is based on or not. But for the Clique, the past years and slow trickling of information has been like watching a very long TV show with countless seasons and numerous episodes. Sooner or later, it all got so intense that a Discord channel had to be created, by fans, for the fans. “I started the channel in early 2017. That was around the time when things were dying down with the band as they were getting ready to take their big break. And I guess, myself and the rest of the staff, we saw an opportunity to take it into our own hands. That way, we were able to keep things exciting as a group of friends, rather than relying on the band to give us more content,”, recalls 18-year-old Carlo, founder of the channel and the @DiscordClique account on twitter, which by now has amassed more than 56.000 followers. Even more dazzling, until today the channel has managed to grow into a community of over 90.000 people, making it the biggest music-dedicated channel made by non-artists in the world. No wonder that in 2020, the band and their team got in touch with the tireless workers behind the channel to set up an interview with Joseph himself – an event that Carlo will certainly remember for the rest of their life, as they reminisce: “Honestly, it was like talking to somebody I’ve been friends with for years. I mean, I went into it thinking that I’d be super nervous, but once he joined, it just felt so natural. Because that’s just the kind of relationship he has built with his fans, he really puts himself out there. I remember making bets with people when we first started, saying that Tyler was going to be on here one day when I always secretly said to myself “no, he won’t”. But then he was.”
Like many others, Twenty One Pilots also used the pandemic and the inherent break that it brought with it to not only connect with their fans but also to set their gears for the release of ‘Scaled and Icy’ and the game-changing livestream experience accompanying it. With over 150 production and support staff, months of preparation and 168 hours of rehearsal, the show directed by Jason Zada brought ‘SAI’ and the narrative to life unlike anything the fans had been expecting. And with countless set and outfit changes, vocalist Tyler Joseph fronting a group of dancers and drummer Josh Dun bouncing around in a world of ice and snow, the duo managed to stay true to what they had been promising – the best live stream concert there had ever been. “I thought the live stream was one of a kind. I don’t think any other artist could ever do something like that, it was so detailed and jam-packed. And you can tell that they took time and were very careful crafting this stream. I really could not have set my expectations any higher, because they would have just beat them anyway,”, utters fan Chey with a sense of pride in her voice, before admitting to rather illegally watching the concert over and over again online.
It’s that urge to take in more and more and to get involved as much as possible that has not only helped the fanbase withstand the sign of the times and any obstacles put in its way, but that has also provided Twenty One Pilots with the unconditional support and freedom they have needed to be as creative and experimental as possible. Because if you know that someone – in this case millions of people all around the globe – will always have your back no matter what, it is easy to go that one additional step, to try out that one thing you never dared to dip your toes in before. As the duo likes to say themselves, the fans have taken on the role as the third member of the band, the anchor holding everything in place. And while that might seem like an exaggeration to some, it is what has turned the community into a family and the experience of being a fan into an adventure of a lifetime, one that is based on mutual appreciation and excitement for what is to come, as 18-year-old fan Ruth, also known as @hotynation on twitter, concludes: “There’s definitely a mutually beneficial way that the fans and the band inspire one another. Tyler has stated countless times how much seeing clique art and the fans’ own interpretations of the music inspires him. And on the other hand, they’ve also shaped the direction that my life is taking through the music, their values and the message that they portray, within the narrative, within the live shows. And just with who they are as people. Nobody does it like them.”
Biggest thanks to our amazing interviewees and fellow clikkies for being part of this piece. We appreciate you all more than you can imagine.
Written by Laura Weingrill // photography by Ashley Osborn & Brad Heaton