Twenty One Pilots is taking flight
The year 2016 was good for many musical acts, but it’s safe to say Twenty One Pilots had the good year. The eclectic electro-pop duo went from headlining theater-sized venues and support touring to selling out arenas, and by the time they play Mandalay Bay Events Center this week, it’s likely they will be Grammy winners. Being nominated in five categories gives frontman/songwriter Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun a good shot at taking at least one Grammy statuette, which may have been part of the plan since the two budding musicians first got together in Columbus, Ohio, and found their musical ideas and ambitions completely in sync.
Describing Twenty One Pilots music confounds both fans and music journalists, with many among the latter unaware of the duo during their rapid rise until Joseph and Dun practically became superstars. Joseph transitioned from college basketball player to untrained musician after high school, teaching himself how to re-create the song hooks in his head on a keyboard that had been in a closet in his family’s home. He started Twenty One Pilots with two friends and achieved regional success before the momentum got to be too much for other band members. It was just right for Dun, though, who fired Joseph up with his flamboyant, propulsive drumming and ambition.
It wasn’t long before they were signed by Fueled By Ramen Records—which had success with Paramore and Panic! at the Disco—and released two critically and commercially successful albums. Joseph and Dun evolved as showmen as well, adapting their theatrical presentation to larger venues. Joseph connects with crowds like a ski-masked electro-pop prophet, combining athletic energy with spastic expressiveness as Dun, capable of creating dramatic shifts in tempo, flails at his drums with physical abandon and precision reminiscent of Blink-182’s Travis Barker.
Dun applies that approach to the mélange of styles that make up the Twenty One Pilots sound. Joseph absorbed vocal influences as disparate as Brandon Flowers and Eminem, and traces of everything from dubstep to Muse to Imagine Dragons can be detected, but he creates a musical identity all his own that both fits contemporary radio and garners the respect of critics. He raps and croons with equal ease, expressing the collective anxieties and concerns of his generation with deft lyrical skill and sharp imagery. He moved into conceptual territory on the band’s last album, Blurryface, with a titular character that seems to come from Joseph’s id and has intrigued the duo’s fans since the album was released in May 2015.
Between that character and the Christian foundation of beliefs Joseph and Dun were raised on and still embrace, Twenty One Pilots has created a distinct mystique within the pop music landscape. Their efforts have been rewarded with Grammy nominations for the Record of the Year, Best Pop Duo/Group Performance, Best Rock Performance, Best Rock Song and Best Song Written for Visual Media, which means they’re likely to be a prominent presence at the 59th Annual Grammy Awards. They’re likely to be a prominent presence on the pop music scene, period, long after their Emotional Roadshow tour wraps. With the flight plan Twenty One Pilots has charted, it looks like they have quite a few more good years ahead.
Mandalay Bay, 7 p.m. Feb. 18, $39.50-$49.50 plus tax and fee. 800.745.3000 Ticketmaster