Guest Voices Feed

Euphoria: A Technicolor Trip to the Teenage Wasteland

Respectfully, I called it.

When Netflix canceled the sweet, innocent coming-of-age series Everything Sucks!, I looked at the known projects actress Sydney Sweeney was attached to at the time (Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, HBO’s Sharp Objects, and a little movie set in 1969 Hollywood from Quentin Tarantino) and said Netflix would regret letting her get away.

Netflix famously doesn’t release its viewership numbers. But if you listen closely you can probably hear the sobbing from outside their offices. And she’s not even the named star of HBO’s Euphoria. Zendaya, who made the great Spider-Man: Far from Home even better with her wit, is our Virgil in this little walk through the hell of the teenage years.

She plays the improbably named Rue, a teenager who may be bipolar but is definitely a drug addict from a young age, and there are all sorts of fan theories that Rue is dead and narrated from beyond the grave.

My advice? Don’t overthink it. Watch it as a teenager might live it — experience it in the moment. Yes, there will be a lot more sightings of the nude male body than you’d expect from a “teen drama,” but it barely makes a dent in the nudity disparity of show business. But if flashing lights are an issue for you, watch something else. (Seriously.)

When we meet Rue, she’s fresh out of rehab after an overdose — her little sister found her, and yes, that has repercussions — and she has no intentions of remaining sober. Then she meets Jules, a trans girl played by newcomer and real-life trans model Hunter Schafer, and the sort of instant chemistry only found in teenage years sparks into a peculiar, tentative, frightened and frightening, and magical romance.

Rue’s issues, we’ve already discussed. Jules’ issues involve hooking up with older men who swear they’re not gay but invariably find her on gay dating apps. And one of them (played by Eric Dane) turns out to be the father of one of Jules’ new classmates — and one of the wealthiest men in town. Oh, and the son is a case study in whatever privileged young white male sociopath just got away with a horrible crime, probably sexual in nature, whenever you read this. Those are just a third of regular cast.

Some have stories we’ve not begun to explore, so I’m glad HBO has ordered a second season. Maude Apatow (daughter of filmmaker Judd Apatow and his wife, actress Leslie Mann) plays the younger sister of Sydney Sweeney’s character, maybe the one level-headed character on the entire show, and all we know about her is that she seems to be in love with Rue.

There are two drug dealers — a dropout in his early 20s and his well-read but trashtalking little brother who may be pre-adolescent — who could probably carry a series of their own. Barbie Ferriera’s work as Kat — a budding webcam girl — is breaking the new boundaries in the portrayal of plus-sized women and their sexuality that Lena Dunham likes to think she did, minus the insufferable factor.

Where are the parents? Well, Rue and her sister are children of a single mother who works hard. Cass and Lexi (Sweeney and Apatow) are daughters of a single mother who drinks hard. Eric Dane’s menacing statutory rapist character is waking up to the fact that his son is a true monster in the making. And the drug-dealing brothers are caring for a grandmother at home who seems to be virtually comatose.

The show’s dark. But sometimes it’s wickedly funny: There’s a fourth-wall breaking sequence in the second episode in which Rue discusses the rules for nude male selfies, let’s say, that is shocking and raw and hilarious, and probably got her key card to the Disney Studios deactivated.

A more recent episode found her in a manic state, obsessing over her relationship with Jules and coming to all sorts of plausible but wrong conclusions, donning an outfit like a 1930s police detective (suspenders, dress shirt, fedora, cigarette) and towing Lexi around as her junior partner. That bit of costume play could have been right at home on the sort of tween fare where Zendaya got her start, though it would have been a lollipop or Twizzler as the prop instead of a cigarette.

The 3:45 a.m. phone call to the long-suffering friend would have been the capstone in either situation, along with the friend finally hanging up. But then there’s the moment where medicine bottles in a comatose woman’s bedroom become animated and start telling Rue to open them up and take all the pills. And the finale looks like it’s going to have a true-to-life discussion about an unwanted pregnancy (I’m not saying whose, but it isn’t Rue’s) that may not end with the happy “I’m keeping the baby” or “I’m giving it up for adoption” moment you’d find if Nick or Disney ever went there.

The actors’ and actresses’ work with creator Sam Levinson (son of director Barry Levinson) has created a searingly intimate look at the teenage years with characters who are as close to the performers as their skin. At least a couple of the performers say in post-show segments that their characters are based on their own experiences (Ferriera, Schafer). So while there is an element of “freak out the parents” here — a bit of the “cautionary tale” baked into the recipe — there’s also some hope even at the bleakest moments.

Because some of the people telling these stories have survived as bad or worse. That’s something, at least.

 

Jason Tippitt is a recovering seminarian and mostly recovered former journalist living a few miles beyond that place you stop to use the restroom off Interstate 40 between Nashville and Memphis.


Guest Voices: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

"In this town, it can all change, like that."

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is Quentin Tarantino's love letter to a bygone era of movie stardom. It's indulgent, but also complex and fascinating, and offers an utterly unique experience for those willing to embrace its meandering charms.

It looks at two men who embody the dichotomy of Hollywood, and tells a fractured fairytale about the city of dreams with a blend of fact and fiction. It's Tarantino's warmest movie since Jackie Brown.

It's also a kinder, gentler film than one would expect from the master of gut-wrenching graphic violence and bloodshed. It's imperfect, erratic and even infuriating at times. But it is nearly impossible not to love.

Tarantino has a reputation of being a man of many intense passions, but this is the stuff he really cares about, we can clearly see and feel that in every single scene, and it inspires some of his most quietly effective filmmaking.

In Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Tarantino found an ideal project to focus his fixations, fantasies, fetishes, and concoct a brilliant recipe of Hollywood fairytale. One of the best part of the movie is that it forgoes telling us how much Tarantino loves films, and simply lets us feel it, almost like being on a ride of 1969 Hollywood Boulevard with him.

Talking about the actors involved, Brad Pitt has one of the coolest movie roles he's yet played, Leonardo DiCaprio gets to show off all manner of acting chops, and Margot Robbie gets to enjoy pretending to be the Sharon Tate we never got to see.

It's also a heavyweight acting match between Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt. If it were up to me, I would hand the belt to Pitt, along with an early Oscar nomination. Their whole dynamic, which was beautiful and brotherly, reminded me of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Now that's a heavy comparison!

It's funny, sad, perversely nostalgic, and it's Tarantino's obsessive ode to a lost Hollywood era that's packed with visual verve, pop-culture riffs and cinematic pleasures.

It's both the most and least Tarantino film in a very long time. 

 

Rahul Menon was born and raised in New Delhi, India, and currently lives in Illinois. He is an assistant director, screenwriter and occasional actor, as well as a computer science engineer who worked as a software analyst and in advertising and marketing prior to entering the film industry. His screen debut was as screenwriter and assistant director of Saayanna Varthakal (Evening News) in 2018. He is currently pursuing a masters degree at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. FacebookInstagramIMDB.


Guest Voices: Yesterday

"A world without The Beatles would be infinitely worse."

In the charming yet painfully bland Yesterday, Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Shallow Grave, 28 Days Later, 127 Hours, etc.) teams up with Richard Curtis (Notting Hill, Love Actually, About Time etc.) to craft a promising what-if concept that falls short because of how uninspired the main formula is.

Yesterday is a competent realization of a brilliant concept, but it could have been so much more. There are a lot of hypothetical and philosophical concerns that they could've used to create a morally complex story and characters, yet it spirals into another conceit of routine rom-com filled with cliches. Even if we see this as just a British rom-com, Yesterday is far from what we hope to see from Boyle and Curtis.


The Beatles’ music is still as relevant today as Yesterday. And if you are a Fab Four fan like me, then the songs featured in the movie will remind you of certain events in your lives, first with a smile then, maybe, a tear or two as well.

This is Danny Boyle's gentlest film since the under-seen and underrated Millions (2004), it's also his most improbable, imperfect, and delightful work.

This movie may not rock your world, but it's a pleasant trip down Abbey Road.

"And when the brokenhearted people, living in the world agree, there will be an answer, let it be.
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be." 

- The Beatles (1970)

Rahul Menon was born and raised in New Delhi, India, and currently lives in Illinois. He is an assistant director, screenwriter and occasional actor, as well as a computer science engineer who worked as a software analyst and in advertising and marketing prior to entering the film industry. His screen debut was as screenwriter and assistant director of Saayanna Varthakal (Evening News) in 2018. He is currently pursuing a masters degree at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. FacebookInstagramIMDB.


Guest Voices: Long live the king(zilla)

It has been five years since Godzilla swam off at the end of the 2014 Godzilla, and now the king has returned to reclaim his throne.

Michael Dougherty, director for Godzilla: King of the Monsters, decided that for this sequel he would give the "G fans" what they said they all wished was in the first movie: More monster action and fan service galore.

The plot centers on the world trying to cope with the fact that monsters are real, and the best way to deal with it. Vera Farmiga plays Dr. Emma Russell, who feels that the Titans (monsters) can be lived with and studied. Her estranged husband, Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler), thinks they should be killed, after their son Andrew died in the 2014 battle between Godzilla and the MUTOs. Daughter Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown) is dragged into the middle, as eco-terrorist Alan Jonah (Charles Dance) enters the fray.

In all of this, Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) is still trying to get the governments of the world to understand that Godzilla and the other Titans are all part of the natural order of the world and that coexistence should be a goal. But when the Titan King Ghidorah awakens, it causes a chain reaction of Titans awakening across the world that only Godzilla can stop.

If you know me and have listened to me speak on the sci-fi convention circuit on panels, you all know I am one of the biggest G Fans out there. My love of the Godzilla movies has led me to write papers for school on the significance of the films and the symbolism the movies have created throughout the years. Iguana

So what has Michael Dougherty brought to this new Godzilla film? Pure popcorn fun and so many call backs to the old films you will need to get the movie on Blu-ray to be able to find them all. Once the action gets going, it is non-stop, with kaiju sightings, battles, and people running in terror from the monsters.

And man, what monsters! Along with Godzilla, there are three other monsters from the Toho movies: Mothra, Rodan and King Ghidorah are all beautifully crafted into CGI monsters of power. The battles between the monsters are fierce and just as destructive as they should be when monsters the size of skyscrapers are fighting. It was one of the most fun times I have had at the movies in a long time, seeing so many of my childhood favorites on the big screen again.

One of the most impressive things in the movie is the soundtrack. Legendary Pictures was able to acquire the rights to use the original music from the Toho movies. Hearing the classic music of the Godzilla and Mothra themes made it so magical. I was grinning ear to ear, listening to Mothra’s music as she came out of her cocoon.

It isn't perfect. Emma's storyline gets a little silly, and the eco-terrorist's motives are left to the oversimplified and overused points of "We are killing the planet and need to be destroyed." Millie Bobby Brown isn’t given a lot to do in the film, but what she is given she does a fine job of it. Some of the jokes in the film are forced and can be plain dumb. But luckily, Bradley Whitford’s Dr. Stanton is given all of the best jokes, and he does them well.

Spoiler Warning!

The Mothra Twins do make an appearance... but the way it is done is cool, with no singing.

The only Toho monsters in the movie are the Big Four...no one else shows up from the Toho roster of monsters, which is a little of a letdown, but hopefully if they make more movies, others can be adapted for the Monsterverse. Rodan and Mothra’s screen time is very limited which made me wish we could have seen more of them. But, for when we do see them it is wonderful. Although his only appearance is in video footage and a wall painting, Kong is mentioned several times. This makes sense, as the battle to end all battles comes next year with Godzilla vs. Kong pitting the King of Skull Island against the King of the Monsters.

End spoilers

How did they handle my hero Godzilla? Wonderful! He was the unstoppable force of nature that we all grew up watching and cheering for. When he gets smacked around in the fights you can’t help to cheer for him to get up. His facial expressions are done to perfection and I found myself cheering and jumping for joy at the end of the movie. I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the big G, and it made me so happy to see him doing what he does best: Wrecking stuff and proving that he is the king.

If you are not a fan of the Godzilla genre, can you enjoy this movie? Well, if you like a good action flick and don’t mind rooting for a giant lizard and moth, you should be good to go. This isn’t Shakespeare, folks.

All in all, I loved this movie. I plan to go see it a few times to catch whatever I might have missed in the Easter Egg department and to see my hero stomping around. In other words...

Long live the King!

 

Jim D. Gillentine is an author and self-professed comics geek, having immersed himself in four-color prose since the 1970s. He is currently completing his bachelor's degree at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Website.


Guest Voices: Flarrow Finale

Legacy. Family of choice. Good intentions with bad results. Redemption. Sacrifice.

DC Comics’ interconnected shows on The CW took an interesting path in the 2018-19 season, with the four series (see also Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl) seeming to pair up thematically in key ways this year.

The Flash and Arrow shared similar concerns with the big topics listed above.

 Both series introduced some new characters and some new settings: Green Arrow meets a hitherto unknown half-sister, Emiko Queen. Team Flash gets to know Nora Allen, Barry and Iris’ daughter from the future where The Flash disappeared in a capital-C Crisis.

But we also met new characters … and older versions of some familiar faces … as Arrow flashed forward to the post-Crisis era and we caught up with some (but not all) of our familiar band of crimefighters. And by digging into Nora’s past on The Flash, we see another stage in the life of Eobard Thawne, the Reverse-Flash.

Events in the present day would have their effects in the future, instilling every present-day decision with more weight as we saw the consequences down the line. Is the timeline malleable? Thawne certainly thinks so.

 The Flash welcomed guest stars Chris Klein, Sarah Carter, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, and Kyle Secor over the course of the season.

Arrow welcomed Colton Haynes back to the main cast as Roy Harper/Arsenal and also featured Kirk Acevedo as last-season’s main villain Ricardo Diaz, Michael Jai White as Ben Turner/Bronze Tiger, and Adrian Paul (TV’s Highlander) in a role I won’t disclose, with relative newcomers Katherine McNamara and Ben Lewis playing key roles in the future scenes.

Oh, and halfway through the season came the “Elseworlds” crossover, which also included an episode of Supergirl. (Legends of Tomorrow sat it out due to character congestion.) And in that crossover we met a mysterious figure called The Monitor … and we met the Barry Allen of Earth-90, a seasoned hero played by John Wesley Shipp (who’s previously played Barry’s dad and alternate universe Flash Jay Garrick in these series). Yes, the 1990 version of The Flash is now in these shows’ multiverse.



The Monitor has some dire predictions about the future. And the thread doesn’t just stop there. This fall’s five-series crossover (Flash, Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl, and the newly launched Batwoman) will be titled “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” the seasons’ finales all point to it in their own unique ways, there will likely be tears before it’s over, and the road started with this season for most of the shows.

Arrow season 7: 5/5 stars
The Flash season 5: 4/5 stars

Tomorrow: Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl finales!

 

Jason Tippitt is a recovering seminarian and mostly recovered former journalist living a few miles beyond that place you stop to use the restroom off Interstate 40 between Nashville and Memphis. 


Guest Voices: The Love That Hears Its Name Whispered, With Laughter

(Note: As they sometimes say on NPR, the following is by no means explicit but does acknowledge the existence of sex.)

I had a great idea for this entry. I was going to talk about the way pop culture, from movies to TV shows to popular music to comic books and more, has a gender disparity in the way masturbation is portrayed depending on whether the person engaged in the act is male or female. It could be summed up in what the activity suggested about the person as a social animal: If the character is a female, this is an empowering act that shows “she doesn’t need a man” to have a satisfying sexual life, but if it the character is a male, the act is humiliating proof that he “can’t find a woman.”

(Apologies for the heteronormativity and gender binary-ness of it all.)

The thesis fits the pop culture I’m most familiar with. And therein lies the flaw at the heart of the experiment: a pitifully small sample size, even though some people think of me as a walking encyclopedia.

Thankfully, you and I have been rescued from a likely embarrassing outcome by someone else with the time and resources to actually do the research correctly: Australian academic Lauren Rosewarne’s Masturbation in Pop Culture: Screen, Society, Self (Lexington Books, 2014) is a soundly researched look at the phenomenon using more than 600 instances as its evidence base.

And now I will say a novel thing you never hear online: I was wrong.

To the extent that masturbation is talked about, it’s often in the sense of an “everyone does it, but we don’t talk about it” talk from parent to child. But the “caught in the act” scenario applies to men and women, the “sad and lonely and looking for release” depiction goes both ways, and there are even examples like Michael Winterbottom’s NC-17 indie film 9 Songs where not only is the character involved with someone, they might even be in the same bed.

Rosewarne’s book is a fascinating read, though it’s priced as a college textbook, so reader be rich (sic). So instead of going off on a bunch of anecdotes — which would not constitute data — I’ll instead leave you with one anecdote and a recommendation, not in that order.

* The Recommendation: Chynna Clugston-Flores’ indie comic Blue Monday (available in collected editions from Image Comics) is a must-read for anyone who likes post-punk and New Wave music, manga aesthetics, and the high school comedies of John Hughes and his imitators, or preferably all of the above. But John Hughes is now problematic, I know, so I’ll add that those problems are not on evidence here.

 Volume 4 of the series, Painted Moon, has a riotous sequence in which the core group of friends discovers that two of their own have never learned to manage their tensions, so to speak, and peer-pressure them into (separately) getting in touch with themselves. Queue up the Buzzcocks’ punk classic “Orgasm Addict” as hijinks ensue and Bleu, our aquamarine-tressed heroine, suddenly starts getting a lot of bathroom passes.

The whole series is a delight, but this installment of the series turned the “horny boy/shameful girl” stereotype on its ear to hilarious effect.

* The Anecdote: I don’t know why I didn’t know until … more recently than I care to admit … that Cyndi Lauper’s hit single “She Bop” was an empowering anthem about masturbation, but I’m absolutely positive that neither of the junior high teachers who used the song for a unit on verb conjugation knew anything about that, even though the song was one of the reasons records eventually got labeled. (Cyndi Lauper, Guns ’n Roses, Sam Kinison, 2 Live Crew, they were all alike, right?)

In the same way that Bleu Finnegan or Drew Braverman of TV’s “Parenthood” may have loved themselves a little too much and too often, that song was bored into my brain as we tortured the rhyme scheme with such verb tenses as “they shall have bopped.”

(The voice of Cyndi Lauper was also present for a more poignant and strange moment in my high school years when I was picked to play the color Green in a teacher inservice about a possibly pseudoscientific personality model called “True Colors.”

I love Cyndi Lauper now because I am not history’s greatest monster, and I hope she got some royalties for those bits of strangeness. But 30 years after its release, if I hear “She Bop” coming on the radio, I’m still changing the station.

Jason Tippitt is a recovering seminarian and mostly recovered former journalist living a few miles beyond that place you stop to use the restroom off Interstate 40 between Nashville and Memphis.


Guest Voices: Shazam!

Today's guest voice is author and comics nerd Jim D. Gillentine. He says the Magic Word.

 

I lucked into an early screening of the new DC movie, Shazam! and I have to say...  it is one of the best comic book movies I have ever seen. We're going to avoid spoilers, because that's the rules of this site and because I truly believe that you need to go see this film yourself to fully enjoy it.

The best thing by far in this film is the acting of Zachary Levi as the main character. He is able to portray the wonder, starry-eyed excitement a 14-year old boy would have to become a superhero with the power of the Greek gods at his disposal. Asher Angel, the actor that plays Billy Batson, does a really fine job playing the child counterpart to Shazam and you find yourself really wanting to give the poor guy a hug during the sadder moments of the movie.

But the best acting goes to Jack Dylan Grazer as Freddy Freemen, Billy Batson’s foster brother. The scenes between Levi and Grazer are pure comedic gold! I was laughing so much at the interactions between the two of them. They by far had the best scenes in the movie and are worth the ticket price alone.

But what is a superhero movie without a good villain? No worries there, as Mark Strong as Doctor Sivana does an excellent job giving us a villain we love to hate and yet, still feel a little sympathy for, because of how much his childhood influenced his path in life. Everyone else in the movie put a great effort in playing their characters and I tip my hat to director David Sandberg to be able to bring out the best from the cast.

The only real gripe I have for this movie is that I have to wait to go see it again in two weeks. If you want a fun, enjoyable time at the movies with your family then go see Shazam! I think you will be very pleased with what it has to offer.

 

Jim D. Gillentine is an author and self-professed comics geek, having immersed himself in four-color prose since the 1970s. He is currently completing his bachelor's degree at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Website.


Guest Voices: Us

Today's Guest Voice is Rahul Menon, filmmaker and grad student. Rahul sees every movie. EVERY movie. 

 

I think this would be the apt time to coin a new genre just for Jordan Peele: ‘Socio-Horror.' Us is a blast of ideas that’s been smartly packaged and sneaked into a movie theatre as a horror movie, with just enough absurdity to spark conversation.

Us-movie-poster-384x600The #Oscar win for Best Original Writing for Get Out hasn’t gone to Peele’s head. He’s still the same old writer, director, actor and creator: he loves absurd dark humor, he's a horror nerd, and someone who likes to make socially provocative projects.

I can’t talk about Us without talking about Lupita Nyong’o’s sublime performance, Mike Gioulakis’ chilling cinematography and Michael Abels’ haunting score. Lupita Nyong’o is so brilliant in this movie that I’m quite confident that she’ll be overlooked by the Academy, just like Toni Collette in last year’s Heredity. Her performance is essential to the psychological impact of the film, and she succeeds in a big way.

The creative cinematographic choices by Mike Gioulakis are key in illuminating some of the film’s core themes. It crafts a striking and memorable imagery, and enhances the overall chilling experience of the movie. The first time you watch it, enjoy the visuals and the absurdity of the whole thing, the second time you go for it, enjoy the deeper meanings of those visuals, which may lay out different interpretations for different people.

To think that this is Michael Abels’ second time scoring for a movie is just unbelievable! The score lives, breathes, and dances to every beat of the story, along with the characters. You will be spooked by the score, and you will feel like dancing to it, at the same time.

For those of you who have seen and loved Get Out, you know you are in store for lots of allegory and symbolism, satire, social commentary and metaphors. This movie showcases Peele’s ability to build tension and release it in a satisfying way, both with humor and horror, and at times it will remind you of his old comedy sketches from Key and Peele. You will have a lot of questions once the movie gets over; you will definitely want to have a conversation and a discussion with someone, which in itself  is a big win for this movie. 

Get Out was thematically better, much tighter and concise in its story. But Us is definitely a better horror film, using all the tropes to its advantage, and is easily some of the finest visual storytelling that you are likely to see in 2019. This is like a wild horror fever dream, and pretty much every component has to be viewed with the perspective of a social issue.

But the most important thing is that Jordan Peele is just beginning his film career as the new Master of Horror. Regardless of any plot issues the movie has, the guy is a master film maker.

As for Jordan, please keep making horror, please keep making us shudder, the genre loves you. I can see why you were chosen to revive The Twilight Zone.

So do I pay for the next Jordan Peele movie right now, or how does this work? 

"When you point one finger, there are three fingers pointing back to you."

 

Rahul Menon was born and raised in New Delhi, India, and currently lives in Illinois. He is an assistant director, screenwriter and occasional actor, as well as a computer science engineer who worked as a software analyst and in advertising and marketing prior to entering the film industry. His screen debut was as screenwriter and assistant director of Saayanna Varthakal (Evening News) in 2018. He is currently pursuing a masters degree at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Facebook, Instagram, IMDB.


Guest Voices: In Praise of Twenty One Pilots

Today's guest voice is none other than CultureGeek Jr., otherwise known as Ian Smith.

Once upon a time in Columbus, Ohio, circa 2009: high school friends Tyler Joseph, Nick Thomas, and Chris Salhi decided to start a band with Tyler on vocals, piano, and ukulele, Nick on bass, and Chris on drums.

They called this new group “Twenty One Pilots” as a reference to the play All My Sons by Arthur Miller, a story centering around a man who must live with the knowledge that he caused the death of 21 pilots in World War II after knowingly sending faulty parts to the military to help his business.

Tyler, Nick, and Chris then started developing their first songs for their self-titled debut album, which they released December 29, 2009. Shortly afterwards they began touring their home state of Ohio, building up a very small but passionate following in the area. Their early success is attributed to their constant touring and consistent use of social media to release their new content and interact with their small group of new followers.

However, in 2011, Nick Thomas and Chris Salhi quit the band, because they both wanted to pursue careers outside of music. There’s not a whole lot of information about how this actually happened, but what we DO know is that a few months after Nick and Chris left, Tyler met Josh Dun. Josh was the past drummer for House of Heroes. It was during this time that the newly formed pair found the sound that would define Twenty One Pilots, a unique mix of analog piano, synthesizer, bass, and drums. And all under the poetic lyrics that switch between Tyler's falsetto singing voice, spoken word sections reminiscent of rap, and occasional screams.

Even though they had found their sound, they still had trouble finding success outside of Ohio. They played their first out-of-state show in June of 2011 to only 12 people. Regardless, Tyler and Josh continued making music and performing, and then started working with filmmaker Mark Eshleman to create music videos for their songs and post them on Youtube.

In July 2011, Tyler and Josh released the band’s second album, titled “Regional at Best.” This proved to be the band's first moderate hit. They launched the album with a free show on the grounds of the new Albany High School in Ohio with hundreds in attendance. Later in November, they sold out the Newport Music Hall in Columbus, Ohio with more than 1,800 people in attendance.

Keep in mind, the band wasn’t signed to a label yet. But this growing success caught the attention of dozens of record labels. Eventually the band signed with Atlantic Records subsidiary Fueled By Ramen, the same record label that has boosted artists like Fallout Boy, Panic at the Disco, and Paramore.

Since they were finally signed to a label, they started working with producer Greg Wells on a new album called “Vessel," their first feature-length studio album to be released on a record label. The album was recorded at Rocket Carrousel Studios in Los Angeles with Tyler on piano, vocals, keyboard, and ukulele, and Josh on drums and percussion. Their producer Greg Wells contributed some additional keyboard and synths.

"Vessel" was released in January 2013, and featured several songs that were previously featured on an EP titled “3 Songs.” "Vessel" was the biggest success for the band yet, reaching 21 (ironically) on the Billboard Top 100 and selling over 569,000 copies as of July 2016.

It was at this time that they started touring internationally. In 2013 they were featured as an opening act for Fallout Boy, and made their late night television debut on Conan. They were also first-time headliners at some of the country’s biggest music festivals like SXSW, Bonaroo, and Lollapalooza in 2013. They even got to play their number one hit “Car Radio” at the 2014 MTV Movie Awards.

During all this constant touring around, the two kept a small bubble studio with them wherever they went, so they could quickly record any song ideas they had while on the road. When it came time to record their fourth album, they did so in a very unorthodox manner. Instead of writing and recording all the songs in one studio with one producer, they worked with multiple producers and several different studios: veteran music producers Tim Anderson, Ricky Reed, Mike Elizondo, all in their separate studios across the northern hemisphere, and even Mike Crossey in London.

All this work resulted in “Blurryface,” the band's fourth official album released in May 2015. "Blurryface" was a concept album that centered around a character, appropriately named Blurryface. Tyler himself heavily identifies with Blurryface, stating that the character represents everything he feels insecure about. In live shows and music videos from the album, Tyler wears black paint on his hands and neck, stating that it helps him get into character.

The hype for "Blurryface" was so big that the official Twenty One Pilots website crashed because so many people were trying to pre-order it. When the album finally released, it was featured No. 1 on the Billboard Top 100, it sold 150,000 copies in the first week, and eventually it sold well over one million copies, which certifies it as platinum.

A lot of the album's success might have been because of chart-topping singles “Stressed Out” and “Ride.” "Stressed Out" was about the struggling transition from childhood to adulthood; "Ride" is about asking questions to yourself and getting lost into your deep thoughts. "Stressed Out" was No. 1 on the Billboard Top 100, and "Ride" was No. 5. That’s two songs from the same band and both songs were in the top five; the only other people to do that were Elvis Presley and The Beatles.

After the world tour of "Blurryface," the band decided to take a break from performing and making new stuff for almost two years. In November of 2018, the band surprised everyone with news that they’re going to release a new album. “Trench” was released in October 2018 and features hit singles like "Jumpsuit," "Nico and the Niners," and "Neon Gravestones."

If you hadn’t figured out, Twenty One Pilots is my favorite band: the beautiful and poetic lyrics, the constantly changing vibes between songs, the fact that they fit into SO many genres, and most of all, the messages behind the songs. Every song that they’ve ever written has a message behind it, and knowing Tyler it's usually a message about living with anxiety or depression, how to cope and live with the things that emotionally hurt and cripple you the most.

The messages are not always negative and dark; a lot of them talk about love and hope, and remember to laugh once in a while and be optimistic.

If this has spurred any interest in Twenty One Pilots, please do this: listen to "Neon Gravestones." It's a beautiful song about suicide, but has a lovely message at the end. It’s one of my favorite songs and I feel like it should be heard a hundred times more.

 

Ian Smith is a film and theater student in Illinois.


Guest Voices: Meet Jason R. Tippitt

Please allow me to introduce myself; I’m a man of poverty and passion. (Apologies to Mick Jagger.)

I’m not exactly new here, but my arrival is something like one of those stories you hear where a band hires a fan to be the new singer. Except the previous singer didn’t leave. And we don’t really sound alike. But we’ve known each other a long time.

So this isn’t really that at all. I’m a longtime fan of this blog, but usually silent, though I’ve been reading it off and on since the beginning, and I’ve known Elizabeth Donald much longer than this blog has been here or since the word “blog” was not a typo, for that matter.

We share an interest in creative works. We both write. She publishes, and I get ideas that stall out before they’re done. (It’s a work in progress.) She is a queen of things that go chomp in the night; my tastes run more toward dragging real-life horrors out into the day.

She loves roller coasters. I have occasionally considered but never committed to buying a roller coaster-building simulation for my computer. 

I introduced her to comic books eons ago. She tried to introduce me to Laurell K. Hamilton (her books, anyway), but it wasn’t a good fit. I think we’re in agreement that constant crossovers have killed the joy of comics for us. (Editor's note: I call it the Crisis of Infinite Crossovers.)

Things we’ll be talking about here — well, I’ll be talking about them and I hope you’ll chime in, too — include how religious and spiritual themes appear in pop culture in unexpected places, the ways that comedy treats human sexuality, and the topic of what (if anything) celebrities “owe” to their fans and vice versa.

I won’t pretend to be all-encompassing in my knowledge of popular culture. I’m a guy of a certain age from a certain background who’s had certain experiences and known certain people. There are gaps in my knowledge which, the internet being the internet, I’m sure will be made known to me with a quickness.

At times, I will contradict myself because I’m a human being and we do that. Try to respect that complication in me and I’ll try to give you the benefit of the doubt as well. Life is a learning process.

The most important things I’m keeping in mind as I approach this — more like going to work at a store you’ve frequented, really, because no one has ever wanted to hear me sing — are these two facts:

There’s endless space on the Internet. “Running out of news hole” — a term only print journalists (and survivors of the industry like Elizabeth and myself) will understand — does not apply here, though exceeding readers’ attention spans does.

And the easiest way to annoy Elizabeth Donald is to

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Jason R. Tippitt is a former newspaper journalist and seminary dropout now caring for family members full-time three counties past nowhere in Tennessee. He is co-author (with Elizabeth Donald) of “I Live With It Every Day,” featured in her anthology SETTING SUNS.