Sometimes life’s bright and sunny. Other times, not so much. And sometimes, we might long to believe that we’d act heroically if the situation called for it. But would we? Would we really?
Ambivalent ruminations like these populate “Ride,” the latest hit from Twenty One Pilots. It’s a paradoxically upbeat-yet-melancholy meditation on the human condition—one that’s delivered with a catchy dose of electropop-tinged reggae beats.
On a good day, when everything’s as it should be, it’s natural to yearn for that feeling to last forever. That’s the starting point for “Ride.” Singer Tyler Joseph begins, “I just wanna stay in the sun where I find/ … Pieces of peace in the sun’s peace of mind.”
But Joseph’s also a realist. And he knows tough seasons are an escapable part of life, too. “I know it’s hard sometimes,” he tells us. So much so, in fact, that he even fixates on death at times. “Yeah, I think about the end just way too much.”
Amid this tug of war between brighter moments and darker ones, Joseph strives to strike a balance. He recognizes, it seems, that the end he broods about is inescapable. “Oh, oh, I’m falling,” he sings repeatedly. But even if he has to go down, he still wants to enjoy the journey along the way.
“Ride” then rounds a philosophical corner of sorts into Prince territory. In late 1984, Prince’s Purple Rain soundtrack hit “I Would Die 4 U” reached the Top 10, voicing exactly that self-sacrificial vow. It’s a deeply romantic, heroic sentiment—and a biblical one as well—this promise to lay our lives down on behalf of someone else.
It makes for a great pop song. Yet Joseph’s not quite so sure. Oh, he likes the idea of it. But he’s a bit agnostic about whether he would really be able to make such a sacrifice if push came to shove.
“‘I’d die for you,’ that’s easy to say,” he sings. “We have a list of people that we would take/A bullet for them, a bullet for you/A bullet for everybody in this room.”
But he’s also realistically aware that the vast majority of us never have such vows put to the test. And he wonders if he—and by extension, if we—would really sacrifice ourselves for others. “Metaphorically, I’m the man,” he tells us. “But literally, I don’t know what I’d do.”
He also has the honesty and insight to admit that we often fail smaller, more mundane tests in our closest relationships. “‘I’d live for you,’ and that’s hard to do,” Joseph observes, before adding, “Even harder to write when you know that tonight/There were people back home who tried talking to you/But then you ignored them still.”
The song’s lengthy second verse ends with a recitation of those big questions we sometimes ask in our quiet moments. “Like, ‘Who would you live for?’/’Who would you die for?’/And, ‘Would you ever kill?'” However, Joseph ends the song by repeating the phrase, “I’ve been thinking too much,” perhaps an admission that as important as these questions may be, they’re also difficult ones to answer definitively.
Twenty One Pilots is one of the hottest bands around as of mid-2016. This song and another one, “Heathens,” are currently lodged in the Top 5. It seems safe to say that this band’s brand of pessimistic optimism—or perhaps optimistic pessimism—is resonating with a large cross-section of young fans.
I wonder if that’s because Twenty One Pilots articulates both sides of life, both our deep yearning for things to work out and our nagging anxiety that sometimes they don’t. That juxtaposition gets at the tension between our hopes and the reality we often experience, without trying to rosily explain the gap in between.
Sometimes we find ourselves hoping for the best and preparing for the worst at the very same moment, the band seems to say. And that paradox is all a part of the ride.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.