The Message Behind “Heathens” by Twenty One Pilots

While it is frequently argued the song addresses discord between the super-fan base, “Skeleton Clique” and new fans (millions of them) by urging the Clique to empathize in spite of differences, I think there is more below the surface. In this post, I’ll present to you a new perspective on the song by interpreting it into letter form. In other words, I’ll write a letter to the listener from Tyler, the lead singer’s, perspective to showcase the message behind the lyrics that’s applicable to far more than just long-time fans.

A Letter From Tyler to the Listener

Imagine you’re in a room with people like you, where everyone goes out of their way to be loving, but entering this room is a flood of weirdos, psychopaths, and criminals. Before you start telling those people you know me or Jesus or before you talk to them at all, ask yourself why you’re doing it. Is it because you feel bad for them? Because deep down you’re better, and they need someone like you because their life is so messed up? Just because you’re trying to be nice doesn’t mean discrimination isn’t hiding in your soul. That uncomfortable feeling in your stomach shows you think you don’t belong, but watch it.

Everyone who I consider a friend is messed up just like me, so don’t jump to the conclusion that your self-righteousness separates you from the rest of the world. Wait and see what happens if you treat everyone like a human being and understand their story before you act like you know someone. Behind every set of eyes is a soul that’s been tortured in some unique way and you can’t know just how tortured someone’s been.

We really suck at getting along with people who are different than us. We think we know someone at face value and become the worst kind of cynic before a word is spoken. We can’t start with trust because trust is reserved for people who look like us. Someday soon, you’ll find yourself standing next to a soul whose diversity is beyond your ability to empathize, and you’ll start wondering how you got stuck next to someone “like that,” and that’s when I hope you remember this letter I wrote you.

Because my friends are all messed up.

Even if you forget yourself and become a critic and do damage with your words and the looks you give, maybe someone will put you in your place and tell you you’re being a jerk, or maybe you’ll see the hurt in their eyes. That wouldn’t be so bad because then maybe you’ll see you’re messed up just like me and all my friends.

Challenges in Interpretation

Here are a few lines of the song that are difficult to interpret, which inspired my research and the creative letter above. I think I’ve answered them all above so if you’ve got any better ideas, let me know.

Wait for them to ask you who you know

Who do you know?

Please don’t make any sudden moves

What is a “sudden move?”

They say they can smell your intentions

Who can smell who’s intentions?

I tried to warn you just to stay away

Who is the speaker?

Lyrics are unbelievably important to me. I will admit to liking a good deal of less-than-excellent music because I like the lyrics so much. Anyway, I hope this has been helpful in understanding a song that is wildly popular, but I would argue more often than not misunderstood. Here are the original lyrics if you’d like to compare.

The Original Lyrics to “Heathens”

All my friends are heathens, take it slow
Wait for them to ask you who you know
Please don’t make any sudden moves
You don’t know the half of the abuse
All my friends are heathens, take it slow
Wait for them to ask you who you know
Please don’t make any sudden moves
You don’t know the half of the abuse

Welcome to the room of people
Who have rooms of people that they loved one day
Docked away
Just because we check the guns at the door
Doesn’t mean our brains will change from hand grenades
You’re lovin’ on the psychopath sitting next to you
You’re lovin’ on the murderer sitting next to you
You’ll think, how’d I get here, sitting next to you?
But after all I’ve said, please don’t forget

All my friends are heathens, take it slow
Wait for them to ask you who you know
Please don’t make any sudden moves
You don’t know the half of the abuse

We don’t deal with outsiders very well
They say newcomers have a certain smell
Yeah, I trust issues, not to mention
They say they can smell your intentions
You’re lovin’ on the freakshow sitting next to you
You’ll have some weird people sitting next to you
You’ll think “how did I get here, sitting next to you?”
But after all I’ve said, please don’t forget
(Watch it, watch it)

(Watch it)
All my friends are heathens, take it slow
Wait for them to ask you who you know
Please don’t make any sudden moves
You don’t know the half of the abuse

All my friends are heathens, take it slow
(Watch it)
Wait for them to ask you who you know
(Watch it)
All my friends are heathens, take it slow
(Watch it)
Wait for them to ask you who you know

Why’d you come, you knew you should have stayed
I tried to warn you just to stay away
And now they’re outside ready to bust
It looks like you might be one of us

Written by Tyler Joseph • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

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