the judge: a musical analysis

I live twelve hours away from my younger sister, so I don’t see her often. One thing that has kept us connected is music: we share new artists with one another, compare (and argue about) favorite songs, and constantly discuss the meanings of lyrics. We both prefer music with depth and meaning over a catchy beat, but we love discovering artists who make use of both.

One of our favorite artists lately is a duo called twenty one pilots. Tyler Joseph is a masterful word-stringer and musician, and Josh Dun is an incredible drummer. They are both regular 20-something men from Ohio, but they both have extraordinary talent.

Their new album Blurryface, released in May of 2015, has a mix of everything from heavy rap-reliant songs filled with drums and soft-spoken, thought-provoking lyrics with simple piano or ukulele instrumentals. And some of their songs have both.

The seventh song on the album, a catchy, ukulele-driven track, is called The Judge. It is one of my favorite songs by the duo, not only for the intense musicality of the piece but also the deep, Christ-centered lyrics (and there’s even something to be said about the fact that it is track number seven on the album).

Listen to The Judge here! ^^^

It seems rare these days that artists show vulnerability and need for help, especially when it comes to religion and faith. Instead we see artists proclaiming their own strength, like Kanye West has done with his 2013 album Yeezus and his recent self-obsessed actions. Tyler Joseph is a far cry from singing “I am god,” however. The Judge talks about sin, brokenness, and the very real need for a savior.

The Judge begins by painting a picture of a “bad guy” singing in a secret place. This could easily represent Tyler’s hidden sins and his internal battle with these problems. The “bad guy” then finds his way to a trial: his own trial, where he is pleading for his life.

Much of the song features Tyler, who wrote the album about the broken part of himself (giving it the moniker “blurryface”), wrestling with a “God” figure charging him with his sins in a judgment-day like setting.

The chorus says “I know my soul’s freezing / hell’s hot for good reason / so please, take me.” This is both a confession of sin and a knowledge of its rightful punishment. However, the speaker still asks to be set free, even though he is aware of his frozen, broken soul.

In the next verse, Tyler could be using a metaphor of burnt-out light bulbs to explain the darkness he feels around and inside of him, and the longing he has for light. He could also be simply relating his inward struggles to something physical that just isn’t working right. After noticing the burnt-out bulb, the speaker heads out to find another light, but ends up getting lost on the way.

“I’m not good with directions and I hide behind my mouth / I’m a pro at imperfections and I’m best friends with my doubt,” he sings, once again proclaiming his own insecurities and sins. After getting lost on account of his own mistakes, the chorus takes over for the second time.

Tyler Joseph begs the judge to set him free, which could be referencing the Judge, who is the only judge with the power to truly set us free from our fallen nature.

This is where the song gets interesting musically. The song breaks down, slows down, then speeds up again. In the “bridge” of the song, Tyler sings “I don’t know if this song / is about me or the devil,” which explains the struggle between good and bad throughout the song.

It finishes with more requests of the judge, ending with a final call to “set [him] free.”

With all the hidden imagery of sin and judgment, I would like to commend Tyler Joseph (as well as Josh Dun) on the honesty of this song. Most artists tend to shy away from religious vulnerability, but I believe twenty one pilots does a good job of releasing their true feelings into music without losing a fan base because of “preaching,” and that is something the world needs more of.

Interested in hearing more music from twenty one pilots? My favorites are Oh Ms Believer, Taxi Cab (from Twenty One Pilots), Lovely (from Regional at Best), Migraine, Guns For Hands (both from Vessel), Stressed Out, and Goner (from Blurryface). I also really enjoy their cover of Can’t Help Falling in Love. That being said, all of their music is great, so they’re worth a listen.


** disclaimer: These are all just my own thoughts and opinions. Tyler Joseph has always encouraged fans to create and discover their own meaning through his art. Listen to the song; develop your own understanding. Appreciate the song for what it means to you.


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