Tuesday, May 5th, 2020

Twenty One Pilots – Level of Concern

Would you be my little quarantine? Check [ ] Yes [ ] No [ ] Maybe


Alex Clifton: As far as I know, this is the first real “quarantine bop,” i.e. hit song explicitly dealing with coronavirus, quarantine, and the global mess we find ourselves in. And honestly, this is (a) not what I expected from Twenty One Pilots, ever, and (b) really quite good? For me, quarantine has been my own personal dance party, in part because nobody can see me and in part because if I don’t do dumb dances I’ll go mad. “Tell me we’re alright, tell me we’re okay”: heck of a phrase to use in the middle of a full-blown crisis, but one I also long to hear nonetheless. All of this could be over in three months or two years. The future is so uncertain, shifting daily like a kaleidoscope, and every day it feels a little more out-of-reach. It’s certainly a future that none of us have prepared substantially for, a world of change waiting on the other side after the pandemic ends. None of us know if we’ll be “okay.” Everything that is happening is A Lot. But I do appreciate Twenty One Pilots taking that ball of anxiety and translating it into an upbeat tune, something that makes it easier to swallow. Spoonful of sugar and all that. At a time when nothing is certain and the world is too much to bear, having a song that’s easy to listen to that deals with the anxiety we collectively feel without being too direct is helpful. I just hope Twenty One Pilots keep up this level of quality post-quarantine — if they do, I might have to start listening to them.

Katie Gill: Twenty One Pilots have always been best when they’re tapping into a hyper-specific mood or feeling. And a song with the hook “tell me we’re all right, tell me we’re okay” is a big mood for the hyper-specific feeling of April 2020. Will this song age well? Probably not. Is it a little aggressively on the nose with certain lyrics? Definitely. I’m not sure if the “little quarantine” bit is smart or cringe. But is it the sort of thing that’s perfect for right now, right on this moment? Kind of, yeah!

Alfred Soto: I may have heard — I may have used — pickup lines crasser than “Would you be my little quarantine?” but I was less mush-mouthed about them, nor did I program arena-ready beats and echo. Imagine buttonholing Tyler Joseph a month after 9-11 with, “Hey, man, you should write a love song with the line, ‘I’d crash my plane in your remote field.'” And he’d step away, muttering about my tastelessness.

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: I expected to feel deeply cynical about a song so explicitly about quarantining, but upon hearing this, there’s something oddly comforting about seeing a band function normally and even have a little fun while capturing the zeitgeist. Despite its banality, “Just need you to tell me we’re alright, tell me we’re okay” is exactly what I wish someone would tell me right now, and even “Would you be, my little quarantine” made me smile more than I thought it would. (Of course, it doesn’t hurt that there’s a cute baby in the video.)

Scott Mildenhall: Of course, the rational reaction is to strong-arm a newly beatified nonagenarian into laying down the worst ever vocals on a number one single, but this is more impressive. It’s taut and tense, with a creeping dread rather than a monstrous one, and the relative lyrical subtlety combines with an undiminished level of production to give the impression of it actually being a pre-existing Twenty One Pilots track. Of course, that is all perfectly predictable, given that pop music has been planning for this for years, never quite expecting it to become reality. There’ll be nary a Western hit of the early 2010s that isn’t currently the subject of route-one YouTube comments connecting the dots with understandable gravity. And if the question was “in what way will big acts respond creatively to the current crisis?”, the answer here would indeed be “quite similarly to before.” In this instance, that falls into place very nicely.

Nortey Dowuona: Smooth almond funk anchored by Josh’s smooth, bubbly drums as Tyler sea sickly lurches from side to side with the low, bass slink and Grizzly Bear synths drifting in to cover the last sides.

Hannah Jocelyn: The groove isn’t as strong as a song like “Levitate” — it’s closer to the stiff disco-pop Dr. Luke was making in the intervening years between the Kesha fallout and Doja comeback — but where a lesser Twenty One Pilots song used to mean lame posturing, this is more in line with the lesser songs from Trench. “Level of Concern” does bring a bit of their goofiness back (Tyler Joseph begins a spoken word outro with “in a world!”), but the duo is confident enough now to make something corny like “be my quarantine” work without much incident. The namedrops on Trench were vestiges of the band’s concept-obsessed older self, but the names of crew members and tour managers emphasize the real-world stakes, making “panic on the brain/world has gone insane” play like deliberate understatement instead of plain clunky writing. Speaking of understatement: Paul Meany of Mutemath is back on co-production, but instead of “Chlorine”-style ambience, there’s not much more than that distant guitar riff and a simple piano riff. Josh Dun doesn’t get a lot to do here, and that’s what holds this back from being one of their best songs. But that’s part of the point. After Trench’s marketing hi-jinks disguised an unexpectedly mature record, Twenty One Pilots continue to experiment with stripping back elements and revealing the emotional core longtime fans always saw.

Reader average: [6.83] (6 votes)

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One Response to “Twenty One Pilots – Level of Concern”

  1. I wish I’d written about this because I think it’s best quarantine-themed song that was released.