My Chemical Romance were a forest fire of intensity, emotional freedom and blistering catharsis. Every guitar lick howled with abandon, each coat of red eye makeup etched into the bloodstreams of fans and their lyrics will be forever taken as gospel.
When the band announced their break up in 2013, it seemed as though the world had lost one of the last great rock bands to conquer the mainstream with fervour, whilst maintaining a dedicated, undying fan base. As a sightly aged emo, I remember my friends and I whimpering in the school hallways, scrambling to make our Spotify playlists that celebrated the band and reminisce about good times spent as fans upon hearing the news of their breakup.
Since then, MCR have maintained a hugely respected status amongst alternative music fans. They’ve even managed to transcend the scene, and yield massive acknowledgement amongst most music press even after their break up.
In 2013, it did seem like no other band would capture the imagination of a fanbase quite like My Chemical Romance did – however, by this time, a new phenomenon was poised to take over.
When Twenty One Pilots released Vessel in 2013, it was immediately noted there was something spectacularly different. Blending sticky drumming, eclectic vocal stylings, vivid lyricism and jaunty synths and pianos, it was a cacophonous pop monolith with a distinctly alternative edge.
Since then, Twenty One Pilots have effectively rendered themselves the My Chemical Romance for the now-generation.
Although existing within the “alternative” or “emo” scene, both bands managed to musically transcend the limitations placed upon them. Taking from Queen, The Cure and Black Flag simply placing the umbrella term “pop punk” onto My Chem never felt quite right.
Similarly, with Twenty One Pilots genre limitations seem unfair. On paper it shouldn’t work – on Blurryface, reggae chord structures and culminated with pulsating synths and muttered vocals on ‘Lane Boy’, sit comfortably next to the straight up indie-pop banger ‘Tear In My Heart’, in between Tyler Joseph’s many rapped verses.
Whilst leaning into an array of influences, it all culminates in an effortlessly catchy feast. Across the shrieking solos and dissonance of Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge, My Chemical Romance always found themselves delivering hooks and the sweetest of melodies.
Inviting listeners into a world of weird and wonderful soundscapes under the guise of sweet pop songs is what the band’s manage to pull off so well – if it weren’t for My Chem, I would’ve never have had my interest piqued for bands like Sunny Day Real Estate and Refused. Twenty One Pilots are similarly acting as a gateway into a rabbit hole of not only alternative music, but for further experimental pop and hip hop for this generation of fans.
Musicality aside, it’s hard not to note the similar angst that ties the two bands together. My Chemical Romance’s over the top narrative style lyrics are paralleled in Tyler Joseph’s mysterious, rambling verses that often deliver key themes that pop up over again – it’s truly hypnotising. Overall it delivers a key message of hope, persistence and comfort in your own skin – a massive unifier amongst fans. This translates into their live show as well – a combination of bubbling angst that explodes with a pulsating energy, much like My Chemical Romance’s Black Parade era show.
This angst is only further propelled within their image – and boy, can we get behind any bit of black or red that pops up. The way in which TOP instil aesthetic, symbolic imagery and deep messages into every inch of their work is pretty marvelling to witness. Overt themes and colours make for an all-encompassing experience – it helps to create an important sense of community amongst fans, wearing pieces of it as their uniform.
Even the parallels between Killjoys and the Skeleton Clique are uncanny. They’re mysterious and intriguing, without seeming alienating – they’re welcoming to all and create a community for outsiders without the exclusivity. There’s no pretence or pre-requisites to join, other than a pure unadulterated passion for the music.
Blurryface is quite clearly having the same impact on alternative music fans (young and old) that the Black Parade did in 2006. Off the back of the album, Twenty One Pilots have become the only band in history to have every track off the album go Gold, they’ve permeated the mainstream with award show performances and Grammy wins, all whilst maintaining their core fanbases’ respect and the alternative world’s hearts – much like My Chemical Romance did.
Whatever Twenty One Pilots do next will solidify their status as legends who cut through an era of what sometimes seems a misguided mainstream. The anticipation bubbling whilst the band maintain their hiatus is becoming unbearable – but so exciting to witness, and we’re ready for whatever comes of it.