The Atlantic, covering twenty-somethings in 2016:
Would you trade the ups-and-downs of adult life for a soothing lullaby in your childhood bedroom? That’s the comforting fantasy that Twenty One Pilots conjure in “Stressed Out.” When I first heard the song, listening to KROQ on the 405 Freeway in Los Angeles, I thought, watch out Taylor Swift, this is the Millennial anthem.
The Atlantic, covering twenty-somethings in 1944:
let’s follow along with Able and Baker companies, 116th Infantry, 29th Division. Their story is lifted from my fading Normandy notebook, which covers the landing of every Omaha company.
ABLE Company riding the tide in seven Higgins boats is still five thousand yards from the beach when first taken under artillery fire. The shells fall short. At one thousand yards, Boat No. 5 is hit dead on and foundered. Six men drown before help arrives.
Back to 2016:
“Stressed Out” both updates and rejects “I Wish.” It is entirely about aspiration, yet it’s about, actually, aspiration’s failure: “Wish we could turn back time, to the good ol’ days / When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out.” In the song’s video, the pair sit on a curb, drinking that ultimate beverage of disaffected youth: Capri Sun. They ride bikes down a barren suburban street. They engage in complicated high-fives.
Back to 1944:
Able Company has planned to wade ashore in three files from each boat, center file going first, then flank files peeling off to right and left. The first men out try to do it but are ripped apart before they can make five yards. Even the lightly wounded die by drowning, doomed by the waterlogging of their overloaded packs.
“Stressed Out” reads as anthemic precisely because it is, upbeat tones notwithstanding, fairly hopeless. These guys aren’t dreaming of the things they could get, were they a little bit taller, more athletic, and fit for their world. They’re beyond striving for any of that. They’re something sadder than unsatisfied: They’re reconciled.
Already the sea runs red. Even among some of the lightly wounded who jumped into shallow water the hits prove fatal. Knocked down by a bullet in the arm or weakened by fear and shock, they are unable to rise again and are drowned by the onrushing tide. Other wounded men drag themselves ashore and, on finding the sands, lie quiet from total exhaustion, only to be overtaken and killed by the water.
That’s just it: I see no hope in “Stressed Out.” It’s so much more bleak than other songs grounded in wistfulness for childhood. Remember“Playdoh” by the Aquabats?
Oh yeah, “Playdoh” by the Aquabats. Sure.