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‘Next Semester’ Single Review: Genre-Defying, Per Usual

4.5 Stars

Twenty One Pilots dropped their newest single, “Next Semester,” on March 27.
Twenty One Pilots dropped their newest single, “Next Semester,” on March 27. By Courtesy of Twenty One Pilots / Fueled By Ramen
By Hannah E. Gadway, Crimson Staff Writer

Twenty One Pilots, the iconic music duo consisting of Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun, has defied genre — yet again.

On March 27, Twenty One Pilots dropped their newest single, “Next Semester.” The track follows the release of their recent single, “Overcompensate,” and was complemented by the band’s announcement of their Clancy World Tour. “Next Semester” is a stylistic whirlwind that refuses to adhere to one genre and reminds audiences of what makes Twenty One Pilots so loveable in the first place.

While the tone of “Next Semester” varies widely, most of the track has a pounding energy that Josh Dun’s intense drums bring forward. Drums are symbolically key to the two-person band — while Joseph is the lyrical frontman, Dun communicates with his accompaniment. Accordingly, the song’s relentless beat signifies a contagious energy that is sure to make listeners immediately want to start moving their feet.

The song’s beginning draws inspiration from garage rock and punk — genres that Twenty One Pilots has skirted around for years. Yet, a combination of upbeat inflection and serious lyricism makes it feel like these genres can’t quite contain the song. Joseph’s humming and an upbeat-sounding bassline contrast with grave lyrics about wanting to disappear: “I don’t want to be here, I don’t want to be here.” This duality makes sense lyrically, as the meaning of the song focuses on struggling silently while others drive on by with no emotion. “Next Semester” is satisfying because it doesn’t make its lyrics do all of the talking — instead, it sonically gestures toward its larger themes.

The chorus of the song invokes alternative rock and emo, genres with which Twenty One Pilots is most often associated. The lyrics are dark, reflecting a person out of touch with reality: “I prayed those lights would take me home / Then I heard, ‘Hey kid, get out of the road.’” Continuous guitar melds into Dun’s drums, like a headache itching at the back of one’s head. The song then embraces a screamo-inspired element during the final recitation of the chorus. Joseph screams, “Hey kid, get out of the road” with a beautiful degree of alarm, overwhelmed by his removal from reality. After this declaration, the song comes to a dramatic crescendo as the music swirls with layers of Joseph’s backing vocals, crashing drums, and electric guitar. These musical shifts keep the song from growing stale and give it a hyper, engaging sound.

The duo’s musical range is highlighted at the song’s end as the tone moves from frantic to a lullaby-like simplicity. After Joseph gives the chorus one last run, the drums fade away to focus on the strumming of a ukulele — a nod to Joseph’s iconic use of the instrument throughout the band’s discography. Joseph’s vocals layer over one another, and the conclusive lyrics, “Start fresh next semester,” take on a more hopeful tone when sung with simple sincerity instead of screeched urgency. The ending of “Next Semester” proves that Twenty One Pilots is still able to oscillate between extreme emotions, maintaining an intriguing mania that has pleased fans for years.

After “Scaled and Icy,” the duo’s last album, adopted a more pop-forward vibe, “Next Semester” may be a reminder of what makes Twenty One Pilots so loveable in the first place: their authenticity. The song does not take on the tone of a single genre, instead adapting itself to the unique sound Twenty One Pilots is known for. “Next Semester” spells out a good future for the band’s upcoming album, “Clancy,” and is a reminder that genre is never as simple as we might believe.

—Staff writer Hannah E. Gadway can be reached at hannah.gadway@thecrimson.com.

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