Rock

Twenty One Pilots Saying Hello, Goodbye to Livestreams With Massive, Broadway-Style Blowout

Twenty One Pilots
Ashley Osborn

Twenty One Pilots

Just as live music is starting to creep back, Columbus duo will perform much of new album during Friday night's (May 21) elaborate stream.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- With more than 3 dozen people looking on earlier this week, Twenty One Pilots singer/guitarist Tyler Joseph was quietly rehearsing some choreography during yet another all-day rehearsal for the band's massive livestream on Friday night (May 21). Lost in his footwork, Joseph moved across the floor in deep concentration as if he was alone in the cavernous room packed with equipment, as his choreographer shadowed his steps off-camera.

Seven months in the making, the launch event for the band's Scaled and Icy album is a huge undertaking that will bring the "live" to the livestream economy that has exploded over the past year due to COVID-19 restrictions on mass gatherings and concerts. The duo -- anchored by drummer Josh Dun's muscular backbeat -- will pull out all the stops for a one-and-done event that will take their die-hard Skeleton Clique on a trip through almost all the pop-infused album via colorful sets packed with plenty of tasty Easter eggs from the expansive 21P universe.

"This is not a repeat of their live show... it's the most adventurous, creative, ambitious thing I've ever been part of," said the band's longtime manager, Chris Woltman, as he watched a crew of nearly 70 performers, camera people, technical crew and stage hands take their marks for another run through of one of the most complicated setups in the show. "It's a convergence of live theater mixed with a livestream moment and a Twenty One Pilots show."

The huge team has been holed up on site for more than two weeks, moving in a handful of Broadway-style set pieces surrounded by a forest of movie-set-worthy cameras, with masked crew members pulling long days to make sure everything goes as elaborately planned. At a moment when live shows have been off the table for more than 14 months, Woltman says Joseph and Dun agreed that taking a big swing to celebrate the release of an album with a warm, embracing point of view after such a dark, alienating pandemic lockdown was something the Clique, and 21P, needed. And earned.

For the band, the livestream is a way for their extended family to gather virtually for a party after, you can be sure, the Clique spent all day Friday inhaling every note of such instant S&I brainworm classics as "Mulberry Street," "Good Day," "Saturday" and first single "Shy Away"; the group will also perform the latter at Sunday night's 2021 Billboard Music Awards.

And because the fan experience is always front-of-mind, the band also built out a highly interactive livestream experience site that was unlocked with the purchase of a ticket. The colorful destination included links to the album's videos, merch, a live Q&A with the band, exclusive content and an "Artopia" section where the Clique could upload and share their home-brewed art, among other deep-dive diversions.

Since its launch April 7, Woltman says the page -- which looks like a control room, with dozens of clickable buttons and screens that whoosh you down endless rabbit holes -- has logged more than 3.6 million sessions (as of 1 p.m. Thursday), with 3.48 million hours of watch time, log-ins from 202 international territories on one million unique devices, with more than half of the visits (56%) coming from outside the U.S.

"The page is not just two or three buttons and 'buy a ticket or a T-shirt,' but making sure that it's very explorative and has so many layers, like the Dema narrative," says Maik Kahler, chief creative officer of Lili Studios, which built the world that advances the years-long dystopian storyline in the band's songs and videos for their previous album, Trench. For Kahler and Lili CEO and co-founder Heather Fullerton, the experience page was about extending the livestream narrative for weeks before the show, including the launch of a sure-to-be fan-favorite new element in the three-hour pre-show period before the 8 p.m. ET livestream kicks off.

Describing it as a "three-dimensional" exploration of the album, the pair promise it will be so deep that some Clique members might need to ask their fellow fans for help finding all the nooks and crannies; Billboard agreed to not divulge the surprise before it launches. "We  tried to create a place where you can look inside Tyler's head and see the origins [of the story]," he said of the element awaiting those who've signed up for the show. He describes it as "a maze you have to walk through where you won't know if you've seen everything" with "hundreds and thousands" of routes tied to a key aspect of the album's creation. [Editor's note: once the experience went live it was revealed to be a navigable exploration of the Joseph's hand-written lyrics for all of the album's songs.]

"For us, it's not only the pre-show and the show and the hour after the show and then it's over and 'thank you, go home,'" says Kahler. "We think of it as a complete experience," he adds, pointing to the bank of surveillance cameras on the site that launch all kinds of live 21P concert footage and backstage videos that he and Fullerton hope will have fans asking, "Is this live for everyone in the world, or just me?"

Wandering around the set while pointing out some of the minute details tucked into every corner of the various stages, Woltman says the livestream was a massive undertaking involving more than half a year of weekly meetings, strategy sessions and Zoom calls that began on July 9, 2020. That intense work shows on the various setups, which will wow fans already used to the duo's cinematic live shows.

While the band kept the details of the livestream a closely guarded secret in the weeks leading up to the show, they have posted a few teaser clips on Instagram, including a timelapse of the build-out, small glimpses of the sets and rehearsals and, on the eve of the album's release, a video with a sneak peek at some of the special guests who will join them.

"Like Tyler said, it's the most exclusive inclusive community out there, and you're invited no matter who you are," says Woltman. The proof will come Friday night when the "Twenty One Pilots -- Livestream Experience" kicks off here.

Watch the latest preview below.