To say Twenty One Pilots had a big year would almost minimize what they’ve really accomplished in 2016. Plenty of artists had years one could call “big”; Twenty One Pilots spent the year ascending from cult-favorite status to arguably the world’s biggest rock band, tearing down expectations and genre rules the whole time. The Ohio duo of Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun breathed new life into rock by revolutionizing it — combining elements of rap, electro-pop, pop-punk and reggae to make something truly unusual and new. It’s rare to enjoy commercial success alongside deep artistic freedom, but Twenty One Pilots have managed to carve a space in pop music that’s uniquely their own, and the fans are listening.
To truly get a sense of how these two twenty-somethings from the Midwest made it big (or, more aptly, even bigger, following their No. 1 album Blurryface in 2015) Billboard takes a look back at some of the major milestones they experienced in the last 12 months… you know, the stuff between a worldwide arena tour.
1. In the early days of the new year, Twenty One Pilots score their first ever top 10 single on the Hot 100. On Jan. 4 (for the chart dated Jan. 16), Billboard announced that “Stressed Out” had risen 13-9. This proved to be a prelude for 21P’s highly unexpected success in crossing over from alternative to top 40 radio with multiple singles throughout the year.
2. Later on in January, Twenty One Pilots keep up their momentum with a killer performance at the 2016 Winter X-Games at Buttermilk Mountain in Aspen Snowmass, Col. It was a huge deal: the duo played the same stage as Deadmau5 and Nas at a massive sporting event — it’s definitely a smart move to perform for people outside of a strict music fandom.
3. Twenty One Pilots land the cover of Billboard, sharing with fans everywhere a revealing tale of Midwest ethics, childhood Christianity, a love of pop-punk and an undeniable work ethic (plus friendship, can’t forget friendship.)
4. Blurryface surpasses 1 million in U.S. sales after 14 months on the market. The band’s landmark album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 upon its release in May 2015 and at the time of going platinum, sat at No. 3 on the tally. It hasn’t left the chart’s top 40 spots since it debuted.
5. Largely supported by the emo/pop-punk world of Alternative Press magazine, TOP take home Artist of the Year at the third annual AP Magazine Music Awards.
6. Twenty One Pilots score their second No. 1 album in two years…sort of. The Suicide Squad official soundtrack tops the Billboard 200, getting a big boost from the massive success of “Heathens,” a new song Twenty One Pilots recorded exclusively for the film.
7. The band again makes history, becoming the first act to top the Billboard Pop and Alternative Songs chart simultaneously with two different songs — “Ride” and “Heathens,” respectively. Beyond that, Joseph and Dun are the first act to sit at No. 1 on both charts in 11 years (the previous honor went to Green Day with “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.”)
8. The mass appeal of Twenty One Pilots’ live show really starts to sink in. The band plays two nights at Madison Square Garden, selling them both out. In the same month, they also play the famous Reading & Leeds Festival as headliners across the pond.
9. Twenty One Pilots win Best Rock Video at the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards for “Heathens.”
10. Twenty One Pilots make it to the biggest stage in late night television. Serving as musical guest on Saturday Night Live, they perform “Heathens” and “Ride.”
11. Twenty One Pilots fire up the American Music Awards with a medley of two of their biggest hits — “Heathens” and “Stressed Out.” When they weren’t lighting the stage ablaze, they were taking home awards, claiming Favorite Artist: Alternative Rock and Favorite Duo or Group: Pop/Rock.
12. With the success of Blurryface, the band releases a three-piece vinyl set of a live versions of the LP, a perfect holiday gift for your TOP-obsessed family member. If it’s any inclination of what next year is going to look like, Tyler and Josh should prepare for another wild ride.