Twenty One Pilots win at AMAs: How the group became 'improbable' hit

The group Twenty One Pilots won the award for favorite duo or group – pop/rock and received praise for their performance at the ceremony. The band has released such hit singles as 'Stressed Out' and 'Heathens.'

Matt Sayles/Invision/AP
Josh Dun (l.) and Tyler Joseph (r.) of Twenty One Pilots accepts the award for favorite artist – alternative rock at the American Music Awards at the Microsoft Theater on Nov. 20, 2016, in Los Angeles.

The group Twenty One Pilots received the award for favorite duo or group – pop/rock at the recent American Music Awards, also earning praise for their performance at the ceremony.

The awards show also included a win by Ariana Grande, who took the prize for artist of the year, and Drake, who won the awards for favorite album (rap/hip-hop for "Views") and favorite song (rap/hip-hop for "Hotline Bling").

The ceremony was hosted by Jay Pharaoh of “Saturday Night Live” and model Gigi Hadid.

In addition to the award for favorite duo or group – pop/rock, Twenty One Pilots received the AMA 2016 award for favorite artist – alternative rock.

Billboard writer Joe Lynch wrote of the group’s AMAs performance, “They really shine onstage. The duo are a dynamic live force, and their one-two punch of ‘Heathens’ and ‘Stressed Out’ was proof that a live band can not only be relevant on stage at a 2016 awards show, but that it can also be one of the highlight performances.” 

Twenty One Pilots, which consists of Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun, released an album in 2015, titled “Blurryface,” which was their fourth. The album included hit singles such as “Stressed Out” and “Ride.” 

Their song “Heathens,” which was released in June to accompany the superhero movie “Suicide Squad,” has stayed near the top of the Billboard Hot 100 since then. It’s currently at number four. Twenty One Pilots have also received such prizes as the MTV Video Music Award for best rock video for "Heathens" and the Billboard Music Awards for best rock album for "Blurryface" and top rock artist.

Los Angeles Times writer Mikael Wood sees their rise as unusual. Mr. Wood wrote that the group is “perhaps the year’s most improbable breakout act … [songs ‘Stressed Out’ and ‘Heathens’ are] hard-to-classify emo-rap songs.”

Rolling Stone writer Andy Greene, who called the group “the biggest new band of the past year” early in 2016, writes that the seemingly strange combination of genres found in the band’s music seems to appeal to young fans. “Twenty One Pilots are one of the hardest-to-categorize hit acts in years, mixing angsty lyrics, Macklemore-style rhymes, Ben Folds–like piano pop, 311-ish reggae beats, hard-rock energy and the occasional ukulele ballad,” Mr. Greene writes. “…It's a seemingly odd combination that makes total sense to their teen fan base.”

New York Times writer Caryn Ganz agrees that the band’s fan base is a powerful one and that Twenty One Pilots makes fans feel involved, noting that Mr. Joseph finished a concert at Madison Square Garden by informing attendees, “We are Twenty One Pilots ... and so are you.”

“Dedicated young fans have quietly made Twenty One Pilots the biggest band of 2016,” Ms. Ganz writes. “…In four years, Mr. Joseph and Mr. Dun have figured out how to build an arena spectacle that convinces audiences the detonator lies in their hands.”

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