Meaning of “Nico and the Niners” by Twenty One Pilots

“Nico and the Niners” is a song by the noted music duo from America called Twenty One Pilots. “Nico and the Niners” is basically a dark story about a fictional character named Clancy who lives in a horrible walled city called Dema. The city is ruled by nine evil bishops whose sole aim is to prevent the city’s inhabitants from living the city. Clancy, whose primary goal is to escape the city, eventually gets help from a rebel group called the Banditos.

The Banditos help him flee the evil city by advising him to put on a yellow jumpsuit so that he cannot be detected by the bishops (who find it impossible to see anything colored in yellow).


Key Terms in the song and what they mean

In order to fully understand the lyrics of this song, one would first of all need to understand what the fictional names and terms in the song mean. So without further ado, here is a list of the relevant names/terms in the song and what they represent:

  • City of Dema: This is a fictional walled city from the song that prevents its citizens from fleeing. Dema here refers to a number of negative things ranging from depression to anxiety.
  • The Bishops: The term “bishop” is used metaphorically to refer to a person’s internal struggle. In the story, there are a grand total of nine bishops controlling Dema.
  • Nico: This is the name of one of the bishops of the evil city of Dema.
  • Niners: This is a term that is used to refer to all the bishops as a group.
  • Clancy: This is the new moniker the lead singer of Twenty One Pilots Tyler Joseph uses. Clancy is trapped in the evil city of Dema and wants to flee. Clancy is pretty similar to the Blurryface moniker Tyler used in the band’s previous album.
  • Banditos: This is a rebel group who has taken it upon themselves to rescue citizens trapped in Dema (depression). In guiding people out of the brutal grips of Dema, the Banditos use the color yellow in conjunction with the phrase “east is up”.

After all is said and done, this song is about depression and mental illness. It reminds us that the bishops (depression, negative thoughts, anxiety, etc) don’t have the power to control us unless we let them. It reminds us that we can seek help for our depression and eventually escape from it.

Sadly, not everybody can succeed in overcoming mental illness

Despite the song assuring people that they can defeat their demons (depression) and be free, the lyrics go on to say not everyone held captive in Dema gets the opportunity to escape like Clancy. Some will never succeed in escaping from the bishops. What this means is that not everybody battling depression would see success.

This line from the song says it all: “We’ll win but not everyone will get out”.


Facts about “Nico and the Niners”

  • “Nico and the Niners” was written and produced by Twenty One Pilots (drummer Josh Dun and lead vocalist Tyler Joseph).
  • The song was released on July 11th, 2018 as the second single from the duo’s fifth album titled Trench.
  • The song has a total length of 3 minutes and 47 seconds.
  • The song currently occupies the number 79th spot on the US Billboard Hot 100. On the UK Singles Chart, it currently sits at number 88.

Below is the official music video of the song “Nico and the Niners”. The video was released on the same day the track officially came out.


What musical genre is “Nico and the Niners”?

This song falls into these categories: psychedelic music, hip hop and reggae.

Are the lyrics of “Nico and the Niners” autobiographical? Has Joseph Tyler battled depression (mental illness) before?

Till date, Tyler hasn’t specifically said anywhere of dealing with any type of mental illness. However, his lyrics often deal with the issues of depression, anxiety, insecurities, etc. Over the years, many fans of Twenty One Pilots have claimed the duo’s songs have helped them in their battles with mental illness. Also, Tyler has a tattoo (which according to him, is about “something that saved his life”).

So the kind of music Tyler makes coupled with certain lines from his interviews and the fact that he has a tattoo that symbolizes something that saved his life, leads many to believe that he might have battled severely with mental illness and was probably suicidal at some point in his life.

That said, it is important that we reiterate the fact that Tyler has never stated anywhere that he battled or battles with mental illness.

What’s the meaning of the slogan/phrase “east is up” used by the banditos?

The phrase “east is up”, which is constantly chanted by the Banditos as they guide the captives of Dema to freedom, is to remind them that no matter how dark the night, the sun will rise.

6 Responses

  1. Najeea says:

    I think it could also be about a spiritual battle within oneself. The vulture in the beginning could symbolize death or death of the soul if he doesn’t escape. Yellow could represent the Light in a world surrounded by darkness. East is up could be a metaphor for the sunrise. Telling us to look to God for our strength and power.

    • RavenX says:

      vulture represents those who feed on another problems or their thoughts.

      • Error says:

        vulture symbolism also speaks about purification and the restoration of harmony in your life. It symbolizes the time to right your wrongs and break free from the shackles of your own ego. The vulture meaning also brings to focus the real meaning of life and death.

    • Anonymous says:

      It’s telling to look for ourselves for power, to know yourself. This song along with the album heavydirtysoul are explaining spiritual awakening. It may also have to do with tylers personal battle in a sleeping society, where the people are submissive to the tyrannical government/ nico and the niners. As above so below, The banditos are the awakened people in society, that have left Dema behind and they are within his own mind, helping him. Nico and the niners are emotions that keep us back, they keep us submissive, but they are also representative of government trying to pull the wool over our eyes. East is up is a codeword, to remind you that you are not in this alone, to remind you that you are an infinite being, to remind you that Dema don’t control us. So East is up, remember yourself, stay true to yourself, don’t follow others, don’t be a lane boy, don’t believe what’s on TV. Remember your hometown, tell them not today. We are extremely stressed out, but don’t let doubt creep in, polarize and keep yourself balanced. You are the judge. you are here for a reason, so take some time on your ride. We are all Heavy, Dirty souls.

      • Anonymous says:

        Oh this was beautifully written. Love the last part where you use lyrics/song names to represent what they are saying 💜

  2. A sad kid says:

    This song has gotten me through a lot. I would say that it is about we are all being opressed by people ( the bishops ) but we can escape with help of the banditos ( good friends ).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may also like...