Check out the livestream that never ends! For the track "Level of Concern," the band Twenty One Pilots released a music video that never ends, like that one song sung by a sock puppet.
Powered by Imposium and conceived by storyteller/director Jason Zada, the video dropped on June 22. We've popped in to visit a few times—for indeed, it feels like something that's alive—and always feel pleasantly surprised. More often than not, we enter mid-song, crashing on a series of perpetually changing images … and alongside it, an unending conversation in the chat.
It's like stumbling into a random but mellow party, where people never quite get past the "Where u from?" stage. But there's always something new to look at, and you're looking as a community.
The concept was first teased with an enigmatic 24-hour video that went live on June 12. As a hint of what would come, it depicted random images on a TV screen, with a drony entreaty to dial an (877) number.
That teaser is titled "Start Here."
It's an alternate reality game (ARG)! And in principle, we're fans of anything that reminds us of "I Love Bees," which, for us, marks the first great ARG.
We didn't dial the number, but visited the website that accompanies the video, usb.twentyonepilots.com, which will demand a code from you. Successfully entering the code will yield a .zip file—creepy!—containing a cryptic drop of images, sounds and videos from the phones from the Twenty One Pilots duo, Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun.
This random assortment of fan treasure provides clues to the next code, with 20 in all to find. One is hidden in the closed captioning of the music video; another in the spectrogram of an audio file. Yet another must be elaborately pieced together: a glitched photo file opens a text editor containing coordinates that, when popped into Google Maps, yield the pieces you need for the next code.
Once all 20 are solved, fans unlock a page that enables them to upload their own content for the "Level of Concern" music video—thus helping ensure this thing never, ever ends.
Here's the full explainer:
Zada developed the game with renowned ARG designer Steve Peters. Peters worked at 42 Entertainment, which created "I Love Bees" as a promotion for Halo 2, way back in the early aughts.
We respect the work that went into this; it's nuanced, boundary-crossing craft that challenges media in a playful way. The beauty of a well-constructed ARG is that you can actually live, for a while, in that space between reality and narrative fantasy. You actually become a player in the story, and in this case, the payoff is great: Your reward is the right to make a direct contribution to this unending livestream.
This will be a blast for fans. But we've changed in the 16 years since "I Love Bees" was born, and our patience isn't what it used to be.
Forgive us, Peter and Jason. Some other internet human, anticipating our unwillingness to be drawn into a prolonged scavenger hunt, furnished all the codes in the comments. So if you're a jerk like us, you can find them there.
"Level of Concern" was written and recorded during shelter-in-place, and the video has generated 150 million streams worldwide. It marks the band's first musical creation since 2018, and was accompanied by a remote performance of the song on Jimmy Fallon's The Tonight Show: At Home Edition. Each musician delivered an open-air performance while in quarantine.
Proceeds of the song will go to Crew Nation, a global relief fund for assisting live music crews who've been impacted by Covid-19.
Below is an interview we held with Zada about the video.
Muse: Where did the idea come from?
Jason Zada: Twenty One Pilots was looking for a way to connect with their audience during a time that made touring impossible. We want to create a way to give core fans a fun yet challenging experience, then open everything up to all fans, new and old. We started with a mysterious 24-hour live stream that started an ARG that then unlocked a never-ending music video.
The idea was born from wanting to connect to millions in an extremely personal and unique way. By letting them upload their content, safely from their homes, they could be side-by-side with Tyler and Josh from Twenty One Pilots. The never-ending part has been bouncing around my head for a while, but in working with my longtime collaborator, Jason Nickel from Imposium, we figured a way to do this on YouTube—which is a big first.
What are the logistics of creating a music video that never ends?
Moderation is the main thing you have to plan for. We received under 100,000 submissions in the first 24 hours. All in all, the community has been incredible, and we've seen some brilliant content from the fans.
Did working on this project in confinement change anything about your creative process?
This entire project was conceived and produced in the last five weeks, under strict quarantine. Our team was based all over the world, so it was truly a remote production.
I've been so creatively inspired during this time period. I think it's the combination of restrictions and endless possibilities that have made me wake up every morning with an endless stream of ideas. I've done so much remote work in my career that this was just the next evolution. Small, remote teams can accomplish anything with the right idea and leadership.
What happens if you ever run out of content?
Since the video regenerates itself every 3 minutes and 40 seconds, if there isn't any new content, it will remix pre-existing content. Basically the music video will never be the same twice. But thankfully, we currently have the opposite problem!
What keeps the concept from becoming repetitive or dated? Like, will you keep slipping that link under fans' noses to get them to contribute?
The band and fans are so closely connected. I think fans will continually submit content, as well as new fans, who will discover the music video and participate. Everyone has a lot of time on their hands currently, so it's a fun distraction for a lot of people.
Do you have any plans for working the concept into future ideas, or somehow building on it?
I'm always looking to build off previous ideas, but usually look for what's next. Ironically, this was built off of the same technology Nickel and I used to do Take This Lollipop nine years ago. Personalization has been a part of a lot of the work we've done together.
Any weird creation stories?
Nah, best band and label on the face of the earth!
What's captured your imagination lately?
I've been fascinated by the resurgence of connecting and entertaining audiences online. We are in one of the most interesting transformations in history, as we spend more time in our homes, streaming media and interacting with each other through digital technology. As a storyteller, I feel like my entire career has led to this moment.