In the heat of the pandemic and a toxic social and political climate, AJR’s latest single “Way Less Sad” reflects on the mental health struggles brought on by today’s world. Indie pop trio AJR released their latest single Feb. 17, and despite its cynical implication, the song signifies that things are starting to look up.
The song opens with the bubbly repetition of “hey, hey, hey” — establishing a joyful beat that continues throughout the song. However, this beat is ironically paired with seemingly pessimistic lyrics. The principal message in the chorus particularly reflects this contrast in the song with the lyrics “No, I ain't happy yet / But I'm way less sad.” The band illustrates the lack of fulfillment felt by many during this hopeless period but proclaims that things are getting better.
This new release is not the first time AJR has contemplated the importance of mental health in their work. Mental health awareness was the inspiration for their previous album “Neotheater." These themes continued into the band’s song “Bummerland,” which was released in August 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. “Way Less Sad” is a thoughtful continuation of the themes in these previous projects and observes mental health in a way that is relevant to today. By alluding to the emotions brought on by the pandemic and the current political climate, AJR stresses the importance of mental health during these chaotic times.
The second verse especially establishes this relevance with the lyrics “I wake up and I'm not so mad at Twittеr now.” With media coverage constantly at our fingertips, the news can be very overwhelming or upsetting for people. Twitter, with its abundance of news content, has become a major platform for both promoting and suppressing political opinion. In this line, AJR reflects on recent political transitions and the major role Twitter and social media have played in them. Being “not so mad at Twitter now” also demonstrates an improvement in mental health. AJR demonstrates that the platform has become less triggering and has taken up less headspace, leaving room for happier and more hopeful thoughts.
The bridge plays a special role in the song. Three days before the song’s official release, a clip of the bridge was posted on Instagram as a sneak peek for fans. The video featured Jack Met, the band’s guitarist and lead vocalist, playing an acoustic version of the song with the caption “WAY LESS SAD. Wednesday.” The bridge is unique in that it points to a continuation of the themes of mental health that will be seen in their upcoming album “OK ORCHESTRA.” The band teased in a retweet that this album would hit on several controversial topics — and the bridge of “Way Less Sad” does just that. By playing with the idea of counting sheep in the lines “I been countin’ sheep but the sheep all died,” the band alludes to insomnia and overall lack of joy in life, highlighting the diverse range of mental health issues that can affect people.
The final chorus brings this story of improving mental health to a close and describes the exploration of one’s emotions. The line “It's stupid but it's all I have,” seems derisive in its implication of naively clinging to hope. But, in reality, this lyric is a notion of the brighter days to come and a signal that the three brothers are optimistic about the future.
In its essence, “Way Less Sad” lays out the mental and emotional struggles the past year has brought in a sincere and hopeful tone. The song’s message is coupled with AJR’s typical combination of heavy beats, fun rhythms and unique instrumental and vocal techniques to create a buoyant sound reflective of the hope that better times are on the horizon.