AJR’s “Way Less Sad”: Stepping Into Reality, by Heather Rolfert
AJR’s Way Less Sad sounds upbeat at first, but, when focusing on the little details beyond the beat, the song becomes a serious message of day-to-day stress. Stress is a major hurdle for many, and sometimes it pushes people face to face with anger or even madness. AJR’s song centers on these emotions, emphasizing the lack of a definite line between being happy and sad.
At the start of the song, the message seems plainspoken: the singer is torn over which state appeals to their wants and needs. That assumption is correct, but it doesn’t begin to encapsulate the truth, a truth found in two words: muddy and sunny.
Muddy: covered in mud; dull.
Sunny: full of sunlight.
Beyond the primary definitions, there’s another set that offers more clarification.
Muddy: hard to understand; confusing.
Sunny: bright; cheerful.
It’s clear that the singer isn’t trying to escape the sight of mud or sunlight. Neither one is a cause for indecisiveness. Instead, it’s muddy, muddled emotions and sunny cheerfulness suffocating them. Feeling trapped by emotions, the choice becomes obvious: find a place to run to and get away from the past.
These conclusions might seem vague, lacking evidence for support, but the rest of the song carries additional clues.
Around the middle of the song, listeners hear these lines:
“And I don’t wanna hurt no more
So I set my bar real low.”
The singer wants to move on from the past in order to leave behind all the stress and bad memories. Even with good intentions in trying out for a sports team, majoring in a certain field, or even working for a particular company, every experience equates to miserable failure.
Laughter fills their head as the soccer ball repeatedly misses the goal. Humiliation clouds their vision, making them realize how many years were spent in an unfulfilling major. Anger swells tears in their eyes as the glass doors open and reality rushes in.
With life crashing down, everything they envisioned slipped away. It’s all they
“I don’t want to experience failure like this ever again.”
But, it’s hard to continue on with disappointed faces echoing, “I told you so.”
It becomes clear that there’s only one option: moving on and never making the mistake of setting high goals again. Of course, that’s not easy. Finding a way to keep from collapsing under the weight of stress becomes a priority.
The decision is found in these lines:
“I'm a-okay, I'm a-okay (ah-ah, ah-ah, ah-ah)
You say it but you just don't mean it
You're so insane, you're so insane (ah-ah, ah-ah, ah-ah.)”
The easiest way is to convince others that nothing is wrong. Faking a smile or even faking a laugh when someone tells a joke become the best choices. Although, the persona is only possible by persuading one main person: themselves.
Even throughout internal battles, their emotions still win, slipping through the cracks and entering the unsuspecting mind.
“I've been countin' sheep but the sheep all died
And I'm not dead yet, so I guess I'll be alright.”
Past memories come to light at night and bombard the speaker.
“Why did I even decide to go to the soccer tryouts in the first place?”
“How could I not see that I hated what I decided to do with my life?”
“Why did I ever think I’d be a good fit for that job?”
With those consuming thoughts, whatever bit of hope the singer gained from reconstructing a new life starts to slip away.
Faced with a dark room of hopelessness, it seems everything has been for nothing. Although, when finally deciding to give up for good, one thought squeezes in through the cracks:
“I can find a way to repair my life, right? Right.”
This thought by no means resembles a true victory but it is enough motivation for changing the outcome. It will take the singer a while to climb to the top. Without energy, each step will feel
But, the struggle is worth all its time since they—us, everyone—will see the truth in AJR’s song: no one can ever be entirely happy or sad.