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Happy on a Wednesday? At the very least, I'm "Way Less Sad"

AJR present a quite positive, but easily embraceable lens on present-day living in one of the year's best pop tracks.

I like to think of myself as being someone who's pretty in tune with popular music trends. I tune into mainstream / Top 40 radio stations, I listen to pop playlists, and I generally know what songs are "in."

Yet somehow I didn't ever hear the song I chose for today's entry until a solid four months after its release.

I'd become familiar with AJR through their early 2020 hit "Bang," which I found okay and distinctive with its heavy brass but also overplayed — it was just in way too many ad spots. After going back and listening to some of their previous material, I became interested in hearing their next offering, but they weren't ever at the front of my mind when it came to pop acts. When I finally did hear new material from them in the form of "Way Less Sad," I was thoroughly impressed. It takes the world's current situation and manages to put an impressively optimistic spin on it, with the help of a fascinating sample.

I first heard "Way Less Sad" over the summer while I was driving to work, and I remember thinking I'd heard something like it before. When I listened to it again that day once I got home from my shift, I reacted the same way — I knew I'd heard that main motif before... but where? It took me pulling up to realize that the trumpet sample comes from the fade-out ending of Simon and Garfunkel's "My Little Town." ...Yeah, I wouldn't have gotten that one even if I had two whole days to figure it out. For a song that so depressingly presents one's upbringing, "My Little Town" sure ends with an upbeat flourish.

I actually hear AJR borrowing from "My Little Town" in multiple ways. Of course, the aforementioned sample providing the track's instrumental and harmonic basis provides for a somewhat bright sound overall. Simultaneously, though, the mood from "My Little Town" creeps into "Way Less Sad" through the latter's opening lyrics on wanting to leave their hometown of New York. The similarities end there, though; the Met brothers aren't complaining about "the dead and the dying" continuing to fall in line, but rather speak of needing a change of scenery to get out of the town's "muddiness" and get a mental reset. It's definitely more of a 2020s stance than a 1970s one, that's for sure.

The focus on mental health continues throughout the rest of the track, with talk of "set[ting one's] bar real low" and saying you're "A-okay" when you "just don't mean it." It's hard to stay positive in our current world, between global health concerns and the pressure on each of us in our daily lives. At the same time, we try to put on a façade of happiness and being in control because we don't want to worry people even further. People seem to see showing your emotions and admitting you're not in a good place mentally as a lose-lose situation, because on the surface you seem to lower yourself in others' eyes while bringing them down with you. In reality, though, people appreciate when you're open about how you're feeling, and I for one see people as being stronger for doing so — from both firsthand and secondhand experience, I know it takes a lot of courage to be so vulnerable.

Then there's the other half of the song's perspective, which is about enjoying the passing happy moments in a world that tends to bring us down. Tonight at the very least, I'm more in this mindset than the previous one. Sure, it's Wednesday, I've got a lot of work to do tonight, and there are plenty of things about which I could worry, but I've found a couple niches at Cal in which I've become really comfortable and able to express myself — not to mention this blog allowing me to do so as well. When he sings, "Shut up and just enjoy this feeling," Jack Met reminds us that it's okay to live in the moment, because that's when we might just be at our happiest. ...Or, at least, that's when we might just be at our "less saddest." I mean, it's right there in the chorus:

Don't you love it? Don't you love it?
No, I ain't happy yet, but I'm way less sad
I may be wrong, I may be wrong
It's stupid but it's all I have...

Oh, what a beautiful concoction, the world bartender's mix of anxiety, depression, and massive outside stress. It's got a taste somewhat like an Old Fashioned, but with the sugar disappearing right away and a distinctly bitter aftertaste. You can try and cleanse your palette or go for something sweeter, but the bitterness will always be there. At some point, you've just got to accept that and embrace the moments that distract you from the bitter taste the most. Sweetness will still come to you, both in the short and long term, but you've got to be willing to let it in and live for it while it's there. I can start doing that myself by enjoying AJR's song while it's playing, because it's bouncy and danceable at its peaks and has plenty of ear candy, including Ryan Met's really cool "instrumorphing" at the very end where one instrument's sound gradually turns into another's.

At the end of the day, "Way Less Sad" turns out to be a darn good vessel for the feeling it tells its listeners to "shut up and just enjoy." It's a momentary escape from the madness around us, and for that I'm thankful.

Now I've just got to see how long it takes before I'm tired of hearing that trumpet line in my head. ...Not that I mind it being there for now.


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