AJR Is “Way Less Sad” but Still in “Bummerland”

AJR, a popular band formed by three brothers, has been releasing hit songs for the past few years, and the last year has been no different. Recently, we’ve been getting singles from their album OK Orchestra, set to release March 26, 2021. Regarding the wild year of 2020 and this album, the band said, “In the most uncertain year of our lives, making OK Orchestra was the one certain thing we had to hold on to… We ended up with the most sonically experimental and emotionally raw album we’ve ever made.”1 Reflecting on the four singles released so far—“My Play,” “Bang!” “Bummerland,” and “Way Less Sad”—we can see they aren’t kidding when they said it was an emotionally raw album.

Together these singles give a glimpse into the emotions and challenges facing the trio that make up AJR: Adam, Jack, and Ryan. In addition to telling the band’s story, the lyrics—which are exploring a reality common for many—resonate with many other twentysomethings.

“My Play”
A heartrending song, “My Play” tells the story of a divorce from the child’s perspective. The end of the line-drawing animated video leaves no room for interpretation when the child is actually ripped in half and carried in opposite directions by his parents. Take a look:

(Warning: Song contains strong language.)

This song’s sad tones echo the pain and scars AJR themselves experienced from their parents’ divorce. Not only did it make everything complicated, but the brothers were left with an insecurity about whether love really lasts.

One of iHeartRadio’s most-played alternative songs of the year,2 “Bang!” humorously looks at the tough transition into adulthood. The AJR brothers (ages 23, 27, and 30) personally understand the pressures and challenges of becoming adults:

So I got an apartment across from the park
Put quinoa in my fridge, still I’m not feeling grown

Feel like I’m gonna puke ’cause my taxes are due
Do my password begin with a one or a two?

This song is “the musical product of facing the anxieties of adulthood for the first time.”3

Released August 2020, “Bummerland” came in the midst of lockdowns and restrictions, when almost everyone could relate to the first couple of lines:

Bummerland, here I am
Better nix my summer plans

Though it has a cheerful, upbeat sound, the repeating line “It’s my all time low” suggests a bleak outlook. While obviously pointing to the rough year 2020, this song also suggests purposeless and a mental health crisis. However, it’s interesting to see that even “Bummerland” has a positive note: “I’m only going up from here.”

(Warning: Song contains strong language.)

“Way Less Sad”
As a follow-up to “Bummerland,” “Way Less Sad” shows how AJR has pushed through from “Bummerland” and that all-time low. The brothers said in an interview, “‘Way Less Sad’ is a song about how we’re really feeling in this moment… So much of last year felt apocalyptic and this year we can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. Things aren’t back to normal yet but we should be celebrating the small wins.”4

While they talk about being hopeful, many of the lyrics evoke a resignation to being depressed:

Livin’ sucks but it’s suckin’ just a little now
And I don’t wanna cry no more
So I set my bar real low

I’m a-okay, I’m a-okay (ah-ah, ah-ah, ah-ah)
You say it but you just don’t mean it

An article from the Crimson Harvard says that this song “communicates an incredibly relatable message that speaks to the feeling of struggling to hold on and withstand this prolonged period of social isolation and uncertainty.”5


Struggles with Mental Health
While AJR might be singing of their own experiences, they are certainly presenting themes common to many: having trauma from parents divorcing, dealing with coming-of-age pressures, coping with uncertainty and purposelessness, and even keeping expectations low to deal with depression. These singles show that AJR’s experiences have shaped the way they view the world. And it seems their perspectives do not include a world that was made to be good or any purpose that surpass what we find in Bummerland.

While most of their songs are coupled with a fun beat—with the exception of “My Play”—their lyrics again and again present the mental health struggle that many face today.

A quick search online shows that mental health issues are prevalent, with more and more people experiencing depression and anxiety. According to Mental Health America, “youth mental health is worsening,” and even prior to COVID-19, “the prevalence of mental illnesses among adults was increasing.”6 Most people’s view of the world and life is becoming less and less optimistic.

Remembering the Bigger Story
Taken as a whole, this all can start to seem pretty bleak. Thankfully, it’s not the end of the story—there’s a reason why we don’t have to be stuck in Bummerland or Way-less-sad-land. When the world seems to crumble around us, we can grasp hold of the reality that God loves us so much that he sent his own Son to die for us (John 3:16), and he’s still taking care of us and continuing his good work in us (Philippians 1:6).

We have a God who, when he created the world, said it was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Yes, sin entered the story and fractured the good world God created, but one day God himself will wipe away the tears of his people (Revelation 21:4) and bring healing to the nations (Revelation 22:2). This isn’t simply a far-off promise, though I won’t deny that this world is difficult and often really does feel like Bummerland. However, in Jesus—our Saviour and the Redeemer of all things—we have someone who walks with us in the brokenness and sadness. We have a friend who sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24), who weeps when we weep (John 11:33-35)—who even weeps for us when we can’t. We have someone who offers beauty for the ashes (Isaiah 61:3) in our lives and in our world…if only our eyes are opened to see him who walks beside us (Luke 24:30-31).

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Abby Debenedittis

Abby DeBenedittis is a freelance writer and the owner of Quandary Peak Editing. She likes to write about how faith in Jesus Christ influences ordinary life. She’s a fan of adventures in the Rocky Mountains, complicated board games, and lattes from local coffee shops.