AJR: Going to make you Way Less Sad



AJR is an American indie pop trio formed in 2005 and composed of three brothers; Adam, Jack, and Ryan Met.

Ashley Han and Jashn Grewal

“Hello, hello

I’m not where I’m supposed to be

I hope that you’re missing me

‘Cause it makes me feel young.” — Sober Up (Ft. Rivers Cuomo) (The Click)

This is a memorable line from the song “Sober Up” in AJR’s second full-length album, “The Click.” Sober Up is a song about the nostalgia that comes along with looking back on the times of childhood innocence and first loves, or as AJR themselves put it “Before you knew what love was, and reminiscing: questioning if you can ever get back to that simplicity in an emotion.”

AJR is an American indie pop trio formed in 2005 and composed of three brothers; Adam, Jack, and Ryan Met (whose initials make up AJR). They have created four albums and several EPs (extended play records). In chronological order, their albums are: Living Room, The Click, Neotheaer, and Ok Orchestra. AJR’s most successful songs include “Bang!,” “Sober Up,” “Weak,” “I’m Ready,” and “Burn the House Down.”

The brothers have all studied at Columbia University in New York City, with Adam Met receiving his Ph.D. from the university. Fun trivia of the brothers — Adam also has a non-profit organization, called Sustainability Partners Inc, and Jack is reportedly scared of pigeons. The three changed their last name to “Met” from “Metzger.” This is shown in “Joe” from Ok Orchestra with the lyrics:

“Remember when you laughed at my last name?

Now I go by Met, is that less lame of a last name?”

One significant part of AJR albums is their overtures. An overture is a piece of music that preludes a longer piece of music, often including the main themes of the longer piece. Out of their four albums, only three have overtures, for an unknown reason. The three brothers put their own spin on this by taking sections from each of the songs in an album, and seamlessly blending them into a whole new masterpiece.

This brings us to another point. There are many fans who very much enjoy AJR’s music, but like every artist, there are also many people who very vehemently dislike them. One reason for this is the overtures. Some will think that the overtures are not real music due to a majority of the parts coming from other songs from the album the overture is for, but in reality, creating overtures is a practice that has been going on for a long time for operas and other such extended compositions. AJR just introduced them into the main music industry.

Some tend to think that their music is childish. A major theme in AJR’s songs is about being nostalgic or sentimental, growing up, reflecting, or the little things in life. The brothers do a great deal of experimentation in their songs, but by no means are they childish.

One specific example of people excessively despising AJR is their very recent collaboration with the indie-rock band, Weezer. Weezer is a well-respected band that started in 1992 and brought a new style of music to the industry. Once it was released that AJR and Weezer would be doing a remix of Weezer’s “All My Favorite Songs” – which in our opinion, was an amazing remix  – a lot of people started to bash AJR for this. Even though Weezer did a small collaboration with AJR in the song Sober Up back in 2017, no one attacked Weezer, while the opposite is happening here.

AJR has also created several terms that have changed the music industry. The first one is called the “spoke step.” This is similar to dubstep where the beats of bass are broken up over a beat. Spoke step does the same thing, except with voices, making them sound sharper. That, therefore, emphasizes the point that the lyrics are trying to make. This might sound like what many other artists are doing, but trust us, AJR is doing it differently. Spoke step is depicted in several of the songs from The Click, such as “Weak,” “Drama,” and “Bud Like You.”

Another term that the brothers created is “instramorphing,” a portmanteau of ‘instrument’ and ‘morph.’ As the name suggests, intramorphing is where they morph different instruments and/or human voices together to create a smooth transition. This is shown in “Bummerland” from Ok Orchestra where they fluidly change from a human voice, to a trumpet to a guitar in the bridge.

Terms aren’t the only thing AJR is creating, though, music for other artists is another! You may be aware that some artists will produce songs for other musicians, like for example, how “Little Things” by One Direction was actually written by Ed Sheeran, or how the classic “Party In The U.S.A” by Miley Cyrus was actually written by Jessie J. But, did you know that AJR also produces songs for other artists? 

Some songs, for example, are Christmas Got Me Blue and Christmas Party by Meghan Trainor, Dime by Rachel Crow, Working For The Weekend and Home by MAX, many songs by Andy Grammar, Best Friend Song by Rozzi, Cards by Minor Soul, etc. The band was even planning on making a song for Cardi B, but the song instead became Way Less Sad.

Now, for a little review on the albums AJR has released so far — 

Living Room (2015) is a bold album and the story behind it is quite interesting. When the brothers decided to start a band, they used all of the money they made from busking in New York City to buy the necessary equipment. They recorded everything in their living room without much help. They also did a lot of sampling and experimenting in this album. For example, they used a sample of SpongeBob SquarePants saying “I’m Ready” for the third song in the album, “I’m Ready.” Living Room is a mixture between Pop and Alternative music and it gives off a very different vibe than the other albums do, as it focuses more on ideas of love and trying to make it in the music industry. Even though those topics can be found in the other albums, Living Room makes clear statements in songs such as “Infinity” and “Big Idea.”

The Click (2017) is a distinctive blend of addictive rhythms, beats, and notes, describing some of the troubles people will face while growing up in their early-mid twenties, no matter how big or mundane. A common theme of many songs in this album is the idea of reflecting on the past when the world felt so much greater and less intimidating than it really was, or the thought of being completely transparent and honest to others and to yourself. As AJR themselves stated: “If you want to be a little kid while you’re an adult, be a little kid. If you want to admit that you’re weak, admit that. If you want to look back at yourself in a reflective way and find these TV shows that made you who you are, do that. Be exactly who you are.” 

And this shows in AJR’s writing — especially the very popular “Sober Up,” which as we mentioned earlier, is a song about the nostalgia that comes with childhood, or simply remembering being a kid again. The music video, in particular, shows this, having Jack chase around a child version of himself on the streets of New York City, seeing his kid form through reflections and others. And in “Weak,” the brothers drive home the idea that they accepted their weakness — “But I’m weak, and what’s wrong with that?” In “Netflix Trip,” they sing “But who I am is in these episodes, So don’t you tell me that it’s just a show,” which really resonates with many fans and viewers, for they know that the shows or movies they love and cherish have truly changed them in some way. 

Neotheater (2019) is the album that really rips your heart out, with many, many sentimental songs. It is based on the idea of choir voices from the 1950s and 60s, and these voices are used in “Next Up Forever” and “Finale (Can’t Wait To See What You Do Next).” One song that is worth pointing out for this is “Birthday Party”. In the bridge, the lyrics were taken from the song “In Heaven” featured in the movie “Earaserhead” by David Lynch that Jack and Ryan were watching in one of their university classes. Once they heard that song, they decided that the song had to be in one of theirs so they contacted the producers of the movie and asked if they could use the song. The producers frankly didn’t care, so they used the chorus of the song as the bridge in “Birthday Party.” Some of the most sentimental songs of the album are “Dear Winter,” “Don’t Throw Out My Legos,” “Turning Out Pt. ii,” and “Karma.” It is guaranteed that you will have a connection to at least one of the songs from Neotheater, and you won’t regret it.

The latest album by AJR was Ok Orchestra, released on March 26, 2021. It was a massive success with two of the songs (Bang! and Way Less Sad) making it onto the Billboard 100. Ok Orchestra might be one of the most relatable albums by far, having songs talking about quarantine (Bummerland), divorce (My Play), and putting on a brave face (Humpty Dumpty) just to name a few. The main theme of the album is being okay on the outside, but being a mess on the inside. This is shown in the album cover (bottom-right of album image) by the left side being bright and colorful with instruments winding around the trees while the right side is dark and dreary with rigid lampposts. 

In one of the pictures for this article, you can see all of the different album covers that AJR created. You can also see that they look very different from each other. In chronological order, “Living Room” has AJR as humans, “The Click” has cartoon-esque drawings, “Neotheater” has them as plushies, and “Ok Orchestra” has the brothers as ceramic figures. They all symbolize what each album respectively represents. The album cover for “Living Room” is set in a living room, “The Click” has a piano road with other instruments lining it representing wonder, “Neotheater” has the plushies to show the theme of childhood in the album, and “Ok Orchestra” has the ceramic figures to depict the brothers as fragile. The extremely talented John Loren is the main designer for AJR’s albums, but other artists have helped the brothers too, such as; Chris Cerrato, Kamila Stankiewicz, and Jader Souza.

Overall, if you enjoy indie electro-pop music and like the taste of something unique and distinct, AJR is a band worth your time. Even if they don’t produce your taste of music, we still recommend you to listen to a few songs, as they bring a very fascinating set of music to the table. Our recommendation for listening to AJR would be to begin from where it started, by first listening to the album “Living Room” and working your way through in chronological order, and observe how AJR’s music has developed and changed over time. After you complete “Ok Orchestra”, we would then advise going back and listening to the EPs and singles. Of course, this is just a suggestion and you can listen to them however you like. The main point is to appreciate this wonderful band.

“I hope I made you smile

That’s all I ever wanted.” — Finale (Can’t Wait To See What You Do Next) (Neotheater)