AJR's “Weak” Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means!
“The LMFAO party . . . masks the way our ordinary lives have become an endless, joyless elaboration of the same party principles: want more, consume more, no amount of confetti can be too much.”
“Party Rock Anthem” marked a generation of party pop songs. Songs that boasted raucous, synth; autotuned vocals; and lyrics that had…uh…very little to say. No, I mean extremely little. Like nothing. It was . . . bad.
“Right Round” started the trend with number one placement in 2009, and the movement carried on with The Black Eyed Peas, Ke$ha, and LMFAO with “Sexy and I Know It” bringing it to an end in 2012.
BUT “I Gotta Feeling” that style is not forgotten. Ryan Met from the DIY pop band AJR describes their hit song “Weak” to billboard.com:
“Everybody’s kind of sick of LMFAO-type party anthems. . . . So we were thinking what’s kind of the next evolution of the party anthem. It’s a little bit more insightful than a normal party song, it’s a little bit deeper and more emotional.”
And that’s largely exactly what “Weak” tries to be, but does it live up to the expectation the band sets for it?
To me, this sounds pretty awesome. Deeper? More emotional? I’m in.
But after comparing “Weak” and “Party Rock Anthem,” I found that while AJR claims to break us free of the ideas of “Party Rock Anthem,” it ACTUALLY only reinforces them.
What am I saying? Essentially, you’ve been listening to “Weak” completely wrong.
But what is “Party Rock Anthem” about?
LMFAO sings, “Everybody, just have a good time.” Of course, it’s not so simple. It never is. Notice the “just.” I don’t know about you, but when I use “just” in a sentence, I’m infusing a note of command, of exclusion, almost of desperation. I’ve made my goal clear, and I imply that any worries, any fears, any problems represent a failure to my mission to party hard.
Leah Caldwell in an awesome article calls it “normalizing a commodified pseudo-liberation that cannot be terminated and precludes the possibility of catharsis.” If you all think Leah Caldwell is a nerd, you’re right. Let me translate: if we make a party big enough with intense pleasures, we can forget about reality and keep trying to feel happier and happier while never being truly satisfied.
And how do they make this objective possible? What exists at an LMFAO party? Do they tell us? Oh, believe me. It wouldn’t be an early 20 ought’s pop song if they didn’t.
Heck, it wouldn’t be a pop song if they didn’t.
“We just want to see you shake that.”
“Looking for your girl? She on my jock.”
“Where the drank? I gots to know.”
“We get money; don’t be mad. . . .”
The keys, apparently, to mental liberation and happiness are sex, alcohol, and cash.
But when AJR responds with “Weak,” what do they sing about?
The verses mention not going to bed on time, “temptations of trouble,” and “my habits.” The pre-chorus gets a little less goody-two-shoes, and we find the oddly familiar “one sip,” “one hit,” and “one kiss”— reminiscent of sex and alcohol from “Party Rock Anthem.”
AJR takes a dramatically revolutionary step to proclaim all of these “bad for me,” making us believe for a moment that they really are different from “Party Rock Anthem.”
But if you’re like me, when you hear the song, you tend to focus on the lyrics of the chorus: “I should stay strong / But I’m weak, and what’s wrong with that?” I tend to interpret them according to my own experience that being weak is nothing to be ashamed of and that I should keep striving to be better. And when I listen to “Weak,” I tend to think of my own personal and very real struggles.
BUT, when iHeart Radio asks the brothers what struggles they think of, we literally hear candy, hanging out with friends, and binge watching Netflix.
That was the first shock to me. I had associated such deep emotion with this song that it was jarring to hear my struggles put on par with watching Office reruns and eating gummy bears.
(Even if The Office is a fricking amazing show.)
But AJR takes the disappointment a step further.
They tell us in the same interview:
“We hear so many songs on the radio about being confident, and how confident I am, and how happy I am, but sometimes that's just not very true. Sometimes we're weak people and we give into temptation, and what's wrong with that? Maybe it's a good thing at times.”
Echoing that line - “And what’s wrong with, essentially, the giving-in-to of temptation to things we know are harmful to us” - the band says to us “being party rockers is bad for us, but maybe it’s not so bad.”
Rather than being counter-cultural, “Weak” does exactly what LMFAO did: Instead of promoting freedom from the habits and emptiness we fight with in “Party Rock Anthem,” AJR seems to celebrate our inability to ever actually defeat those habits.
When you really think about it, “Weak” is not anti-party rock. It’s party-rock + guilt - guilt. And in the end, that’s just party rock.