Pop Shop Podcast: AJR Talk Surprise Hit 'Sober Up,' Why Rivers Cuomo Was a 'Perfect Fit' & Seeing New Fans on Tour
Welcome to the new episode of the Billboard Pop Shop Podcast, your one-stop-shop for all things pop on Billboard's weekly charts. In addition, you can always count on a lively discussion about the latest pop news, fun chart stats and stories, new music, and guest interviews with music stars and folks from the world of pop.
Casual pop fans and chart junkies can hear Billboard co-director of charts Keith Caulfield and Billboard deputy editor, digital, Katie Atkinson, every week on the Pop Shop Podcast, which can be streamed on Billboard.com or downloaded in iTunes. (Click here to listen to the previous Tuesday’s edition of the show on Billboard.com).
Today on the show, we welcome back AJR! Brothers Adam, Jack and Ryan Met had a lot to catch us up on since they first appeared on the show back in February 2017, including the release of their album The Click in June and its breakout hit single "Sober Up," featuring Weezer's Rivers Cuomo. "Sober Up" spent two weeks at No. 1 on our Alternative Songs chart in March and just started its voyage to pop radio, climbing 40-37 on the latest Pop Songs chart (dated April 14).
So how did the brothers end up topping the Alternative Songs chart after their previous songs were pretty purely pop? "While we were writing the album, we didn't really think about genre at all," Jack said. "We didn't think, 'This will work so well at alternative.' We just kind of thought, 'Let's make a weird album that we would want our favorite artist to make.'"
Speaking of their favorite artists, one of them happens to be featured on "Sober Up," thanks to Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo connecting with the brothers via Twitter. "He was a big fan of 'Weak' and he told us that," Ryan recalled. "We’ve been fans of Weezer our entire careers and have super looked up to them. We kind of based our image around them being these nerdy guys saying something that’s unusual for nerds to be saying. [So] we said, 'Hey, man, would you like to write together?' -- not really expecting anything to happen -- but he said, 'Absolutely.' We had 'Sober up' written, minus the bridge, and we were like, 'This sounds kind of Weezer-ish so let's send it to him,' and he wrote 'My favorite color is you,' which is amazing and is the perfect fit for the song. We didn't even meet him until months after the album came out."
AJR think the appeal of the song comes from its universal theme of longing for things to be simple again, like they were in childhood. "The idea came when Ryan and I were in college," Jack said. "We did our first couple of semesters at Columbia, we were experiencing the whole college vibe, going to parties and doing that sort of thing. And then there was a time where we just started getting depressed a little bit. We started getting sad because we felt a little bit too grown up, because one of the things we kind of pride ourselves on is staying young and having that little-kid experience. And we thought that we felt a little bit too adult and we wanted to go back to that feeling we used to have in elementary and middle school, where we kind of just liked a girl and that’s all there was to it. 'I just like this person without having all of that other baggage that comes along with it.' We thought we’d write a song around that, around me calling my second-grade crush and saying, 'I kind of want to go back to the feeling we used to have.' And I think that’s honestly something everyone can just relate to. I don't think I’ve ever met a person that doesn’t feel the need to go back to being young."
"We make a conscious effort in our lives to keep that alive," Ryan added. "Like, we try to jump on beds as much as possible. We jump on every bed."
The guys are currently on tour -- playing Omaha, Nebraska, on Tuesday night (April 10) and wrapping the trek up in July -- and they've definitely noticed a shift in their crowds as "Sober Up" gained steam. "We see the age range getting a lot wider when we go out at shows and we see a lot of guys in the audience, which is crazy for us," Adam said. "It’s really cool seeing more and more people getting excited about the show and the tour we’re on now, which is crazy that it sold out, I think, because of ['Sober Up'] going to alternative radio. They’re a very active audience who wants to know a lot more than just about the song that they hear, so they might go and listen to the album and then go and participate in the show."
A follow-up to The Click is already in the works, with the trio making a concerted effort to start writing new music recently. "We just started writing yesterday," Jack told us late last month. "We said to each other: 'Now marks the first time we start writing for the new album.'"
"And it was very anticlimactic," Ryan admitted. "We were like, 'We're gonna go on the internet and find really exciting samples and then start working!' And then the WiFi didn't work at the hotel and we were kind of just, like, sitting there. It was pretty sad."
There is a new song to tide fans over before that next album is out: AJR released "Burn the House Down" on March 23. "It's going to alternative radio because we don't want to leave people hanging at alternative radio while we’re going to other formats with 'Sober Up,'" Adam said of the fiery new song.
Also on the show, Keith and Katie discuss chart news about The Weeknd and Cardi B, plus Cardi's pregnancy reveal on SNL, Drake's new song "Nice for What" (and its A-list music video) and weekend one of Coachella, kicking off Friday with headliner The Weeknd, followed by Beyoncé's Saturday night set and Eminem on Sunday.
Listen above and click here to subscribe/rate the Pop Shop Podcast on iTunes.