When speaking about what they wanted to represent when producing “Burn the House Down,” AJR mentions “there’s kind of an exciting energy going on in our generation where people actually have power… that we can actually make change totally separate from what’s going on in the White House.” In my third listening, I focused on how AJR creates this exciting energy not only through the song itself but through the live performances of the song and the music video elements. When talking about their goal when it comes to performing, AJR said their main goal is to “make a show that no one has seen before…let’s try to make something crazy enough and different enough that they close Netflix and can go there, put down their phones, and enjoy the show.” They want to create that “Extremely energetic, high energy feeling,” which is evident in their performances of Burn the House Down and connects to the feeling they wanted to represent through that song. There are consistent elements in the different performances of Burn the House Down that apply to the meaning of the song as a political anthem that stresses the power of the people, especially the younger generation. There is a consistent use of red lights, red usually a color associated with power and passion. The performance is overwhelmed with the base of the drum, flashing lights, and jumping around the stage through the whole duration of the song. It is clear AJR is creating an intense and hype atmosphere to get the audience just as energized as they are on stage with these elements. The “chaos” and loss of control and order throughout the performance can also represent a loss of control of power of our traditional power structures and a sense of anarchy and power to the people. 

AJR Talks Burn The House Down, Sober Up & Rivers Cuomo – YouTube

There are also some unique elements of each live performance that lead to a better understanding of the meaning of this anthem. In one concert performance, AJR decides to introduce the song to their audience by going through the steps of how they created the song. They explain that they start with finding a kick drum, and use the word “gritty” to describe the sound they were going for. They go on to explain that when it was time to create the “baseline” of the song, they wanted to make sure it was something “bad ass and epic.” When explaining to the audience the sound they were going for, they kept saying that it needed to be less clean, needed to be dirtier. The last element they added was an instrument that was unique and would make the song stand out. They said they first tried a cello, but it was too soft, and that is when the trumpets start playing and they begin to perform the song. Not only is this an unique way to introduce the last song of the set to your audience: by introducing element by element until you have the introduction of the song, but it also makes clear to the audience the intentional decisions AJR made when creating the sound of this anthem: that it needed to be gritty, bad ass, epic, and something that stood out. The lead up to the actual performance of the song lets the energy build up, and then by having such a high energy performance with the flashing lights, the energetic movements and dancing, and the interactions with the audience: holding the mic out for the audience to scream the lyrics, creates an energy that is energetic, confident, and empowered. All these elements of the performance apply to the deeper meaning of the song and it’s political impact.

AJR – Burn the House Down Live 11/5/18 – YouTube

Another really interesting performance of this song was AJR’s performance from “One Spectacular Night.” In this performance, it also integrated the use of the red and flashing lights and the jumping and moving around the stage. But AJR also added some different elements that emphasized another meaning of the song. In between the first verse and the chorus, AJR takes the time to say “We should be outside of our comfort zone, it’s a good thing. So in life you can either be afraid in your comfort zone and just dip one toe out or jump off the ledge and hopefully you land somewhere,” as the lead singer is climbing up a ladder and then it is pulled from under him and instead of falling, we are given the illusion of him walking in mid air on a laser. This element of the performance is encouraging their audience to take risks, to do things that they are scared to do or that make them uncomfortable. This interpretation of the performance very strongly relates to the message of the song. In an interview, AJR mentions how in Burn the House Down they mention the idea that people are scared to stick up for what they believe, there’s a lot of internal debate between doing what’s right and looking the other way. And there’s a lot of fear of those in power and what they can do if you decide to stand up against them. When talking about the song, they say “We are taught subliminally, that we don’t have that power, to leave it to the adults, but we are reaching this interesting point where we are realizing how much power we have.”  Through this performance with the ladder, AJR is telling their audience that they do have the power and to take it back, that decisions are not just for adults and those in positions of power to make. 

AJR – Burn The House Down (Live From One Spectacular Night) – YouTube

The visual elements of their music video represent that same idea of abuse of power and how oftentimes, we leave decisions and control to those who tell us they deserve to have it. In the music video, AJR in identical white jumpsuits, are being taken through a fun house-like type of space. They are blindfolded from place to place by people in black ski masks and body suits. In the first stop, there is a faceless figure in a suit with knives throwing it at someone on a spinning target wheel. AJR is sat there watching with fear and confusion. Next, they are in another room of tv’s with more faceless figures in suits smashing the tv’s which say words like “truth” on them. By the time of the bridge, they take the blindfolds off themselves, they get out of the seat, and walk into a crowd of rioters and protesters who are setting things on fire and running around. The music video is a visual representation of the meaning of the lyrics they are representing. The video starts with AJR being controlled to watch things happen around them that they don’t agree with or can’t stop by people who are clearly people who hold power, who are controlling them. There is a sense of abuse of control by them being blindfolded and taken from room to room and in how the faceless man was throwing knives at a person stuck on the target wheel. As they get to the room with the tv’s being smashed it represents the idea of being “in a room of entertainers and thieves,” who are “only serving lies,” pointing to how people and institutions in power manipulate and try to destroy truth, how they try to filter what people see and what people can do, and the decisions and control they have over society. By the time AJR is taking off the blindfolds, it represents them breaking free from those in power and those who had control over them and them going to join the rest of the people in “burning the house down,” taking the power back. “It’s an AJR version of a political song. We’re never gonna be the guys who are leader of the resistance, so we wrote our version of that, which is kind of just observing what’s going on in the world with our generation, with stuff like Me Too and gun control. There’s kind of an exciting energy going on in our generation where people actually have power… that we can actually make change totally separate from what’s going on in the White House.” 

AJR – Burn The House Down (Official Video) – YouTube