When someone says "play the world's smallest violin," it usually means that they are being sarcastic and have little sympathy for someone complaining about something trivial. They often say this while rubbing their thumb and forefinger together in a gesture of mocking disdain. This expression is a play on the phrase "break out the violins," which dates back to an old film accompaniment to melodramatics and mock tragedies.
The song AJR created around this concept combines a unique mix of emotions, from melancholy to humor. Its underlying message, however, is a powerful one that encourages individuals to build resilience and prioritize genuine struggles over trivial ones. The sarcastic tone of the song, combined with its catchy melody and poignant lyrics, has made it an instant hit.
In the song, the narrator is struggling with feelings of inadequacy and failure. They feel that they are not worthy of their family history, including their grandfather who fought in World War II and their dad who was a firefighter. They also miss their mom, which adds to their emotional state.
Despite their challenges, the narrator still has hope and determination to succeed. They believe that if they can find an audience for their music, they will have some type of meaning in life. They also believe that if they continue to play the world's smallest violin, eventually someone will listen and feel their pain. This will allow them to feel like they have done something significant in their lives.