A few weeks ago I heard Owl City’s smash hit, “Fireflies,” on the radio for the first time. It was the unfamiliar sound of a kind voice complementing a mass of electronic instruments. I quickly fell in love.
Owl City is the pseudonym for Adam Young, a 23-year-old Minnesotan who has unexpectedly taken over the pop charts. His first single, “Fireflies,” has a synthpop beginning similar to the Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights,” and is a ballad about seemingly random things such as lightning-bug embraces and disco balls. But if you listen closely to some of these tracks, you’ll notice the theme of sleep deprivation.
Young began making music in the basement of his parents’ home in the dead of night; he struggled with insomnia, hence the nocturnal animal in his stage name. You can hear this theme in “Vanilla Twilight” (“I lie awake/I miss you/Pour me a heavy dose of atmosphere”) and “Fireflies” (“Leave my door open just a crack/’Cause I feel like such an insomniac”).
Owl City’s mass teenage appeal may be due in part to his references to the suffering caused by sleeplessness, a common issue among many strung-out adolescents. While the lyrics may seem a bit depressing, the melodies are nonetheless uplifting.
But if you can’t relate to insomnia, perhaps you’ll identify with Young’s love anthems, like the gentle duet “The Saltwater Room,” sung with newcomer Breanne Duren. And if you’re in the mood for a faster rhythm, try “Dental Care” or “Tidal Wave.”
So how did this music industry novice score a spot on Billboard’s Top 10 and the number-one slot on iTunes? Perhaps it’s because radio listeners are tired of the repetitive club singles from Britney and Gaga or the self-loathing alternative tracks from Nickelback and Shinedown.
Thank goodness Young never fell asleep on those nights, because he has produced a little dose of electronic optimism.