It’s not every day that a song about getting hugs from fireflies tops the charts. But that’s exactly what’s happened with Owl City, an act that’s rapidly becoming the music world’s Cinderella story of the year.
Owl City is actually just one guy, 23-year-old Adam Young, who hails from the southern Minnesota town of Owatonna. Composing with some keyboards and his computer in the basement of his parents’ 104-year-old Victorian farmhouse, Young has become the unlikely poster child for what success in the Internet age occasionally looks like.
Owl City’s first two self-released efforts began to create a stir on MySpace, eventually garnering millions of plays. Major labels came knocking, and the rest, as they say, is show biz history.
"Fireflies" is a playful, childlike electro-pop ditty about the titular fluorescent flyers lighting up the space between wakefulness and dreaming. "You would not believe your eyes/If 10 million fireflies/Lit up the world as I fell asleep," the song begins.
The dream, such as it is, also involves hugging, dancing with and bidding adieu to the pleasant little interlopers. "’Cause I’d get a thousand hugs/From 10,000 lightning bugs/As they tried to teach me how to dance," Young sings before later saying good-bye to his friends: "To 10 million fireflies/I’m weird ’cause I hate good-byes/I got misty eyes as they said farewell."
A few ruminations about slowing down time and insomnia inhabit the lyrical proceedings as well. But mostly the song is an innocent reverie about, well, fireflies.
Cynics might assume that any electronica-oriented reverie on the nature of lightning bugs would probably have been inspired by too much Ecstasy at the rave the night before. But, happily, the cynics in this case would be flat-out wrong.
Young describes himself as a Christian. His MySpace page declares, "I follow Jesus Christ wholeheartedly. He is my life, my strength, my all." And he says his inspiration for the song was a camping trip he "took up to a totally rustic and kind of remote lake in northern Minnesota, where there isn’t really much of anything." He told Entertainment Weekly. "I can remember sleeping out on a dock on the edge of this lake and looking up at the sky. There was a meteor shower that night. I remember thinking, What a cool idea of shooting stars being fireflies, and trying to translate that into music. That’s what spurred it on."
In a world where chart-topping tracks often trade in edgy or deliberately controversial imagery, "Fireflies" is an amazingly unique expression of one young artist’s wide-eyed wonder at the world. John Keats would be proud.
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"Fireflies" topped Billboard’s Hot 100 chart and has been downloaded nearly a million times.
July 28, 2009