MOMENTOUS MONDAYS: INFLUENTIAL ARTISTS OF ALL TIME – WEEK 8: OWL CITY

Owl City has always been, and always will be, a band that has such polarising views from listeners who either approach his music in one of two ways. There’s the first group, that love his music, that are die-hard fans, and appreciate every unique lyric and every nuance and imagery present in his music. Because there is quite a bit. Then there’s the other group, that casually like Owl City and listen to them once in a while, but with the drop of a hat, they’d criticise or have something harsh to say if the music isn’t up to a certain standard. And frankly, there’s been times during Owl City’s music career thus far where I’ve felt like the first group, and other times where all I want to be is to be the second group…but I can’t. Because in all honesty, Adam Young, the man behind Owl City (yes, this is a one-man-band!), has created a moniker and pseudonym that has received a lot of praise (and lack thereof) throughout the years.

I myself have found the beauty and the intrigue, the enjoyableness as well as the thought-provoking material, found in the majority of Adam’s writings. Owl City indeed is influential to not only the EDM culture as a whole (frankly, because I only know Owl City out of every other EDM artist is saying a lot!), but influential in the realms of mainstream pop music as well. Throughout his discography spanning 10 years, Owl City has managed to create music that makes total sense, but also music that doesn’t make any sense at all, either because the concepts discussed or the imagery crafted, is far beyond our own mere comprehension; or the fact that what we hear is exactly what we get- a nonsensical song. And just maybe, it is ok for us as listeners not to understand the songs fully 100% to even appreciate and respect the music for what it is- music that has the ability to cross boundaries and remind us all that often than not, the silly songs do have a place in society holistically; and Owl City frontman Adam Young is testament of this!

‘…I wrote “Fireflies” when I was 19 or 20 years old in the basement of my parent’s home, where I was living at the time. I was working for Coca-Cola, making music for fun on the side, and I wrote the song without really thinking about it. It’s amazing how many people connect with it around the world. I’ll never get sick of playing “Fireflies” because I love seeing people light up when they hear it in person on tour. “Good Time” was a co-written track with my friend Matt Thiessen. Matt and I weren’t trying to write anything in particular, we just stumbled upon the concept and the song was written shortly after. Both songs were a lot of fun to work on, and both were really easy to write. It’s funny how sometimes the projects that take the least amount of work can became the most successful. I like how you never know what’s going to happen until you release a song. It could be quickly forgotten, or it could blow up overnight and become a massive global hit. You never know!…’ Adam Young, aka Owl City, has had critically acclaimed success over the years, and even though now he’s not as famous as when he wrote songs like ‘Good Time’ and ‘Fireflies’, Owl City nevertheless has given to us songs that have impacted and encouraged, influencing pop as we’re now told that it’s ok to write and sing songs that don’t necessarily make sense on the surface. As with the very fact that life itself doesn’t always make sense, so too are songs that can mean different things to different people. Owl City’s music is a reminder of this- and I’m sure others can say the same as me. Songs like ‘Good Time’ and ‘Fireflies’ are the most popular out of his career, and while I myself don’t fully understand what ‘Fireflies’ is indeed about, what I do know is this- the song itself is layered with imagery, with its initial meaning that of Adam himself writing about his own experiences with insomnia, and how the whole song uses imagery and metaphors to stem from such an idea as not falling asleep when you should. With much of the annotations behind the song available on GENIUS.com; Adam has unveiled to us a song that we can be in awe and wonder for- ‘Fireflies’ is a radio hit, and the biggest song of his career. It means something to Adam, and by extension, means something to us as well whenever we hear it.

That’s not much we can say about Owl City’s other famous song, ‘Good Time’. Co-sung with ‘Call Me Maybe’ singer Carly Rae Jepsen and co-written with Relient K frontman Matt Thiessen; Adam Young gives us a song that…sadly pales in comparison to ‘Fireflies’. Though catchy enough (maybe even more so!), the song is nevertheless a radio friendly melody, and that’s it- nothing special, except singing about us all having a good time…in what? I don’t know. Good time at the expense of other people? A good time regardless of our circumstances? Nevertheless, the song itself is a powerful hit from Adam, and though each of these two songs (‘Fireflies’, ‘Good Time’) aren’t that influential at all in terms of bringing something new to the table, what Owl City has undertaken because of these two songs, is nothing short of remarkable and poignant! Holistically throughout his career, Owl City has managed to redefine what it means to marry both EDM and pop, and undertake it with such precision and grace, much thought and emotion. As much of Adam’s discography is created in a way that we can enjoy the songs for enjoyment sake, but also listen to  songs that tug at the heart, at the same time; Owl City has managed to showcase something that hasn’t been tackled per se within the music industry- create pop/EDM with an inspirational and whimsical edge. Owl City is popular, but also influential as well, as we see an artist with such a happy and personable demeanour being presented in songs, something that at the moment isn’t really much done.

To be completely honest, prior to me listening to Owl City and much of his music, I hadn’t been familiar with much of the EDM genre as a whole. Just a few Owl City songs here and there. But, after a solid week of binge-listening Owl City, I’ve come to appreciate such a genre, all the more. Sure, right now compared to a week ago, I’m now at times a little ‘over’ EDM because of listening to Owl City non-stop, what I’ve still come to understand is this- that Owl City as a band is one such artist that is a must-listen, even if it is to say that the EDM genre isn’t a good genre to listen to. But then at the same time, there are songs that are just plain great- regardless of the musical backdrop. ‘Vanilla Twilight’, the other radio hit from Ocean Eyes; is about missing someone, a loved one or either a platonic friend. The term vanilla twilight is just referring to the colour of the sky, as the persona sits and looks at the colour of the sky and dreams about their loved one, wanting them to be there with them. And though for the albums post Ocean Eyes; they can probably never fully stack as tall compared to Adam Young’s label debut; that doesn’t mean that the hits don’t keep coming.

Looking at Adam’s discography as a whole, we are met with a myriad of musical themes and motifs as this Minnesotan native unveils songs that hit to the heart of whomever hears it, as well as give songs that are happy and jovial, and not necessarily that serious. While this isn’t really the right forum for me to regurgitate my good and bad points for his whole discography to be; what I will say is this, about Owl City– for me as a whole I’ve felt that his later material (Cinematic, Mobile Orchestra) is much more resonating compared to his earlier stuff. Still, Adam has crafted an artist that is creating pop and EDM in a very distinct and vastly different (yet still welcomed) way compared to whatever artist is popular on the charts nowadays.

Out of each song he’s recorded, there are two that really stand out- ‘You’re Not Alone’, a CCM-pop song featuring Britt Nicole, as well as a personal song called ‘My Everything’. And though much of Owl City’s fans may not necessarily want to hear Christian material being sung, what Adam has reminded us all is to be true to ourselves, even if it means for us to declare God’s gospel, something that today, is often overlooked amongst society. Hopefully through the rest of the year or so, I can understand that God Himself speaks even when we can’t. For me personally, I thoroughly enjoyed ‘My Everything’ and ‘You’re Not Alone’, and that alone is excuse enough to hear more of Adam’s music genre in the upcoming weeks and months ahead! And though the messages of each of the songs are simple- ‘My Everything’ being a prayer to the Lord, declaring that He is Adam’s everything, and that ‘…I’ll shine a light cause I am loved, this is all I know how to say, hallelujah, hallelujah, You’re my everything…’, while ‘You’re Not Alone’ is a reminder that we in this life are never alone- always having God beside us showing the way; the songs still strike a chord, with I’m sure anyone who listens. Britt Nicole is a welcomed addition on Owl City’s track, and though the song itself feels more appropriate on a worship radio channel, and thus, isn’t really in true Owl City fashion, Adam nevertheless delivers a melody full of life and atmosphere, as we understand that Owl City’s capability at crushing the divide between secular and Christian music, is something that ought to be celebrated, and maybe, just maybe, ‘You’re Not Alone’ and ‘My Everything’ places a part in this!

‘…When I sat down to write this album, I looked back on the past four or five years of music and thought this is the perfect time to put myself out there and just be as honest and vulnerable as I want to be. My faith is something that is so important to me. Certainly my goal is not to preach fire and brimstone, or anything like that, but just put it out there that it’s an honest thing. If I made that fact secret, I’d feel weird about it, I’d feel like I’m wearing a mask. It just felt very natural…’
‘…It’s funny, the older I get, the more interested in childhood nostalgia I become. I grew up in the 90s, and I love reminiscing about quirky little things that were in my life back then. I had Pogs, played laser tag, read Shel Silverstein poems, ate Gushers, and had a Michael Jordan poster on my bedroom door. Things I did or stuff I liked as a kid are easy to forget as I get older, so writing music that recalls and embraces some of those fond memories is really fun. I had a great childhood, so there is lots of song inspiration just waiting to be had…’
These above two quotes, the first about the reason behind writing and recording both ‘My Everything’ and ‘You’re Not Alone’, and the latter being his wonder and awe for nostalgia and why he decided to collaborate with nostalgia group Hanson to create ‘Unbelieveable’; is what I truly love about Adam Young, and why I believe his whimsical music is a much needed breath of fresh air in a pop society that doesn’t seem to present melodies with a fun-filled atmosphere- as it should. For me on a whole, Mobile Orchestra is an album that I myself have listened to the most, and for me, was the most cohesive. With both ‘My Everything’ and ‘You’re Not Alone’ on the album, Adam also imparts songs like ‘Verge’, a song about getting your goals and realising dreams, focusing its niche for school leavers wanting some inspiration for what comes next; ‘Unbelieveable’, a duet with Hanson about the 1990s, and everything that as cool and exciting about that time period, as well as album closer ‘This isn’t the End’, Adam’s most vulnerable song to date about the topic of loneliness, depression and suicide. It is the myriad of musical styles and themes present throughout his entire discography that make me appreciate Owl City more. And with Adam also lending his voice to ‘To the Sky’, a song for Guardians of Ga’hoole, as well as ‘When Can I See You Again’- the end credits song from Wreck it Ralph, ‘Shine Your Way’, the theme song from The Croods, and ‘Waving Through a Window’, a cover of the popular song from the musical Dear Evan Hansen, what’s not to love about Owl City?

Owl City just released a new album titled Cinematic just last year, and while I won’t go into depth- you can see that in a review of the album here, I will say that upon hearing the songs over the last week- I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the songs, and for me, felt that this collection of music is by far some of the most emotive and poignant I’ve heard from Adam…ever. And while this album has a different feel compared to the rest- more cinematic and orchestral compared to the EDM pop of yesteryear, his fun-filled atmosphere never changes. Songs like ‘Montana’, ‘New York City’, ‘All My Friends’ and ‘Cinematic’ are standout tracks; and bring in a new chapter in the story of Adam Young aka Owl City. As Adam himself delves into the story of Cinematic and what brought himself to undertake such a monster task (18 tracks on this 2018 album!), ‘…I try to live my life according to an optimistic school of thought. I like to look for the silver lining in things. As I was writing this album and reliving so many amazing memories from when I was a kid, I found myself wondering what happens to all of us between adolescence and adulthood when some of that “magic” of being a kid goes away. It was then that I felt inspired to make the allegorical connection between real life, full of ups and downs, and the movies, which are often “too good to be true.” I realized that all of us are living out our own “movies” in the sense that we all have incredible things happen to us that “only happen onscreen,” but sometimes we miss them because we are too busy or tainted or jaded, etc. I wrote Cinematic to express the idea that I personally want to learn to recognize and enjoy the ups of life, because I believe they are worth celebrating. When you look back on your life, it feels like you’re watching your own movie. Cinematic is the idea that you should feel the same way when you look forward…’ It is in this quote that I am amazed and inspired at how articulate and clear Adam is in his focus about what he wanted Cinematic to be, and how in an age where artists release albums flippantly on a whim about things that are transient and about nothing, herein lies an artist like Owl City that is always purposeful in his releases, Cinematic included. Even much of his earlier material, though full of whimsical fun and layered with imagery that I myself don’t necessarily understand; is full of messages that can be relayed to today’s culture- ‘Deer in the Headlights’ discusses the world of dating and why it is so hard, while songs like ‘Angels’, ‘Alligator Sky’ and ‘Galaxies’ touch on the spiritual, ever so slightly even before Adam unveiled his spiritual side on his album Mobile Orchestra.

Though many may question the validity of Owl City even on this ‘Influential Artists of All Time’ list, I may tend to agree somewhat, that yes, Owl City won’t ever be to the same ability musically or even lyrically to that of the pioneer bands like ABBA, Queen, The Beatles, Beach Boys, even Christian artists Michael W. Smith or Steven Curtis Chapman, but what what I reckon this Minnesotan one-man-band has done, is to open up the channels of discussion, and bring forth to the table, that it’s ok to marry together pop and EDM, that it’s ok to talk about issues like graduation, faith, hope, death, love, suicide, hopes, dreams, life, issues that otherwise would have been under the rug. Owl City has placed the sheen of happy poppy EDM music over a layer of deep and meaningful music, and while this is a great technique for newer listeners to check out the one-man-band, only to find that there is some sort of depth to the music; we are nevertheless reminded that Owl City and his songs like ‘Good Time’ and ‘Fireflies’ have changed the sonic landscape of pop and EDM…forever!

…I think there might be a crowd of folks that are a little bit more open to what I have to say in terms of spiritual things given the fact that I’m not … 100 percent based in that scene. It was never something I was very intentional about, as far as where I fell in terms of category or genre. I just prayed, “God wherever You want my music to fall, wherever You want it to reach people where they’re at, whatever it is I just leave that up to You.” He really has opened a lot of doors in that respect. And the response from non-Christians has been very positive whenever I’ve spoken about spiritual things… It has actually drawn me nearer to the Lord. A lot of it has to do with spiritual stamina out on the road. When you’re touring six months of the year, there’s lots of ways you can be dragged down or fall into temptation. He’s really taught me integrity and what that means to be surrounded by the right kind of people out on the road. I’ve got about twelve other folks out here with me [who are] solid believers. He’s just taught me how to go with the flow but stay grounded, stay in the Word, remain steadfast, run the good race. And that’s what it’s all about…’ It is in this quote that I have come to admire Adam for his tenacity to endure the role that’s set before him- record and be in a music industry that doesn’t, as a whole, look too kindly upon people of faith. Owl City, just like Switchfoot and Carrie Underwood, has continued to stretch the boundaries of what it means to be a Christian in a world where there’s nothing but hatred and confusion, condemnation and dismission for the person of faith. Since the overnight success of ‘Fireflies’, Adam presents to us melodies full of life and vigour, full of passion and heart. On the whole is Owl City popular when compared to music currently? Not at all. 10 years ago? Yes, in a heartbeat. Can an artist’s popularity dwindle, yet it’s relevance and influential nature, stay the same or even increase over time? Most definitely!

Part perfectionist, part introvert, full time Christian, Adam Young has given us Owl City, who in turn gives us great EDM music that breaks the walls down that pop music seems to want to have up. Owl City in an overall holistic sense may not be as influential compared to the other names in this top influential artists list, but, when we look at influence on a personal level; Adam still gives us songs that can impact the particular person. While not everyone is content with the musical direction he may be going (cinema-style songs), we still can’t deny how important Owl City is to society, now more than ever!

Does Owl City make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Best Influential Artists of All Time’ list? Is there any song (other than ‘Fireflies’, ‘Montana’ and ‘My Everything’) that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!

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