In Praise of Owl City's 'Fireflies'
The song hits No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart this week, making it one of the most played tunes in the land (the chart also includes singles sales, which were 200,000 this week for “Fireflies.” I didn’t need a chart number to tell me that “Fireflies” is at No. 1 since I can’t spin the radio dial without hearing it on several different stations of varying formats at the same time…no matter what city I’m in.
The cloying song may be so diabetic-inducing, sugary sweet that it makes the Postal Service's music seem like heavy metal in comparison, but I give a little cheer every time I see the chart numbers because “Fireflies” has done something no song by a new artist has done in recent memory: Not only has the song spurred digital single sales, it has made fans go buy the album. For the last nine weeks, as the “Fireflies” mini-phenomenon has grown ever stronger, “Ocean Eyes” has continued to climb the Billboard 200. This week, for the first time, it broke into the Top 10, landing at No. 8. Take that, iTunes.
Since digital downloading took hold, we’ve seen massive radio hit after radio hit come and go and the artist—this is particularly true of rap and R&B acts—will sell one or two million digital downloads, but the CD will barely move the needle. As successful as Lady GaGa’s “The Fame” has been (it has SoundScanned 1.5 million copies), four No. 1s would have meant four or five million in CD sales only a few years ago.
First off, a little bit about Owl City: the band, like Five for Fighting, is really just one person. Owl City is 23-year old Adam Young, who says he made music in his basement during his bouts of insomnia, signed with Universal Music Group’s Universal Republic imprint after releasing two albums on his own. “Fireflies” features guest vocals by Reliant K’s Matt Thiessen.
“Strawberry Avalance,” the first single from “Ocean Eyes,” didn’t impact. We’ll see how next single, “Vanilla Twilight” fares.
It could be that “Fireflies” has such a life on its own, that it will never get out of the way for another single to take hold.
Even so, fans have bought into the whole Owl City gestalt and mystique and, therefore, are willing to plunk down money to buy the entire CD instead of only downloading the song. They’re investing in the artist, even though there's no tabloid scandal or romance attached to him, and that’s pretty rare these days and very heartening to see.
Owl City is also collecting some celebrity fans: Taylor Swift supposedly went to see Owl City at a club show in New York before the single was really taking off. She tweeted about how much she loved him and, according to a source, his album sales rose 22% that week--- attributable almost totally to Swift’s recommendation. Nice to have friends in high places.