Americans are a crazy, crazy bunch. Beyond those idiosyncrasies that have been lampooned for time immemorial – who actually likes fast food? who actually likes ice hockey? who actually likes George Bush etc. – I’ve always had a particular penchant for watching the US billboard charts, getting kicks from the strange mix of obscure country tracks and derivative pop tracks that seem to chart consistently well. Most people (outside ‘the know’) seem to think that North America maintains this overarching cultural dominance over the rest of the world. As if, yeah, that quirky shit coming out of the Scandinavian counties is cool and German rap might well be off the chain but really, if it’s not American (or at least, Americans don’t like it), the track/album/band is not going to fly. Wrong, wrong, wrong. American sensibilities are an anomaly in the world of pop music. There is nothing (nothing!) normal about exulting the country music charm of Kenny Chesney, the cutesy Jonas Brothers, the saccharine Buble. Yes, there are mainstream hits well represented on the Billboard Hot 100 (BEP, Gaga and Beyonce all rate) but the deeper trend is one of a fascination with totally weird, often bad, music.
Owl City’s ‘Fireflies’ is a perfect representation of the strange currents underpinning the US music industry. As it is, Fireflies is not a bad song. Granted, it sounds a thousand times similar to everything The Postal Service has ever made (and for that, Owl City’s Adam Young can be congratulated for his incredible attention to detail in imitation) and has some fairly cruddy lyrics (I’d like to make myself believe/That planet Earth turns slowly – wtf?) but you can see why people might like it. What’s harden to discern is why this song, amid a field of myriad other, far better indie tracks, was the one plucked from obscurity and chosen to join the hit parade. Where The Postal Service’s Ben Gibbard, his full-time band Deathcab for Cutie and a plethora of other alt acts get left by the cult wayside, why is it that Owl City has shot to fame?
Just in case that question mark and the rhetorical question it represents gave you any apprehension that I might be able to answer that timeless question – sorry to shatter your hopes. What I can say with absolute certainty is that the answer to that question lies in very close proximity to the answers to these questions: Why did it take a year for America’s own Kings Of Leon to get second single ‘Use Somebody’ in the top 20 when follow-up ‘Revelry’ is already on the wane all the way across the Pacific? What is good and/or unusual about 15-year-old sensation Justin Bieber? Why is American Idol wash-up Carrie Underwood still killing it with her rehashed Dixie Chicks sound? This, of course, all from the land that made Mariah Carey the most successful recording artist of all time. We’ve come to expect the unexpected. Like One Republic () and Daniel Powter (), it’s probably a one-off. But Owl City gives testament to the fact that the beautiful Western ideal of rags to riches lives on. Only in America.
Owl City – Fireflies