Today I'd like to introduce you to my very first one, “Owl City Allegory,” and note that while I’ve had themed posts turn up in sequence over time, I have yet to organize them together in a concerted “blog series.” This first one will draw on similar analytical methods as used in Poignant Music, for example, and that article may be interesting to readers who were unaware of it, buried as it is in the middle of a sequential, but unorganized logjam of 150+ posts.
Part I: Lyric Interpretation of Owl City Songs
As we begin, I want to explain that these are going to be intentionally pigeon-holed at times, after enough lyrical evidence has convinced me of the possibility of an allegorical interpretation, in order to suggest a way for the whole song to cohere together into one thematic message. These are my own interpretation, and I don’t insist that each conclusion must be what Adam Young (the writer, singer and producer behind Owl City) had in mind when writing, but the point will be that, intentionally or unintentionally, he has crafted the lyrics so that they can indeed be validly interpreted as a subtle theological message, without going to interpretive extremes. I believe my analysis will be fair, and I will point out shortcomings where I consider them to be. It must also be noted that Owl City music, especially the early variety, is characterized by whimsicality, and in many cases they are impossible for a bystander to interpret in the sense that they can be at all sure what Adam was thinking when he inserted those lines. However, Adam is a sincere Christian and based on his public expressions of faith on his blog and elsewhere, I don’t believe he would object to people’s attempts to find hidden spiritual meaning in the texts of his songs, so long as the conclusions didn’t amount to doctrinal confusion, of course. And with that preface, this endeavor of mine is primed to begin.
One of the benefits of Adam’s meticulously preserved formlessness (he has said so comparably little about his personal life and views that one article about him online even called him “completely non-political”) is that his fans have the opportunity to see themselves in him, even though they are very different in terms of life experience. There have even been some who claim he's gay--not as an insult to his music, but in a desire to more deeply connect with him in a shared identity. As it turns out, melancholy musings on inexpressible yearnings by an eccentric mind is something many share. We’re all a little bit odd, and the oddities in Adam’s lyrics, combined with their optimism and hope, have in my view given a lot of young people something to connect to and lift them up. They have, in Adam’s music, an alternative to contemporary offers of sympathy for their weirdness and desire to know they’re not alone. Consider Lady Gaga’s fans, affectionately (?) called “Little Monsters” by the artist. There is also a community of the strange and the burdened in her fan base, but I have yet to hear of someone vomiting on Adam during a concert. There is a huge difference in how the base is encouraged: Owl City doesn’t shy from quirkiness but it never encourages listeners to fester in despondency and feed their discouragement. So much of pop culture encourages “acting out” as a way to deal with personal struggles. Adam never has. I’m incredibly grateful to Adam simply for what I know he’s done to the young adult culture. He’s shown that if you’re sad, you don’t have to express it through attention-seeking delinquency or self-abasement. It’s okay to be sad, lonely, afraid and a little bit different from “everybody else.” These are normal things, but they don’t mean that your life is over. Instead, his songs offer a thoughtfully different approach.
It’s almost too easy for me to draw similarities between me and Adam. We’re both tall, though he’s taller. We’re both chronically uninvolved in long-term relationships, though we’ve both had romantic experiences in the past, and clearly think about love a lot. Which may be due to the age factor. He’s roughly 3 years older, so a lot of the things we’re dealing with in life are bound to be similar. We're both introverts and spend a lot of time alone just thinking or working on various projects. Hopeful optimists, but cynical realists. Adam deals frankly with issues like shame, death, depression etc and ‘calls it like it is,’ but he doesn’t wallow in grief, he looks up and always has a positive angle to the calamity around him. Or is it me? I am so passionately a fan of what I call “cynical optimism” (for an example, read the whole book of Ecclesiastes in a straight shot). You can’t ignore the flawed and terrible things in the world, but you can’t submit to the idea that those things will have the last word. In Adam’s lyrics, I see the innocence and childlike glee that I know at times, in my clearer thinking moments. The public face of Adam, and his song persona, is like the very best of me—if I also could sing. In the vein of “meditating on what is good and excellent and pure (Philippians 4:8),” listening to his songs can elevate my mind to dwell more naturally on positive things over negative, and in a very direct yet subtle way, make me a better person. I enjoy the occasional metal-rock song, but I can’t listen to that stuff all the time. Part of the reason is that they nearly never contain any hope. But Adam’s songs contain hope. And there’s a very simple and subliminal reason for that. It’s what I intend to show in this blog series. So let’s get started. :)
~ Rak Chazak