“Counting Stars” is about finding a way to live out your vision while dealing with the practical difficulties of life. The lyrics are one side of a conversation focused on planning out the future. The track is also critical of materialism and the notion of keeping up with the Joneses. It’s an inspirational message that encourages the listener to aim for excellence despite obstacles.
Ryan Tedder wrote this song while working on other projects with Beyonce. Prior to the collaborative sessions, he began searching the internet for random inspiration. He happened upon an unusual piece of folk music that caught his attention and inspired “Counting Stars.” Over the following months, he worked to develop the idea into the song we know and love today.
In this article, we’ll perform an analysis of these optimistic lyrics to uncover their hidden meaning. We’ll also take a look at the songwriting story and the universal themes that give this song its impact. Without further ado, let’s get started!
The song begins with a heartfelt confession from Ryan Tedder. He’s been “losing sleep” about the things he and an unnamed listener “could be.” Based on the later use of “baby” and other lyrical indicators involving love, we can say that this person is a romantic partner.
Even though Tedder is anxious, he shows faith and has been “praying hard” for the future. Instead of “counting dollars” (chasing money), Tedder hopes to be “counting stars.” This is a symbol of reaching great heights and realizing the ideal destiny.
OneRepublic has directly confirmed that the song is about anxiously yet confidently planning your future. This mixture of doubt and hope is the emotional base for the song.
After the intro, the first true verse begins. In it, Tedder explains how he views life: “like a swinging vine.” This could be interpreted in many ways, and it most likely means many things. Essentially, he sees life as a dynamic place that should be full of motion instead of stagnation. Tedder says it will “swing my [Tedder’s] heart across the line,” which means he isn’t afraid to identify what his heart really wants.
He also believes that life rewards people who chase their dreams. “Seek it out, and ye shall find” is a quote from Jesus that Tedder uses to make this point further. His view is that whatever power governs the universe is generous toward people who put out an effort.
Tedder is also humble about his own experience and courage. He’s “not that old” (wise) and “not that bold,” but he is dedicated nonetheless. This is where his confidence comes from. He doesn’t believe the world should be limited to just “doing what we’re told.”
In the pre-chorus, Tedder shows that societal definitions of the “right thing” and “wrong thing” don’t match up with his own. Society is probably the source that tells him to worry about “counting dollars” instead of his real destiny. In order to transcend those expectations, he has to reverse his morality. “Everything that kills” him (according to society) makes him “feel alive.”
The chorus is simply the intro repeated with more gusto. After two of these, the second verse begins. In it, Tedder will reveal another motivator for his ambition: his love for the song’s recipient.
He says he can feel her love “burn” as they move “down this river.” It is important to remember that he compares the path of life to a river – this will come up again soon. He prefers “hope” to any other four-letter word (frustration) and is happy to make money and “watch it burn.” This flies in the face of society again because he values experience more than material gain. Whatever “drowns” him in the river of life makes him “want to fly.”
In the track’s breakdown bridge, Tedder reiterates these two images. He happily burns money in exchange for sinking “in the river” with the “lessons” he learns from experience. Basically, he prefers living a fulfilling life full of meaning to growing his bank account. With these priorities, Tedder is free to light up the chorus and bridge again until the song closes.
In summary, “Counting Stars” is about finding meaning in life by following your heart with enthusiasm. Anyone can find themselves trapped in routines and suffocated by social expectations, and this song offers a voice to those feelings. The inspirational core of the track is a serious contributor to its massive success.
The songwriting credit for this number goes solely to Ryan Tedder. Reportedly, he came up with the idea while waiting for collaborator Beyonce while staying in the Hamptons.
He had high hopes for the sessions and began surfing the internet for inspiration. During this process, he came upon a piece of “indigenous folk” music that sparked something in him. It became the basic inspiration for “Counting Stars,” although the lyrics were totally unrelated.
He decided against sharing the tune with Beyonce because he doubted it would fit her style. However, he got the idea for the chorus immediately. When he went back home, he spent the next three months finishing “Counting Stars” and the rest of the Native album.
The song can only be considered a smash hit, both commercially and critically. It is one of YouTube’s most viewed videos in history, a top ten hit in 20 countries, and a certified Diamond record in the US. Evidently, the world could relate to whatever Tedder saw in that internet search.
The next time you play this upbeat track, let these bits of music history make it even more special!