Owl City – “Fireflies” Lyrics Meaning

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Written By Brendan Briggs

Brendan is a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and producer. In 2022, he released his first album "Dive" under the name "Arctotherium".

“Fireflies” tells the story of a sleepless man appreciating all of the beauty he sees at night. While this is the clear surface meaning, the hidden meaning has to do with enjoying the brightness of our experiences in general – especially since time never stops moving forward.

Adam Young wrote the song after being inspired on a camping trip in northern Minnesota. At the time, Young was looking for direction in his life, which made him very receptive to his creative process.  Nature was his inspiration, and the timing ended up being perfect.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at these optimistic lyrics to discover their hidden meaning. We’ll also touch on what makes this song so lovable, nostalgic, and relatable to us. Without further ado, let’s dive in!

“Fireflies” Lyrics Meaning

Adam Young begins by painting a bright picture. “Ten million fireflies” are lighting the world, which can only be assumed to be a good thing. He continues describing how they “fill the open air” and dot the sky. Young can only “stand and stare.”

It’s unclear at this point what the exact significance of the fireflies is, but we do have a clue. Young’s reaction is awe instead of fear. It’s safe to assume that the fireflies represent something pleasant.

The chorus kicks in forcefully with a confession from Young. He deceives himself into thinking that “planet earth turns slowly” when it is very fast in reality. This has to do with the passage of time, which is always reminding us of our temporary nature.

This gives Young a sense of urgency, and he wants to “stay awake” when he’s asleep. He can’t bear the thought of losing time to sleep, so he becomes restless. There’s too much mystery in the world to rest – “everything is never as it seems.”

Verse two brings us back into the bizarre nocturnal vision. The fireflies give “a thousand hugs” to Young and teach him “how to dance.” He has no inhibitions and dances a “foxtrot” and “sock hop” with them. He also references a “disco-ball” which hangs by just “a thread.”

While the literal meaning of these lines is simple, I interpret them to have symbolic meaning too. The dancing here represents a celebration of life in general. In my opinion, the fireflies are metaphors for little glimpses of life’s beauty that “teach us how to dance.” It’s not that they literally talk to us, but they show us the good in the world if we let them.

There is some factual evidence for this interpretation. In an interview for Entertainment Weekly, Adam Young said he got the idea for “Fireflies” after a “meteor shower” he witnessed on a camping trip. His goal was to translate the “idea of shooting stars being fireflies” into music.

However, he was also inspired by the “lack of sleep that tends to happen.” Like many creatives, Young describes the feeling of receiving a “spark of an idea” when waiting for sleep. His fear that he’ll “forget an idea” often keeps him up, which explains the song’s references to insomnia.

In other words, glimpses of creative possibilities shine for a moment in front of him, and he feels compelled to go and grab them. This is why I interpret the fireflies as glimpses of life’s beauty. Beauty has to be appreciated and captured in art and in life.

After another chorus, the song’s bridge focuses on the restlessness Young feels. He’s done with “counting sheep” and repeatedly asks to be taken “away from here.” Simply put, he wants the fireflies (sparks of potential) to lift him out of his uneasiness with their beauty. He’s “too tired” of being unfulfilled “to fall asleep.”

In the final verse, the fireflies leave. This makes Young get “misty eyes,” but he still has hope. After all, he’s “saved a few” in a jar, meaning he has access to them. Symbolically, this represents how people save scraps of life’s beauty in their memory in order to access them later. In the case of Young, retrieving them could also transform them into pieces of art.

At this point, the song repeats the chorus until the close. In summary, the theme of the track is an encouragement to seize life’s beauty before it’s too late. After all, planet earth turns quickly, and we’ll only have so many experiences before our time is up.

The Story Behind “Fireflies”

When Adam Young came up with this song, he was starting from square one. At the time, Young was looking for direction. He told Entertainment Weekly that he’d recently enrolled in a community college but wasn’t quite sure where he was headed. During this time, Young never left music behind.

After gaining some momentum from his first EP, Young quit his job working for Coca-Cola. He described it as the “best feeling in the world,” and it ended up working out well for him.

After a camping trip to a “remote lake in northern Minnesota,” Young was inspired to write “Fireflies” after witnessing a meteor shower at night. Young recorded “Fireflies” and most of the accompanying album in his parents’ basement, but that didn’t make his creations any less alluring.

To say that the track got popular would be the understatement of a lifetime. “Fireflies” ascended to the top of the charts in several countries and sold millions of copies worldwide. The sheer exposure that the song received is probably the reason it feels so nostalgic to many people.

The next time you play this undeniable track, let its humble beginnings inspire you to go after your own ideas!