Faith & Pop Culture: Counting Stars

On the surface, OneRepublic's Counting Stars is an expertly crafted pop song. Shiny production, snappy rhythms, and virulent melodies. It was included in my summer soundtrack for it's infectious qualities and I remain unashamed to admit how much I love this song. Still.

Yet, that's just the surface. Dig a little deeper and you'll find lyrics aiming for a purpose higher than anything of monetary value. A conflict riding the edge between being young and being old. Hopes to defy the trend of what everyone else is doing. The struggle between the desire to do what is right against the tendency to do what is evil. It's the human existence in a nutshell. Which makes it the formulaically ideal pop song.

But dig deeper.

My oldest son listens intently to lyrical content of the music he hears. And then he picks them apart to figure out what those words mean and what the songwriter is trying to convey. He understands that music often speaks life into words that aren't always easy to arrange in simple conversation. His challenge is grasping the subtleties of similes and metaphors. Part of this is due to having aspergers. With the way his brain works, the typical literary devices of songcraft and poetry are often too complex or confusing without some sort of translation into language he can understand. When he and I listen to music together, he asks a lot of questions. This is also an aspie thing, but this is a demonstration of his thirst for knowledge.

We were listening to Counting Stars and the pre-chorus was one of those nonsensical word choices just beyond the limits of Christian's understanding.

"Dad," he asked, "what does he mean when he said he feels something wrong when doing the right thing? If it's right, why would it be wrong?"

Excellent questions. Here's where we begin to dig.

I explained that doing the right thing isn't always fun. Nor is it always comfortable. Sometimes, we do the right thing even when we don't want to. I asked him if he can remember a time when he hurt his sister's feelings and he had to apologize to her. Was that something that he enjoyed doing? It was the right thing to do, but it was hard.

Doing good is not always easy. Sometimes, it just feels wrong.

Now, he understands. And now that he gets it, he sings along with off-key abandon.

And I get it. This is one of the reasons I adore this song. Because I understand exactly how it feels. Sometimes, doing the wrong thing feels right and doing the right thing feels wrong. Sometimes, I really want to be a jerk because being a jerk would be so much easier and a lot more fun. Yet, I don't. I still aim for the high road even though I occasionally miss. Even though it's much more difficult and often painful.

Digging deeper.

Listening to this song reminds me of the words of Paul in Romans 7. "For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do ... For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing ... Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me." (full passage)

I know that Ryan Tedder comes from a religious background. So this connection may or may not have been intentional. Yet every time I listen to that song, I can't help but ponder those verses from Romans. I don't do want I want to do and instead end up doing what I don't want to do.

And in Tedder's words, I'm losing sleep and praying hard.


  1. Great post, Nic! I find my 11 year old distinctly knows the lyrics to all the pop songs he sings along to in the car, and we've just recently started discussing some of the metaphoric meanings in the songs.

    1. Thanks, Bob - I'm looking forward to many hours of singing along to the radio with him as he gets older.

  2. Anonymous1:38 AM

    Nic, , thank you, this is a wonderful post. I was cruising through the streets of Shanghai, yesterday, and the words "I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do" kept running through my head. Now reading this tells me I have work to do. And I agree with you about Tedder --we saw him in concert here in Shanghai a couple of weeks ago, I believe that his Christian background informs his lyrical content, it's not a mistake, it's intentional.

    1. Good to hear from you Thom. And have I mentioned I'm jealous of the concerts you get to see?