Counting Stars

Album: Native (2013)
Charted: 1 2

Songfacts®:

  • No more counting dollars
    We'll be counting stars


    Having written hits for Leona Lewis ("Bleeding Love"), Kelly Clarkson ("Already Gone") and many other superstars, OneRepublic frontman Ryan Tedder had plenty of dollars, but also the vision to know that money can't always buy happiness.

    Tedder had the idea for this tune while working with Beyoncé on her follow-up to 2011's 4. One morning while Tedder was prepping for his studio time with Bey, he came across a little known folk song that he fell in love with. Wanting to write his own version of the tune, Tedder tried to reach out to the original writer to see if he would collaborate with him. "He was like, 'I don't know about that,' and it was aloof enough that I was like, 'Oh screw it,'" Tedder explained to Radio.com.

    Tedder finally did his own interpretation, heavy on piano and acoustic guitar. This arrangement took on a more soulful, gospel sound than the original. "It kept the spirit of what I was looking for the whole time," he said.
  • The song was the first ever UK #1 single for Ryan Tedder as a performer, though the Oklahoman had previously been credited as co-writer on the British chart-topping singles for Leona Lewis ("Bleeding Love") and Ellie Goulding ("Burn").
  • The song's music video was filmed on May 10, 2013, in New Orleans, Louisiana and directed by James Lees. It features the band performing in a basement beneath an ongoing church congregation.
  • Tedder told Billboard magazine that he finds it gratifying that so many have connected with such an uplifting and meaningful song. "I think it's our responsibility as a band, and what separates us from everyone else. I took that from being a fan of U2 for two decades now, since Achtung Baby," he said. "To this day, they might be the only band on that level who sings about things other than just boy-girl troubles or the kind of selfish, 'I'm a badass' stuff. I've spoken with Bono about this when we toured with him, and he said the same thing."

    "I felt a responsibility to actually write and sing about things that have a level of human gravity to them," Tedder continued. "If everybody else sings about sex and love and lust and money, then somebody's gotta be singing about life and faith and hope and things of that nature. And in the pantheon of their esteemed career, they've had two #1 hits, and I think both were 25 years ago. It's not about that - it's about what songs feel real. I'd rather have a song that peaks at #15 that's meaningful and embedded in the cultural framework we live in than a #1 song that explodes for five seconds, becomes the dance hit of the summer, then goes away."
  • Standard structure for a Pop song is verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus (A-B-A-B-C-B). This song begins with the chorus, then goes into an instrumental break. After that, however, it follows the standard structure, making the song's form (B-instrumental break-A-B-A-B-C-B). To get these extra elements in, the song runs longer than most hits, clocking in at 4:17. Relatively little of the song is devoted to verses - it's mostly chorus (about 45%).
  • Ryan Tedder started writing the song in New York but finished it on the Greek island of Santorini. He told Billboard magazine: "If I think I have something that I love that feels huge, that feels like it's inevitable - which isn't all the time - I will intentionally get it to where I know, 'This is nuclear, I know this is gonna connect, but I want to finish this in a place that's special, that inspires me.' We've been trying to go to Santorini for three years and I thought, 'This is the perfect place to finish this song.'"
  • Notice how this song gets into the chorus: the music disappears, leaving Tedder's voice isolated for a line (first "Everything that kills me makes me feel alive" then "Everything that drowns me makes me wanna fly"). This an effective method for both spotlighting a line in the lyric and for boosting the intensity of the chorus.

    This slight lull technique has been used in many songs for this purpose, but it was especially popular around this time - you'll also hear the music drop out before the chorus in "Pompeii" by Bastille and "Wrecking Ball" by Miley Cyrus.
  • This was used in a commercial for Bud Light beer that aired during the 2014 Super Bowl. The spot was part of their "The Perfect Beer For Whatever Happens" campaign, which followed a regular guy who agreed to be up for "whatever happens" on a series of adventures, culminating with a a ping-pong game against Arnold Schwarzenegger that then reveals a concert by OneRepublic, who are performing this song.
  • This song has one of the more cathartic endings you'll hear. Most of the elements Ryan Tedder employed throughout the song return in the last 20 seconds. Listen for the synthesizer, the "woooo" backing vocals from the chorus, and the lyric from the bridge ("Take that money, watch it burn. Sink in the river the lessons I learned").

    Just as the music ducks under leading into the chorus, it comes out at the end of the song as well, leaving Tedder's vocal as the last thing we hear.

Comments: 3

  • Siahara Shyne Carter from United States“So funny moment but not so funny”
    It's serious! .........

    You can't believe I sing this song in front of my teacher and She said wow What's the title of that song!? later on she said she will stop teaching lol bit she never did because What would be her family's income? ...... Anyways! This song really help me Pass the Junior high Level Thank you;-)
  • Tielle from CaliforniaI may be wrong, but I feel that the lyric is or should be "And I don't think the world is sold ON just doing what we're told"
    (ON instead of I'm). If you are feeling good about doing things society says you shouldn't, then you are your own person, taking the path less traveled.
  • Maria from Philadelphia, PaRyan was a mentor on last season's The Voice, and he talked about how this song came about. He wanted to pursue music full-time, but he and his wife were struggling financially, working all sorts of jobs to pay the bills. He told her that one day, he would be successful in the music business and they would have money to burn, hence the line "make that money, watch it burn."
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