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Everybody's hating on Owl City

Owl City a.k.a. Adam Young

Owl City a.k.a. Adam Young

Reviews are beginning to trickle in for Mobile Orchestra, the just-dropped new album from Owl City, Minnesota's biggest contemporary pop export. And if you're Owatonna-bred Adam Young, the force behind Owl City, you might need some extra hugs from those 10,000 lightning bugs, because initial appraisals of Mobile Orchestra are, well, brutal.

  • In its two-star review, the Guardian says Young "makes music so bland and textureless that it should carry a health warning." 
  • Young writes "lyrics that could make a motivational speaker seem suicidally depressed," says the New York Daily News in its two-star review. 

  • Stereogum really goes for the jugular with its post titled "10 Worst Crimes Against Music On Owl City’s New Album." Among them: "Every track is the sonic equivalent of a frozen dinner" and "Adam Young’s voice is butt."  
  • USA Today ("Album of the Week") and the A.V. Club (C+ review) provided the kindest mainstream takes. 

With a 51 out of 100 lifetime score score, the cloying, self-infantilizing electro-pop star behind megahits "Fireflies" and "Good Time" is one of the worst-reviewed artists in Metacric history — we're talking Nickelback/Ashlee Simpson/Hoobastank/Ja Rule territory. His branding, earnest or otherwise, has not shielded him from critical scorn. Looking past the bashful choirboy persona, it's easy to detect more than a little pandering in the Owl City formula, one that's being marketed with demographic-specific precision via three new singles. The club-y, Aloe Blacc-featuring "Verge" is Hallmark-transparent in its attempt to bilk the download bucks of young graduates; "My Everything" is Christian praise music that's sure to become a playlist favorite of church youth groups; and "Unbelievable," featuring '90s throwback act Hanson, is effectively a nostalgia-baiting BuzzFeed listicle set to song.

Adam Young's perceived naivete makes honest reviewing feel like bullying. Nobody — save perhaps Bart Simpson — gets joy out of smacking down Rod and Todd Flanders. At the same time, Rod and Todd Flanders aren't putting unforgivable songs like "Unbelievable" into the marketplace and banking off of them. There is a crass, calculated careerism to Young, whom we — especially in local media — often forget is a grown-ass, 29-year-old man. In creating "Good Time," for example, this dude straight-face birthed the same condescending pop opiate satirized in Lego Movie with "Everything Is Awesome," zero smirks involved. That's show biz, sure, but Top 40 appeal and tasteful artistry are by no means mutually exclusive. 

It's standard practice in arts journalism to not bag on the little guy, to avoid savaging questionable artists of minimal consequence just to appease your own critical blood lust. Adam Young may have a song written from the perspective of a honeybee, but he is not the little guy. He is the bankable pop star who's taking the heat he deserves.