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‘A Sky Full Of Stars’: How Coldplay Embraced EDM For Their Euphoric Single
Francis Specker / Alamy Stock Photo
In Depth

‘A Sky Full Of Stars’: How Coldplay Embraced EDM For Their Euphoric Single

Guided by their faith in the universe, Coldplay’s team-up with Avicii on A Sky Full Of Stars saw the planets align for a galaxy-sized hit.

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As an exhilarating fusion of alternative rock and dance-pop, Coldplay’s 2014 single A Sky Full Of Stars saw the British group venture into the rave yard by embracing electronic dance music (EDM). Emerging during difficult recording sessions for the band’s sixth album, Ghost Stories, the song saw Coldplay frontman Chris Martin channel his personal struggles into an anthem of hope and perseverance. In collaboration with renowned EDM producer Avicii, Martin wove his philosophical musings into a crossover hit that transcended genre, resonating with listeners through its uplifting message and club-ready energy.

Here is the story of how Coldplay captured the communal spirit of the EDM scene while staying true to their anthemic roots, enabling songwriter Chris Martin to overcome personal heartbreak in the process.

Listen to the best of Coldplay here.

The backstory: “We need this door opening to the sunrise”

As the last song to be written for Coldplay’s sixth studio album, Ghost Stories, A Sky Full Of Stars arrived at the tail-end of recording sessions and during a moment of epiphany for Chris Martin. Many of the songs he’d written for the album had found him in an emotionally fragile state, with heartbreakingly vulnerable ballads such as Ink and True Love seeing him attempt to make sense of his recent divorce from wife Gwyneth Paltrow.

Aching with rawness and intimacy, much of this new material was shaping up to make Ghost Stories a deeply personal breakup album, but Martin knew he needed a song that would give the listener a sense of release and catharsis. “We’ve got all these other songs going through this journey,” Martin said in an interview with Beats, “and we need this door opening to the sunrise.” A Sky Full Of Stars seemingly fell out of the ether, radiating a sense of hopefulness and optimism and offering the listener a harmonious convergence of post-traumatic wisdom.

By turning his scars into constellations, Martin set about writing a song that expressed his faith in unconditional love, and how a belief in something bigger can transcend the hurt and help us emerge stronger on the other side. “Life is beautiful in all its colours, even the darker ones,” he told Zane Lowe. “They’re here for a reason.”

The recording: “This took ages to finish, because we were trying to blend two worlds”

Sitting down at his piano late at night at The Village Studios, in West Los Angeles, Martin came up with the melody for the song surprisingly quickly. “A Sky Full Of Stars came out around 11.30 at night… it came out in about seven minutes,” he later said. “This song just fell out, just came right through.” Since the rest of his band were in London at the time, Martin was completely on his own in the studio, but he didn’t want to wait around, and decided to work on the demo by himself.

Unlike the other ballads he’d already penned for Ghost Stories, A Sky Full Of Stars had a more upbeat flavour, with inspiration coming from an unlikely place. “I’ll tell you the truth,” Martin later said. “I was listening to a lot of Katy Perry.” He wasn’t simply a fan of the US pop singer; he was intrigued by a specific songwriting technique she and producer Dr Luke had employed. “A lot of her songs have the same chord sequence the whole time. Your body feels comfortable with them, and then the melody’s changing on top, so there’s a groove you really get into and then also you’re kept interested.”

Martin instantly recognised that A Sky Full Of Stars had dance-pop crossover potential, bearing all the hallmarks of a “big room” house floor-filler. “That song really ended up being inspired by EDM,” the songwriter added. “I love that stuff. So I want us to have a song that comes from that world.” However, given Coldplay’s reputation for guitar-based alt-rock, Martin didn’t feel entirely comfortable working up a club banger entirely on his own. “In terms of, ‘I’d really like to jump up and down to this,’ we don’t really know what we’re doing,” he admitted. So the group called Avicii.

At that time, the Swedish dance producer (born Tim Bergling) was a superstar in the EDM world, and had revolutionised the club scene with hits such as Levels and Wake Me Up. A truly eclectic spirit who enjoyed fusing genres such as soul and bluegrass with progressive house beats, Avicii met with Martin at The Village Studios and hunkered down over his laptop to create his own version of A Sky Full Of Stars. Describing him as “very lovely and very talented”, Martin remembered how Avicii “just made these great piano sounds and synth sounds”; together they incorporated Jonny Buckland’s chiming guitar riffs to create a fully-fledged dance song that retained Coldplay’s unmistakable DNA.

“This took ages to finish, this song, ages, because we were trying to blend two worlds,” Martin later told Zane Lowe. Despite starting out as a solo demo, with Avicii’s input the song had been transformed into an authentic house anthem, not only pushing Coldplay into new sonic territory but also working in a nightclub setting on its own merits. “We spent weeks weaving it all together,” Martin continued. “Like, we’ll try this with this, or this with this, essentially playing Tetris for fucking hours. That’s why it took so long.”

The release: “That song is unashamedly happy and danceable”

Released on 2 May 2014, as the second single from Ghost Stories, A Sky Full Of Stars became far and away the album’s biggest hit, peaking at No.10 in the US and No.9 in the UK, and selling more than three million copies worldwide. “That song is unashamedly happy and danceable because that’s what it needed to be,” Martin told Fuse. “I love singing it, it’s just so fun to play.”

A regular feature at Coldplay’s live concerts, A Sky Full Of Stars has become a dazzling highlight of each and every one of the band’s shows, with firework displays often doing battle with smartphone torches to bathe the stadium in flashing lights. With Martin’s vocals expressing awe and wonder and Avicii’s beats kicking in with joyous optimism, it’s easy to see why many consider A Sky Full Of Stars to be one of the best Coldplay songs.

Born out of great emotional difficulty following Martin’s divorce, A Sky Full Of Stars was not only a hugely successful fusion of pop-rock balladry and EDM, but its poetic expression of the euphoria that comes after weathering a storm has a great deal of personal meaning to Chris Martin. “I know it sounds bad to say that in music, but I love that it’s come out of this dark place,” he confessed. “It’s the most important song we’ve ever had, lyrically, because every time I sing it, I’m like, ‘Yeah, that’s how I wanna live my life.’”

The legacy: “If you didn’t have faith in the universe that somehow, something great will emerge at the end, then we’d all give up”

After topping the Billboard Hot Dance Club Singles chart, A Sky Full Of Stars was nominated for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance at the 57th Grammy Awards, yet its popularity still endures more than ten years after its initial release. With over 1.4 billion Spotify streams to date and a music video that has clocked up 910 million views and counting on YouTube, the song is a testament to Coldplay’s longevity, cementing their status as one of the biggest bands in the world.

Tragically, in April 2018, Avicii died by suicide at the age of 28, but his significant contributions to the world of dance music have left a lasting legacy, and his work on A Sky Full Of Stars ensures that his musical genius will never be forgotten. For some listeners, Avicii’s untimely death adds an extra layer of poignancy to the song, giving it an even greater spiritual weight than it already had.

In the end, A Sky Full Of Stars’ relatable message of facing down emotional traumas with a zen-like air of acceptance is something every listener can connect to. From striving towards stoic resolve or revelling in the liberation that follows personal growth, Chris Martin ultimately gifted the world of EDM a timeless and enduring anthem of profound depth.

“If you didn’t have faith in the universe that somehow, something great will emerge at the end, then we would all give up,” Martin later said. “And that would be a waste of everyone’s time!” By harnessing celestial powers, Coldplay opened up a portal to universal energy that remains accessible for anyone who wishes to use it.

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