City of Stars by Justin Hurwitz

Justin Hurwitz composed ‘City of Stars’ for the 2016 American musical ‘La la Land’ which follows a frustrated actress and jazz pianist trying to follow their dreams.

City of Stars from La La Land

Listen For

  • After a simple 4-bar piano intro in G minor, the male voice (Sebastien) enters with “City of stars, are you shining just for me?” which ends on a D minor chord.
  • He sings the same line again but this time the line ends on an F major chord, which sounds more optimistic. This is a theme in the song, alternating between major and minor, and Hurwitz said this:

“You have these great moments and then you have these less great moments in life and in Los Angeles and we see it happen in the story.”

Justin Hurwitz
  • The rhythm is ‘swung’ throughout which means that the quavers sound like dotted quavers.

  • At 00:37 Mia enters with the lyrics “That now our dreams, they’ve finally come true.”

  • At 01:19 the mood becomes more hopeful, with the lyrics “A look in somebody’s eyes to light up the skies” being accompanied by a staccato piano part which becomes more jazzy.

  • At 01:51 the original melancholy piano idea returns with Sebastien singing the opening line again.

Things To Consider

  • City of stars is one of the most popular songs from the show – why do you think that is? What makes a successful song?
  • Do you think the song works with just a piano accompaniment or would an orchestral backing be more effective?