10 Empowering and Uplifting Personification Song Lyrics

Personification can be clunky and awkward when forced, but when used properly, it’s one of the most powerful tools for a songwriter.

In the simplest terms, it means describing a non-human item or being in human terms. However, it’s not all simple phrases like “the wind sighed” – there are a host of ways that popular songs with personification use this device.

Here are some classic examples of personification song lyrics as heard in some of my all-time favorite songs.

10. Awkward – SZA

“Awkward” by SZA is a superb example of how a simple, soulful use of personification can set the tone for a song. The opening line, “time passing,” ruefully watches time moving on by the singer and the subject of the song.

It sets up a story of how time marches cruelly onward, regardless of our actions. The more time passes, the more inevitable things become awkward – the tragedy of the song lies in the inevitable. It’s one of the simplest, best-illustrated personification examples I’ve come across.


9. Here Comes the Sun – The Beatles

In the legendary hit “Here Comes the Sun,” personification characterizes the sun as actively arriving on the scene. Weather phenomena are among the most common subjects of personification song lyrics.

The plaintive, repeated observation, “Here comes the sun,” makes it feel as if sunlight is actively deciding to come into the singer’s life along with love. It’s not showy, and it connects on a universal, emotional level – it’s so much of what I love about The Beatles.


8. The One That Got Away – Katy Perry

In “The One That Got Away,” Katy Perry captures the heady, untouchable feeling of young love. She sings that “Even if the whole world falls over, I wouldn’t be aware of a glacier” – of course, the world can’t literally “fall over,” but personification creates an evocative image that stays with the listener.

This is one of my top pop songs with personification because it blends so well with the repeated sentiment of “us against the world.” Mixing different figurative devices to paint a full picture is what all the best songwriters do.


7. Your Song –  Elton John

Like “Here Comes the Sun,” this is a timeless classic. Like the Beatles song, it uses the sun to represent the shining light of love – but here, it’s temporary, ephemeral, and slightly melancholy.

“But the sun’s been quite kind while I wrote this song” expresses the sun as active but suggests it only comes out thanks to a select few; in this case, “you.” There’s a good reason this is a long-time wedding favorite.


6. Landslide – Fleetwood Mac

In Fleetwood Mac’s legendary hit “Landslide,” personification is used reflexively. Stevie Nicks speaks directly to a “mirror in the sky” – although the mirror never speaks, the act of talking to an object personifies it, as the writer figuratively expects a response.

This is one of my favorite popular songs with personification because of its subtlety. The mirror doesn’t need to speak – it’s a mirror. Stevie Nicks already knows what it’s going to say.


5. Killing Me Softly with His Song – The Fugees/Roberta Flack/Others

“Killing Me Softly With His Song” has been recorded by numerous artists, perhaps most famously by Fugees and separately by Roberta Flack. Both versions are superb, and both artists focus on the personification of the song as the active agent.

While the unnamed man is playing the song, it’s the song itself that we are drawn in by – “strumming my pain,” “singing my life.” I’m deeply attached to this song because it blurs the boundaries between human and song, which is a hallmark of the greatest songs and performers.


4. Death By a Thousand Cuts – Taylor Swift

One of the most striking and direct personification song lyrics on my list comes in Taylor Swift’s “Death by a Thousand Cuts.” Taylor sings about “[asking] the traffic lights if it’ll be alright; they say, ‘I don’t know.’”

This is very characteristic of Taylor’s lyrics – there’s an almost surreal element in the way she expresses grief and loss. Scenery races past, and its random, passing features become the only things she can speak to about the impossible questions. And when you’re down and out enough, the scenery starts talking back; we begin to find significance in everything.


3. Be Prepared – The Lion King

When it comes to songs with personification, Disney feels like a natural example. Right? Well… not quite.

The tricky thing about Disney songs is that inanimate objects are personified in the cartoons – they’re already humanized. So does it matter if songs observe that the flatware’s entertaining, or if there’s a hot crustacean band, when they’re already characterized as human?

Short answer – no, it doesn’t. This is still personification. However, for the purists, I’ve picked out a stellar example of personification from one of my very favorite Disney tunes.

Listen to the anticipation and malice dripping from Jeremy Irons’ voice* as he sings that “A shining new era is tiptoeing nearer” in “Be Prepared.” Of course, it’s perfectly matched by the animation, with Scar mincing along on the tips of his paws as he introduces the new age.

This is a great example of a concept being personified rather than an object or weather phenomenon. A wickedly enjoyable song that revels in its poetic license.

*and yes, we’re only counting the Jeremy Irons version.


2. Thriller – Michael Jackson

In “Thriller,” personification is taken to the next level. The “horror looks you right between the eyes,” and the lyrics don’t let up from there. It’s reintroduced as terror, a creature, the beast with forty eyes, and every unspoken horror that lurks in the dark.

Darkness is the true subject of this sensational hit. It’s personified as everything we fear about the unknown and that thrill that runs down your spine as the King of Pop shows that he can “thrill you more than any ghoul would ever dare try.”


Honorable Mention – Captain Jack – Billy Joel

I was torn when choosing my #1 spot on this list. While I’m happy with my decision, I wanted to mention Billy Joel’s ballad of dark, disaffected ennui, “Captain Jack,” because it’s such a fascinating variant of personification.

“Captain Jack will get you high tonight and take you to your special island” – it’s talking about drugs, right? Yes and no. Captain Jack was actually a real-life drug dealer in Oyster Bay, near where Joel lived at the time. So how can this be personification when it’s about a real person?

The truth is that the dealer and his product represent the same thing. It’s the dealer that sells, but the drug that acts. There’s no difference – the drug is personified as an agent that takes you to a place, even though the name belongs to a real person.


1. The Sound of Silence – Simon & Garfunkel

Speaking to the darkness, visions creeping, neon lights stabbing eyes… the personification song lyrics of Simon and Garfunkel’s hit “The Sound of Silence” are wide-ranging and incredibly atmospheric.

This claims the top spot because each use of personification is so beautifully chosen and unique. We have the darkness as a silent conversational partner, as with the mirror in Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide.” We have inanimate objects viciously stabbing and nauseous visions creeping around the singer.

It’s simply spellbinding. This timeless classic has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity lately, and I’m delighted to see another generation captured by its haunting poetry.


Final Thoughts

Personification is more than simply making the inanimate seem human. It’s how we project our own emotions, thoughts, and viewpoints onto the world around us.

Songwriters rarely claim to see objectively. Everything is colored through their perceptions, hopes, and losses. This is why personification remains a wonderful invitation to the intimate world of the greatest songwriters.

Writer

Born and raised in Austin, David is a dedicated writer and avid fragrance lover. When he's not trying out perfumes, he enjoys traveling and exploring new restaurants.

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