When you think about figurative language, you may think of poetry or classic novels. You probably don’t think about popular songs from the last several decades. However, many songs on the radio today and in the recent past are full of wonderful examples of figurative language.
Check out our list of ten songs with figurative language. It’ll change the way you listen to music and make you appreciate the songwriters even more.
Our Top Picks: Songs with Figurative Language
“Bohemian Rhapsody*” is arguably Queen’s most popular song and one of the most famous rock songs of all time. It tells the story of a young man who has killed someone, gone on the run but knows that he will eventually be caught and punished. Fans have speculated that the song is a metaphor for something more, but no one knows.
The song contains some outstanding elements of figurative language, such as:
“Caugh in a landslide
no escape from reality.”
This line is a metaphor for feeling stuck by what is going on in your life and not being able to escape. It also contains allusions to the Bible and a 17th-century comedy.
“And I think to myself
What a wonderful world.”
It features a beautiful use of alliteration that makes the song memorable and timeless.
The song “Fireflies*” by Owl City lit up the airwaves in 2009. Users have speculated whether the song is about insomnia, lucid dreaming or moving from the innocence of childhood to adulthood. The song features extended use of figurative language like personification, as the fireflies take on some human-like qualities.
“As they tried to teach me how to dance
A foxtrot above my head
A sockhop beneath my bed.”
Fireflies do not dance, but these lyrics paint some incredible imagery in the minds of listeners.
Duran Duran’s 80s hit “Hungry Like the Wolf*” is an extended metaphor, comparing a man’s pursuit of a beautiful woman with a wolf on the hunt for its prey. Almost every line lends itself to this metaphor. Additionally, the song’s iconic title is a simile, a type of metaphor that uses the words “like” or “as.”
“I’m on the hunt I’m after you.
Mouth is alive with juices like wine.
And I’m hungry like the wolf.”
There are two similes in the lines above, comparing saliva to wine and romantic desire to a wolf’s hunger.
“Let It Go*,” sung by Idina Menzel, is the feature song of Disney’s hit film, Frozen. The song appears at a pivotal moment when Elsa has run away after accidentally using her ice powers in front of a crowd. She decides to “let it go” and be herself, magical powers and all. The song is an extended metaphor, relating Elsa’s complicated feelings about her abilities to an ice storm.
“The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside” is a simile, comparing the storm outside to the intense feelings Else is experiencing.
Vanessa Carlton’s hit song “A Thousand Miles*,” tells the story of a young woman making her way back home, but remembering that her loved one is no longer there. She sings the line:
“Cause you know I’d walk a thousand miles
If I could just see you tonight.”
This lyric is a use of hyperbole. She obviously cannot walk a thousand miles, but she is expressing how much she misses her ex.
Perhaps one of the saddest songs of all time, “I Am a Rock*” by Simon and Garfunkel, tells the story of a young man who has become a recluse to avoid pain. The famous lyrics:
“I am a rock
I am an island.”
are a metaphor for the man’s solitude. He relates himself to a rock and an island, something that is entirely alone.
Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah*” didn’t get much popularity until Jeff Buckley covered it. It has gone on to become one of the most covered songs in music history. There is much speculation about the song’s meaning, but Cohen has only said that it is an attempt to find joy in the many messes of life. The song relates the Biblical story of David.
“Your faith was strong, but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you.”
These lines are an allusion to David’s adultery.
Alicia Key’s song “Girl on Fire*” is an anthem for all the women in the world who are making it and winning at life, despite all of the hardships women face in modern society. Keys uses the metaphor of fire to describe the woman in her song, and all women in general.
“She’s just a girl
And she’s on fire.”
The metaphor is extended throughout the song and, at points, becomes hyperbole. No one is actually on fire, but Keys uses the metaphor to say the girl is both strong and persecuted.
The song “Thunder*” by Imagine Dragons tells the story of a young man who was always different from his peers. He uses that difference to get ahead and find fame as a musician. The song features the line:
“I was lightning
before the thunder.”
This line is a metaphor. The singer compares himself to lightning and uses the metaphor to show that he was always a step ahead of everyone else. The words “lightning” and “thunder” are repeated throughout the song, reiterating the metaphor.
Another pop anthem by the musical genius Sia, “Chandelier*” embraces figurative language. The talented artist uses the perfect blend of her amazing voice and figurative language to convey her need to indulge in extreme behaviors. In the chorus, Sia sings,
“I want to swing from the chandelier.”
In this beautiful melody, Sia describes her battles with alcohol and substance abuse and the personal troubles she endured in her past. Although Sia touches on her personal troubles, it is a song that many people can still resonate with.
This upbeat pop song is a must-have for this list. In addition to having an uplifting upbeat melody, this catchy song will have you joyfully singing in a manner of seconds. Katy Perry’s song “Fireworks” is filled with figures of speech as well. Even the title of the song is hyperbole. In the song, Katy uses the term fireworks to allude to people’s inner light and stardom. A deeper analysis of the song highlights lyrics like “there’s a spark in you” to depict the song’s figurative nature.
Although “God’s Plan*” may be categorized as hip-hop, it is another upbeat tune that is filled with figurative language. In this song, Drake highlights his road to fame and wealth while navigating through enemy territory. One line that exemplifies the figurative nature of this song is when Drake states that, “he might go down as G.O.D”. This metaphor eludes to all the accomplishments and achievements Drake has acquired, which perhaps makes him immortal in the eyes of his fans. If the beat and tune of this song does not catch your attention, the deeper meaning definitely will.
Frank Sinatra’s classic New York, New York* is another must-have on the list of figuratively speaking songs. Although Frank is actually referring to the big city of New York, there are several lines throughout the song with hyperboles and metaphors.
For example, on one line Frank speaks of waking up in the city that never sleeps. While this line shouldn’t be taken literally, it speaks to the constant hustle and bustle of the big apple and the need to always be your best.
If you are looking for a song to lift your spirits, you may want to consider giving “Happy*” a listen to. Listening to this upbeat song, you cannot help but feel happy.
The song is sung by talented artist Pharell Williams, who uses his unique voice to convey a wonderful message. Although some of the lines in this song are written in figurative language and metaphors, it is still fairly easy to comprehend.
In “Love Story*,” pop singer Taylor Swift delivers a loving portrayal of unrequited love. In her love story, Taylor describes forbidden love through the use of metaphors. In one part of the song, Taylor speaks about being a scarlet letter to her Romeo.
“You were Romeo, I was a scarlet letter.”
Figuratively speaking, Taylor is noting that the guy she is in love with is her crime. Although Taylor Swift’s Love Story is a bit mystified, it has a beautiful message worth listening to.
Another song filled with figurative language is “Animals*” by Maroon 5. In this portrayal of love, Maroon 5 unleashes their wild side and uses figurative language as a musical expression. Maroon 5 adds a new meaning to having an animal nature with lines like:
“hunt you down” and “I can smell your scent for miles”
Riddled with metaphors and hyperboles, this song is a thought-provoking musical composition that everyone can enjoy.
18. Halo by Beyonce*
This list of songs cannot be completed without adding a song from Queen B. In her song “Halo*“, Beyonce uses figurative speech to describe her love as angelic. The chorus of the song repeats:
“I can see your halo.”
This song features a beautiful melody along with its beautiful message. If you are looking for a figurative song with a positive message, you may want to give this one a listen to.
Another great song filled with figurative language you may want to listen to is “I’m Like a Bird*.” In this song, Nelly Furtado uses similes to compare herself to being a bird free to fly.
“I’m like a bird, I want to fly away.
I don’t know where my soul is.
I don’t know where my home is.”
It has a joyful tune and a hopeful message that is truly uplifting. In the song, Nelly speaks of not knowing where she is going or where her home. Although the line is a bit melancholy, listeners are reassured she will get to her destination by taking flight.
If you’re looking for a more rocking version of figurative speech in song, try “Boulevard of Broken Dreams*” by Green Day. As one of the classics, this song takes listeners on a journey through a boulevard of hardships. The song starts with the somber lines:
“I walk a lonely road, the only one that I have ever known.
Don’t know where it goes, but it’s home to me, and I walk alone.”
If you are into rock music, this one may be right up your alley. In the song, Green Day describes the feeling of being alone in a world of broken dreams. Their use of figurative wordplay envelopes its deep meaning of being scared and alone to connect and resonate on a deeper level with their fans. If you have yet to hear this rock anthem, consider giving it a listen today.
So many songs include elements of figurative language. It gives artists a way to express themselves and adds another dimension to some of our favorite songs. You’ll be surprised how many uses of figurative language you begin to notice on the radio.