Metaphors – comparisons between two or more things that don’t seem alike at first glance – are powerful tool writers use to conjure up vivid images and evoke an emotional response in their readers.
Exploring literary devices like metaphors, similes, and personification in songs helps us understand and appreciate the work songwriters put into their craft. It also helps us understand how the lyrics that spark our imaginations and pull at our heartstrings are put together.
I’ve assembled a list of ten of my favorite songs with metaphors in the lyrics. See if you can spot other figurative language in these tracks and in your favorite tunes.
Top Songs With Metaphors in the Lyrics
10. Watermelon Sugar – Harry Styles
Remember this pandemic bop? When the music video launched in May 2020, Styles dedicated it to the experience of touch, something many of us were deprived of during those dark days of quarantine.
I for one was grateful for this track’s sweet, upbeat simplicity when it first came out. It contains the lyric “Baby, you’re the end of June” – a metaphor comparing the singer’s love interest to the sultry sweetness of early summer.
9. Hound Dog – Elvis Presley
Little-known fact: this song was actually first recorded by blues sensation Big Mama Thornton in 1952. It was written for her and became a huge hit, staying at the top of the Billboard R&B chart for seven straight weeks.
Elvis’s version is the best-known – and, in fact, was his most successful song, selling over 10 million copies and topping the charts for eleven weeks upon its 1956 release. The entire song is an extended metaphor comparing a lying deadbeat to a loud hound dog who “ain’t never caught a rabbit.”
8. Fire We Make – Alicia Keys feat. Maxwell
In addition to being one of the most successful musical artists of our time, Alicia Keys is an accomplished songwriter and has won numerous awards for her compositions. She’s been writing music since she was twelve years old, which has given her plenty of time to practice using figurative language like metaphors and personification in songs.
Her 2012 hit “Fire We Make” includes the lyrics “With the fire we make/It’s getting hotter and hotter,” comparing the singer’s love to a blazing inferno that’s growing in strength by the day.
7. I Am a Rock – Simon & Garfunkel
There are songs with metaphors in the lyrics – and then there are songs with metaphors in the title, like Simon & Garfunkel’s “I Am a Rock.”
Released in 1966, this song is a vehement proclamation from a young man who rejects everything and everyone around him, declaring “I am a rock, I am an island.”
These metaphors are also an intentional rebuttal of the famous line “No man is an island,” written by revered poet and scholar John Donne as part of his 1624 prose work Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions.
6. Mr. Tambourine Man – Bob Dylan
It’s hard to pick a favorite Bob Dylan song, but many would say “Mr. Tambourine Man,” if asked. Personally, it’s not at the top of my list, but I do appreciate the poetic images in it – in particular “Though I know that evening’s empire has returned to sand/Vanished in my hand.”
The metaphor highlights the way that the romance and exciting potential of a night out is often dispelled by the harshness of morning light.
“Mr. Tambourine Man” was released in 1965 and features on Dylan’s fifth studio album, Bringing It All Back Home.
5. Let Go – Beau Young Prince
There are tons of rap songs with figurative language – the genre is famous for its vivid imagery and inventive wordplay. You’ll find several songs with similes and metaphors on the acclaimed Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse soundtrack, most of which were produced and performed by the top rap artists of the time.
”Let Go” is one of my favorite tracks on that album. It’s performed by Beau Young Prince, who co-wrote the song with Jaimy Lageweg. The lyrics are rife with poetic turns of phrase, but the standout metaphor for me is “Violence in the streets, I just want to calm the beast.”
Prince and Lageweg are likening street brutality to a raging monster. Their lyrics suggest that a gentle touch and promoting peace is what will solve the problem, not more violence.
4. God Is a DJ – P!nk
P!nk has many songs with metaphors in the lyrics, but this track has several right in a row. There’s the one in the title – “God is a DJ” – but she also sings that “life is a dance floor, love is a rhythm, and you are the music.”
Together, these lyrics suggest that the right approach to life (and faith) is to put your trust in the beat around you and dance your heart out while you’re here.
You’ll also find song lyrics with personification in this track: “Now I see the world as a candy store/With a cigarette smile.” Just keeping piling on the literary devices, P!nk – we’re here for it.
3. Another Brick In the Wall (Part 2) – Pink Floyd
Composed by Pink Floyd bassist Roger Waters in 1979 as part of the band’s famous concept album The Wall, “Another Brick in the Wall” is an iconic protest song against closed-minded teaching and abusive practices in the educational system, including corporal punishment.
The metaphor “All in all, it’s just another brick in the wall” describes how childhood trauma – including abuse suffered at the hands of authority figures – leads us to put up defensive barriers that end up isolating us from our peers later in life.
2. Titanium – David Guetta feat. Sia
Of all the songs that regularly get stuck in my head, “Titanium” is one of the most persistent. The message extolling personal strength and self-love is universally relatable. Plus that hook is just so catchy.
“You shoot me down, but I won’t fall: I am titanium.” Australian singer-songwriter Sia unleashes this declaration with virtuosic precision, but she’s obviously not actually singing about guns or saying she’s made of metal. The metaphor compares bullets to verbal abuse, and “I am titanium” is a callback to the common phrase “having a thick skin.”
1. Landslide – Fleetwood Mac
Penned and sung with wrenching simplicity by the legendary Stevie Nicks, “Landslide” is featured on most people’s breakup playlists – mine included. It was written and released in 1975, when Nicks was supporting herself and then-boyfriend Lindsey Buckingham and wondering whether to break up with him so she could go back to grad school.
The song uses an extended metaphor to compare contemplating the potential end of a long-term partnership with climbing a mountain and being caught in a landslide.
Of all the songs with figurative language out there, this one takes the cake for me. Listening to it breaks my heart every single time – but it also brings a sense of relief and acceptance.
Songwriters use metaphors in their lyrics to highlight experiences and convey emotions with greater power and complexity than simple or straightforward language allows.
Metaphors give lyricists the power to bring us into their worlds and paint vivid pictures that stay with us throughout our lives.
The next time you’re listening to your favorite artists, see if you can pick out any metaphors in their lyrics. Trust me – once you start to look for them, you’ll hear them everywhere, and it will bring you a whole new level of appreciation for the songs you’ve loved for years.