Remember learning about literary devices in your Language Arts or English class? So do the greatest songwriters of our time – and they use them to craft unique, complex lyrics that fire our imaginations, break our hearts, and lift our spirits.
Simile is one of the most common literary and poetic techniques and is also popular in songwriting. It is an effective way to conjure distinct images and evoke powerful emotional responses in listeners.
Identifying a simile is easy once you know what to look for. When you see a sentence in which two seemingly different things are being compared, and the sentence contains the words “like” or “as,” you are looking at a simile.
Sing along with us as we count down ten of our favorite songs with simile in them.
Top Songs With Simile in Them
10. “Red” – Taylor Swift
A pop megastar who needs no introduction, Taylor Swift has been churning out hit songs since she was a teenager. She is the most-streamed female artist on Spotify and is considered among the foremost cultural figures of the 21st century. She was ranked as one of the world’s 100 most influential people by Time Magazine in 2019.
Swift uses literary devices all the time in her writing, but her song “Red” might take the cake for the most similes in a single song. Thought to be inspired by her devastation after breaking up with Jake Gyllenhaal, “Red” uses simile to paint a poetic, wistful image of the narrator’s lost love.
One of our favorites: “Loving him is like driving a new Maserati down a dead-end street.”
9. “Firework” – Katy Perry
California girl Katy Perry skyrocketed to fame when her debut single “I Kissed a Girl” topped the charts for seven straight weeks in 2008. She has never looked back, releasing banger after banger for the past seventeen years and cementing her legacy as one of the best-selling artists of all time.
Her stirring and inspiring self-empowerment anthem, “Firework,” remains one of her most popular songs. Between the soaring vocals and irresistibly catchy chorus, the tune draws the ear of everyone in the room from its opening lines – which, incidentally, also contain a simile: “Do you ever feel/Like a plastic bag/Drifting through the wind/Wanting to start again?”
Perry uses this comparison to highlight the loss of control and aimlessness that comes with losing your sense of purpose.
8. “Sweet Child O’ Mine” – Guns N’ Roses
The 80s rock giants Guns N’ Roses hit gold with their debut album Appetite for Destruction. They soon conquered the global stage, playing sold-out shows to hordes of screaming fans drawn to the thrill of Axl Rose’s howling vocals and Slash’s virtuosic guitar solos.
“Sweet Child O’ Mine” opens with an iconic guitar riff and establishes itself among the ranks of songs with simile within the first few lines: “She’s got a smile that it seems to me/Reminds me of childhood memories/When everything was as fresh as the bright blue sky.”
The lyric compares a new love to the innocence and wonder of being a child and experiencing everything for the first time.
7. “Like a Virgin” – Madonna
Perhaps one of the most influential cultural icons of all time, Madonna – and yes, that is her real first name – stands out among pop stars for her incredible musical versatility and fearless exploration of complex, controversial topics.
She and her songs have been studied and analyzed in scholarly works as well as by her legions of fans. There is even a recognized academic subdiscipline called “Madonna studies” dedicated to examining her broad influence on society and culture.
Her 1984 hit “Like a Virgin,” written by Tom Kelly and Billy Steinburg, uses a simile to emphasize the fact that the singer’s new amour makes her feel as though she has fallen in love for the very first time.
6. “The Shape of You” – Ed Sheeran
Next up in our rundown of popular songs with simile is Ed Sheeran’s “The Shape of You.” The English singer-songwriter cites Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Elton John as major influences on his work, which comes through in his frequent use of poetic devices and figurative language.
“The Shape of You” won a Grammy Award for Best Pop Solo Performance. Its standout simile falls in the chorus: “We push and pull like a magnet do.” The lyric describes the give-and-take of an intoxicating relationship in which both parties are equally attracted to one another.
5. “Edge of Seventeen” – Stevie Nicks
Known as the “Reigning Queen of Rock and Roll,” Stevie Nicks is also the first woman to be twice inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – once as Fleetwood Mac’s lead singer and again in recognition of her stellar solo career.
Her 1981 hit “Edge of Seventeen” contains a simile in which the speaker compares the sound of her own cries to a bird’s plaintive call: “Just like the white winged dove/Sings a song, sounds like she’s singing/I said ooh, baby, ooh, said ooh.” The juxtaposition brings the speaker’s anguish to life and highlights the poignant beauty often associated with young heartbreak.
4. “Halo” – Beyoncé
Dubbed “Queen Bey” by her millions of diehard fans, Beyoncé has had a tremendous impact on musical and cultural trends throughout her 25-year career. The former Destiny’s Child member saw her first seven albums debut in the number one spot on the Billboard 200 list – the first solo artist to achieve that feat.
Lauded worldwide as one of the best singers of all time, Beyonce is also an accomplished songwriter. Her 2009 hit “Halo” features a simile in the second verse: “Hit me like a ray of sun/Burnin’ through my darkest night.”
The image these lines conjure up is of a promising new love interest who banishes the narrator’s former gloom and fills her life with warmth and light.
3. “Circus” – Britney Spears
Pop superstar Britney Spears has had a turbulent career, the highlights of which include some of the biggest and most influential hits of her generation. The “Princess of Pop” has guided everything from music to fashion trends – there is even a new Broadway show called “One More Time” that has a soundtrack composed of nothing but Britney songs.
“Circus” contains several similes comparing the singer’s star power and commanding presence to the ringleader in a circus show. “Just like a ringleader, I call the shots,” snarls Britney, asserting her leadership and demanding that her audience recognize her as being in control.
2. “A Hard Day’s Night” – The Beatles
The four boys from Liverpool who took the world by storm in the 1960s changed the face of popular music forever. They were prolific songwriters who created some of the most beloved melodies of all time – songs with metaphors, songs with simile, songs about love, songs about connecting with your true self… even one song about a walrus.
Written in 1964 during the height of Beatlemania, “A Hard Day’s Night” uses a classic simile to emphasize the narrator’s exhaustion after working for hours at an unforgiving job: “It’s been a hard day’s night/And I’ve been working like a dog.” John Lennon likely drew some of his inspiration for the song from the brutal touring schedule The Beatles had at the time.
1. “Like a Rolling Stone” – Bob Dylan
Widely recognized as one of the greatest songwriters of all time, Robert Allen Zimmerman – known around the world as Bob Dylan – has been a driving force within the music industry throughout his 60-year career. His lyrically masterful songs have been covered by hundreds of artists, and he was even awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016.
In addition to being one of his most popular and influential songs, “Like a Rolling Stone” contains one of the most well-known similes in popular music – right there in its title.
Dylan wields the image of a force in motion that builds up speed until it crashes to the ground to excoriate his song’s subject, a person who was living the good life (and snobby about it) until sudden misfortune brought them tumbling down the social ladder.
The best songs with simile use this fundamental literary device to draw their audience into the story and paint a vivid picture that lingers in listeners’ minds long after the music stops.
Take some time to listen to some of your favorite songs and see if you can find any similes in them.