23 Best Songs With Figurative Language for Metaphor Lovers

Best Songs With Figurative Language for Metaphor Lovers

While many think that figurative language is reserved only for classic literature, many of the songs you hear on the radio are full of rich figurative language that rivals the writings of some of history's great authors.

Get ready to learn about some of the best songs with figurative language.

“Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen

Song year: 1984

Leonard Cohen's “Hallelujah is one of the most hauntingly poetic songs of all time. The song uses Biblical imagery to tell a story with different meanings for different people. Some see the song as a lament for those who've lost in love, while others think it's about a person's struggle with religion.

Regardless of its meaning, the song has many metaphors. The song's Biblical allusions illustrate the many types of hallelujah. Cohen's song is an extended metaphor to show that hallelujah isn't always a joyful word – it's used in times of fear and sadness as well.

“Watermelon Sugar” by Harry Styles

Song year: 2019

Harry Styles released one of the best anthems of summer, “Watermelon Sugar,” in 2019, and it's been a bop ever since. With lines about the taste of strawberries on a summer evening, the song compares summer fruits to the heady rush of falling in love.

The first few lines of the song use two similes to create a strong connection between the feelings of falling in love to the wonderful moments of summer. Styles goes on to use the metaphor, “baby, you're the end of June,” to compare his love to the joyful feeling of summer.

“Human Nature” by Michael Jackson

Song year: 1983

While Michael Jackson's “Human Nature” isn't the most popular song on his Thriller album, it is undeniably well-written and uses a lot of figurative language to convey its message. The song is set in New York City and tells about a young man who explores the city and finds a romantic partner.

In the song's first lines, he uses personification and a metaphor to compare the city to a woman. He sings about the city winking an eye and calling out to him, loud enough to rattle his windows.

A few lines later, he uses metaphor again, comparing the city to an apple he wants to consume. He also compares the city to a beating heart near the end of the song.

“Life Is a Highway” by Tom Cochrane

Song year: 1991

Tom Cochrane's “Life Is a Highway” contains a metaphor right in the title, setting the tone for the rest of the song. The song opens with a simile, “life's like a road that you travel on.”

The song's central theme compares life to a highway, telling listeners how important it is to keep riding. The song reminds you that you have to be a part of life and not just let it pass you by like cars on a highway.

“One” by U2

Song year: 1992

The song “One” by U2 is arguably one of the best break-up songs of all time. The song chronicles a bitter split between a couple who love one another but have too much baggage to make things work. The song uses a metaphor, where the narrator compares his lover to Jesus but says that she's trying to fix something that doesn't need fixing.

The song reaches its crescendo with another metaphor: “you say love is a temple, love a higher law.” The lover says that love is more important than anything, but then she twists things with her treatment of the narrator.

“Let It Go” by Idina Menzel (Frozen)

Song year: 2013

Whether you love or hate Frozen, there's no denying the incredible writing in the smash hit “Let It Go.” The song occurs at a pivotal moment in the film when Elsa has to confront her ice powers and decide whether to hide her true self or to give in and be who she is.

The song uses a simile early on when Elsa sings, “the wind is howling like this swirling storm inside.” She's comparing her feelings to a strong wind that can't be contained. The song itself is an extended metaphor. Elsa compares herself to the weather, something she can't control. She finally accepts her fate and decides to be herself.

“Firework” by Katy Perry

Song year: 2010

“Firework” by Katy Perry is a famous example used by high school English teachers across the country. The popular song has some simple metaphors that are easy to spot.

The song opens with a simile that talks about feeling wrong and wanting to start over. Perry compares feeling useless to a paper bag in the wind.  

The refrain uses the metaphor of comparing someone to a firework. Perry tells the listener that they're capable of great things if they just let their talents out like a firework exploding.

“Girl on Fire” by Alicia Keys

Song year: 2012

Alicia Keys is undeniably one of the best songwriters of her generation. Her hit “Girl on Fire” proves her writing prowess with its bold, powerful metaphors. The entire song is a metaphor from its repeating mantra of “this girl is on fire” to the line “she's burning it down.”

The song compares a particular girl to fire, saying that she's capable of anything and can stand on her own. Keys' song is so powerful because it came when women were beginning to assert their worth, and it became something of a feminist anthem.

“Another Brick in the Wall” by Pink Floyd

Song year: 1979

Pink Floyd's album The Wall was released in 1979. The concept album features the main character, Pink, who builds a wall around himself and his emotions throughout the songs. Perhaps one of the most famous songs on the album, “Another Brick in the Wall,” has been the defining song for several generations.

The song critiques the British school systems in the 1970s. The famous line “all in all, you're just another brick in the wall” is a metaphor that can have dual meanings. It can refer to the way school systems are institutionalized. Students are just a number, and learning isn't individualized.

Taking in the context of the entire album, as the protagonist Pink is building his wall, all of the bad things that happen to him become just one brick he uses to shield himself.

“Like a Prayer” by Madonna

Song year: 1989

Madonna's “Like a Prayer” was one of the most controversial songs of the 1980s. Many listeners felt the song compared religion and sexual relationships, which made many people in the religious community uncomfortable. Love or hate the song, it has some undeniably great examples of figurative language.

In the song, Madonna uses many images to illustrate a young girl's love for God (or a relationship between two lovers, depending on your interpretation). She compares attention from her loved one to a home, prayer, an angel, flying, and more. The similes go on throughout the song.

“Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus

Song year: 2013

Miley Cyrus's “Wrecking Ball” is perhaps her most infamous hit. The song tells the story of a couple who called it quits but still have anger toward one another. The primary use of figurative language is a simile in the most-recognizable line of the song, “I came in like a wrecking ball.”

Cyrus uses the image of a wrecking ball to iterate that she gave her all in the relationship. She wasn't the one to leave, and she tried her best to make it work. She also uses the simile to suggest that maybe she came on too strong.

“Happy” by Pharell Williams

Song year: 2013

Pharell's song “Happy” is one of the most iconic songs of the last decade. As its title suggests, the music is all about feeling happy, whether your life is going great or if you're at a low point. Pharell uses a few examples of figurative language to express what it's like to feel happy.

One notable line is in the chorus: “clap along if you feel like a room without a roof.” This simile demonstrates how happiness is difficult to contain. The metaphor used in the line “I'm a hot air balloon that could go to space” is another great example. Again, Pharell expresses the uncontainable joy that goes along with feeling happy.

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