20 Examples of Metaphors in Popular Songs
What is a metaphor?
Accordingly to literary experts, Grammarly, a metaphor is “a figure of speech that describes an object or action in a way that isn’t literally true, but helps explain an idea or make a comparison.” Often used in music, movies, poetry, and books, metaphors are used to deepen the color and imagery of comparisons.
For example, take this common metaphor you may have heard before: “Life is a rollercoaster.”
We all know that this statement isn’t literally true. In daily life, we aren’t navigating a railroad track with steep slopes and narrow turns while strapped into a small cart.
Life isn’t actually a rollercoaster. Yet, this metaphor helps us deepen the understanding of the subject, life, by comparing life to rollercoasters. From his metaphor we deduct that life has many emotional “ups and down” similar to how rollercoasters have physical “ups and downs” on their track.
Metaphors often use the word “is” to state that one thing “is” another thing. Don’t get this confused with similes that use the words “like” or “as” to compare two ideas or objects.
Here are a few more examples of metaphors:
- The classroom is a zoo.
- John is a couch potato.
- Your brain is a computer.
- You are my sunshine.
Why are metaphors important?
One of the most powerful tools to improve your writing, metaphors add color and flavor to otherwise dry and boring statements. They help us visualize comparisons and deepen understanding.
Many authors and master storytellers commend metaphors for their ability to improve comprehension and allow readers to see old things in new ways.
Let’s revisit metaphor example from earlier, “Life is a rollercoaster.” We could remove the metaphoric element of this statement and change it to “Life has many ups and downs.” This statement provides a similar meaning. But it doesn’t provide the vivid imagery that the metaphor provides.
Whether you’re writing an educational parody song or an essay for your school project, metaphors are an effective element to include. To further our understanding, let’s take a look at metaphors in popular music.
Metaphors in popular songs
From pop to hip-hop to country, metaphors are used in all genres of popular music. These metaphors can help teach students about literary concepts in a more relatable, approachable way. Metaphors in popular music also offer real-world examples allowing students to deepen their engagement and interest in language arts.
If you listen to the lyrics closely, you can hear metaphors in many of your favorite songs on the radio. Let’s take a look at a few examples of modern popular music and their use of metaphors.
1. Taylor Swift – Delicate
Third floor on the West Side, me and you
Handsome, you’re a mansion with a view
In this metaphor, Taylor is expressing her attraction to a love interest. By describing this person as “a mansion with a view,” she is expressing that he is both beautiful on the inside and out. She is attracted to both his personality and his good looks.
2. Youngblood – 5 Seconds of Summer
Say you want me out of your life
And I’m just a dead man walking tonight
The vocalist isn’t actually a dead man walking. First of all, dead men can’t walk. And if he were dead, he wouldn’t be able to sing this tune! Instead, the singer is comparing his sad emotional state to the act of dying. A person close to him wants him out of their lives. So the writer uses this metaphor to describe the unavoidable loss he is feeling.
3. Bazzi – Mine
Even when it’s rainy all you ever do is shine
You on fire, you a star just like Mariah
Here Bazzi uses a metaphor to describe the woman he loves. We know that this woman isn’t actually on fire, or an actual star. These metaphors elude to the feeling that this woman is very important and prominent in Bazzi’s life.
4. Migos – Stir Fry
Life is Monopoly
go cop me some land and some property
This song is filled with similes, which as we remember, are different than metaphors. But Migos does sneak in a metaphor here when they refer to the board game, Monopoly, as a comparison to life. Life is not actually a board game (that we know of!), but with this figurative language, the writer expresses their opinion of the importance of property ownership in today’s world.
5. Rudimental – These Days
You were the light for me to find my truth
I just wanna say, thank you
In this song, the writer is speaking to an important person in his life. Using the term, “the light” to describe this person probably means that this person helped guide the way and uncover a path to truth for the writer.
6. Hozier – Take Me To Church
My lover’s got humor
She’s the giggle at a funeral
Knows everybody’s disapproval
I should’ve worshipped her sooner
Many of Hozier’s lyrics use metaphors. In this popular song, Take Me To Church, we find the example of Hozier describing his lover. Instead of using a straight-forward line like, “she is funny,” he opts for the metaphoric version, “she’s the giggle at a funeral.” This is a powerful metaphor stating that his lover is so full of humor that even in really sad moments, she finds a way to lighten the moment.
7. Katy Perry ft. Nicki Minaj – Swish Swish
‘Cause you’re a joker
And I’m a courtside killer queen
And you will kiss the ring
You best believe
Katy Perry loves to use metaphors. In this song, she throws in a little European history with her metaphor. In medieval times, the joker (or jester) was employed by the king and queen to entertain guests. Kissing the hand of the queen was a common practice for jokers to show respect. In these two lines, Katy Perry is using this metaphor to express a social hierarchy containing herself and another individual. Hint: she’s in charge.
8. Imagine Dragons – Believer
Don’t you tell me what you think that I can be
I’m the one at the sail, I’m the master of my sea, oh ooh
The master of my sea, oh ooh
Here, Imagine Dragons uses a metaphor to describe the control they have over their own lives. With the line preceding the metaphors states
9. Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars – Uptown Funk
Michelle Pfeiffer, that white gold
This one for them hood girls
Them good girls, straight masterpieces
Bruno Mars is using the term “masterpieces” to describe and compare the “good girls.” Historically, a “masterpiece” is a piece of visual art or craft of very high standard, often the greatest work of an artists career. By using this metaphor in Uptown Funk, Bruno considers these girls to be of very high visual standard, or aka, physically attractive.
10. Frank Ocean – Thinking Bout You
a tornado flew around my room before you came
excuse the mess it made, it usually doesn’t rain in
Frank Ocean is another brilliant lyricist of the modern day. Here, Frank uses the metaphor of a room as a representation of his life. By stating that “a tornado flew around his room,” Frank is saying that his life was crazy, like a tornado, before his partner came into his life.
11. Marshmello & Bastille – Happier
When the morning comes
When we see what we’ve become
In the cold light of day, we’re a flame in the wind
Not the fire that we’ve begun
This song is about a romantic relationship between two people that has recently gone downhill. The writer uses the metaphor of a “flame in the wind” to describe the current state of their deteriorating relationship. In the next line, the writer states that their relationship used to be a “fire” expressing that their relationship is not where it used to be.
12. Juice WRLD – Lucid Dreams
You were made outta plastic, fake
I was tangled up in your drastic ways
Here the writer is expressing his negative opinion of a past romantic partner. By saying that she was “made out of plastic” probably means that she had superficial interests and could not be trusted.
13. Katy Perry – Firework
Cause baby you’re a firework
Come on show them what you’re worth
Make them go oh, oh, oh
As you shoot across the sky
This hit by Katy Perry is the quintessential example of metaphor and simile use in modern popular music. She uses metaphors and similes in nearly every verse of the song. The above example, in the chorus of the song, states that the subject is a “firework.” Fireworks are known for being bright, powerful, and energetic. This metaphor often serves as motivation for her audience, letting them know that they are powerful, bright, and important. Other notable metaphors in this song are when she compares life to a “plastic bag” and mentions a “spark inside of you.”
14. David Guetta ft. Sia – Titanium
Fire away, fire away
You shoot me down but I won’t fall
I am titanium
Titanium is a chemical element that is known for being low density and very high strength. In this song, the writer uses the metaphor of “titanium” to describe their emotional strength and power. No matter what negative words or situations are thrown her way, she is strong enough (like titanium) to overcome them.
15. Alicia Keys – Gire On Fire
Oh, she got both feet on the ground
And she’s burning it down
Oh, she got her head in the clouds
And she’s not backing down
This girl is on fire
Alicia Keys has noted that this song is about new beginnings. The subject in the song is grounded and not backing down. “This girl is on fire” is a metaphor for freedom and taking full control of how to live your own life. “You’re on fire” is a common metaphor we use in everyday English to describe continued success.
16. Pharrell Williams – Happy
I’m a hot air balloon that could go to space
With the air, like I don’t care baby by the way
In one of the opening lines of the song, Pharrell uses this metaphor to talk about his positivity and emotional elation. By saying that he is “a hot air balloon that could go into space,” he probably means that emotionally happy that he feels like floating.
17. Michael Buble – Everything
You’re a fallen star
You’re the getaway car
You’re the line in the sand
When I go too far
You’re the swimming pool
On an August day
And you’re the perfect thing to say
Another example of a song filled with metaphors. The lyrics above are just a small snippet from this song, but this jam has metaphors laced throughout every verse. In this song, Michael Buble is describing a romantic partner through a string of metaphors. He uses descriptors such as a fallen star, a getaway car, a line in the sand, and a swimming pool all to express his feelings about his partner.
18. Benny Benassi ft. Gary Go – Cinema
I could watch you for a lifetime
You’re my favorite movie
A thousand endings
You mean everything to me
You are a cinema
I could watch you forever
I could watch you forever
This popular song is also about a love interest. The writer uses the metaphor of “a movie” to describe his feelings for his love interest. Stating that the love interest is his “favorite movie,” he probably means that he could spend hours and hours with this person and never get tired of them.
19. Calvin Harris – Feels
I’m your window shopper, sucker for your love,
I’m wearing your goggles, virtual reality
So many metaphors about romantic love interests! Pharrell drops another few lines in this song to describe his feelings for his love interest. A window shopper is a common term for a person looking at articles of clothing in a store without making any purchases. The metaphor that Pharrell uses is probably to describe that he is infatuated with this love interest, but he is on the outside, merely watching right now. The next line, he mentions that he is wearing virtual reality goggles. This line most likely means that Pharrell is so deeply engulfed in his love interest that he is seeing life through her eyes.
20. Mac Miller – Self Care
Down below, now I know that the medicine be on call
It’s feeling like you hot enough to melt, yeah
Can’t trust no one, can’t even trust yourself, yeah
It’s unfortunate that this young and talented musician lost his life so early. This song, Self Care, was one of his most popular songs off his last album, shortly after he lost his life. This song is clearly about Mac Millers self struggle with his own personal emotional issues. The metaphor he uses is speaking about himself. He refers to “medicine” that is on call and in the following line, he uses a metaphor to describe the intense and overwhelming feeling of this medicine.