The future of music

25 Best Songs With Figurative Language of All Time

November 9, 2023
The elephant in the room

Want to analyze lyrical artistry?

I’ve gathered songs with figurative language devices like metaphors, similes, and personification.

This playlist highlights creative songwriting featuring impactful imagery, symbolism, and wordplay.

Quick answer (author’s top picks): what are the best songs with figurative language?

“From my experience, the best songs with figurative language include Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which is a rich tapestry of allusions and imagery. Nelly Furtado’s “I’m Like A Bird” offers vivid similes to express freedom and identity. Lastly, Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” uses metaphor to delve into the search for purity and truth in one’s self.”

Top picks of songs with figurative language

  • Queen – “Bohemian Rhapsody”
  • Nelly Furtado – “I’m Like A Bird”
  • Neil Young – “Heart of Gold”
  • The Rolling Stones – “Sympathy for the Devil”
  • Katy Perry – “Firework”
  • Pink Floyd – “Another Brick in the Wall”
  • Audioslave – “Like a Stone”
  • Coldplay – “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall”
  • Sarah Jaffe – “Clementine”
  • The Jesus and Mary Chain – “Just Like Honey”

1. Queen – “Bohemian Rhapsody”

“Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen is often referred to as the greatest song ever written.

Without a doubt, it’s the most popular and iconic rock opera. After all, it was a number 1 for nine weeks in the UK.

One of the things that make “Bohemian Rhapsody” so distinctive is its figurative, highly imaginative language.

Freddie Mercury never revealed a true meaning behind the song, so the references and metaphors are left to listeners to decipher.

The freedom to find your own personal meaning in songs is what Queen always strived to do.

Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landside,
No escape from reality.

2. Nelly Furtado – “I’m Like A Bird”

This is perhaps one of the most popular pop songs with figurative language.

In her beloved 2000 hit, Nelly Furtado is using similes to describe her restless nature and tendency to leave.

Although it might seem like a love song at first, “I’m Like A Bird” is a song about freedom and independence.

“I’m like a bird
I’ll only fly away
I don’t know where my soul is (soul is)
I don’t know where my home is.”

Don’t forget to pin this playlist for later!

A playlist of the 25 best songs with figurative language.

3. Neil Young – “Heart of Gold”

Having a heart of gold means being genuinely compassionate, kind, and good to other people.

“Heart of Gold”, the song, is definitely one of Neil Young’s most famous and memorable songs.

And according to its lyrics, it’s a song about striving to live a meaningful life.

“I want to live
I want to give
I’ve been a miner
For a heart of gold
It’s these expressions
I never give
That keep me searching
For a heart of gold.”

4. The Rolling Stones – “Sympathy for the Devil”

In their famous signature song, The Rolling Stones surely don’t have sympathy for the devil.

With figurative language, they are talking about the evil side of human nature and the Lucifer in all of us.

Despite the meaning behind it, “Sympathy for the Devil” is a quite uplifting song.

And the lyrics were allegedly inspired by the book “The Master and Margarita” by Mikhail Bulgakov.

And I was ’round when Jesus Christ
Had his moment of doubt and pain
Made damn sure that Pilate
Washed his hands and sealed his fate

5. Katy Perry – “Firework”

“Firework” by Katy Perry is a catchy, uplifting song with metaphors and similes.

Essentially, the song is about recognizing your worth and fulfilling your potential.

Performed in Katy’s familiar style, “Firework” is an encouraging and empowering tune that will make you feel more confident and optimistic.

You just gotta ignite the light
And let it shine
Just own the night
Like the Fourth of July.

6. Pink Floyd – “Another Brick in the Wall”

When thinking about literary devices in songs, Pink Floyd definitely comes to mind.

Their timeless 3-part classic “Another Brick in the Wall” uses metaphors to criticize how our educational system and society in general works.

The song talks about the government having control of the people and turning them into the obedient mass, which is effectively depicted through the iconic lyrics:

“We don’t need no education
We don’t need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teacher, leave them kids alone.”

7. Audioslave – “Like a Stone”

“Like a Stone” was released on Audioslave’s debut album in 2002, and it soon became their signature song.

But of course, the band was immediately recognized because of their legendary lead singer Chris Cornell. 

As one of the songs using figurative language, “Like a Stone” is a song about death and life.

At some of the concerts, Chris Cornell used to say “Your heaven is what you make it.”

In your house, I long to be
Room by room, patiently
I’ll wait for you there
Like a stone
I’ll wait for you there

8. Coldplay – “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall”

“As we saw, woah, this light
I swear you, emerge blinking into
To tell me it’s alright
As we soar walls
Every siren is a symphony
And every tear’s a waterfall.”

This lively Coldplay tune is one of the most popular songs with figurative language of the past decade.

Chris Martin was inspired to write this song after seeing Javier Bardem’s film “Biutiful” and hearing the upbeat “Ritmo de la Noche” by Lorca in one of the scenes.

Also, water is one of the most common metaphors in songs, and many songs about water use rivers, oceans, and waterfalls to convey their message.

9. Sarah Jaffe – “Clementine”

“50 states
50 lines
50 crying-all-the-times
50 boys
50 lies
50 I’m-gonna-change-my-minds.”

With the title inspired by the popular song Oh My Darling, Clementine“, this beautiful indie tune was released in 2010.

Performed by the American singer/songwriter Sarah Jaffe, “Clementine” begins with figurative language that determines the atmosphere of the song.

It’s a dreamy song that gives you space to interpret its lyrics in your own way.

10. Jesus and Mary Chain – “Just Like Honey”

Just Like Honey” by Scottish rock band Jesus and Mary Chain has distinctive, subtle lyrics with figurative language.

In a way, the alternative sound of “Just Like Honey”, released in 1985, influenced the forthcoming shoegaze genre.

The song was also featured in Sofia Coppola’s film Lost in Translation, and it captures the film’s atmosphere perfectly.

“Listen to the girl
As she takes on half the world
Moving up and so alive
In her honey dripping beehive.”

11. Harry Styles – “Adore You”

Harry Styles released “Adore You” on his second studio album “Fine Line” in 2019.

In a nutshell, the song is about infatuation and honest feelings towards a girl, and he uses a lot of figurative language to express his love.

The music video is also quite metaphorical and quirky, and it’s set in the fictional island Eroda (adore spelled backward).

“Oh honey
I’d walk through fire for you
Just let me adore you
Like it’s the only thing I’ll ever do.”

12. The Postal Service – “Such Great Heights”

In case you’re not familiar with The Postal Service, it’s an American indie group consisting of Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie) and the producer Jimmy Tamborello.

One of their most popular songs is “Such Great Heights”, an electronic indie song with a lot of figurative language.

“And true it may seem like a stretch
But it’s thoughts like this that catch
My troubled head when you’re away
And when I am missing you to death.”

13. Alicia Keys – “Girl on Fire”

When it comes to popular songs with figurative language in them, I shouldn’t skip “Girl on Fire” by Alicia Keys.

It’s a song about a girl who is striving to achieve her goals and knows that she can overcome anything.

And by describing someone as a girl on fire, you’re probably thinking of someone passionate, strong, and untamed.

After all, there are many songs featuring fire as a metaphor

“She’s just a girl and she’s on fire
Hotter than a fantasy, lonely like a highway
She’s living in a world and it’s on fire
Filled with catastrophe, but she knows she can fly away.”

14. MGMT – “Electric Feel”

The indie anthem “Electric Feel” by MGMT is undoubtedly one of the most well-known songs with figurative language.

The song was released on the band’s debut album Oracular Spectacular in 2007.

As the references and metaphors in the “Electric Feel” are quite abstract, there can be many interpretations of the song. 

“All along the Eastern shore
Put your circuits in the sea
This is what the world is for
Making electricity
You can feel it in your mind.”

15. Jefferson Airplane – “White Rabbit”

This powerful, memorable track by Jefferson Airplane was written by the band’s frontwoman Grace Slick.

Slick was inspired by Lewis Carroll’s book “Alice in Wonderland” and its ‘trippy’ imagery.

Although the song clearly has references to drugs, the white rabbit can also easily be interpreted as curiosity and openness to new experiences.

Originally released back in 1967, the song is still a universal hit, and even more so after being featured in the trailer for the new Matrix Resurrections movie.

“One pill makes you larger
And one pill makes you small,
And the ones that mother gives you
Don’t do anything at all.”

16. Gym Class Heroes – “Stereo Hearts”

“I think I finally found a note to make you understand
If you can hit it, sing along and take me by the hand
Just keep me stuck inside your head, like your favorite tune
You know my hearts a stereo that only plays for you.”

The figurative language in this is song is pretty clear.

The guy from the song is comparing his heart to a stereo that is only playing for that special girl.

Well, music was always a way of connecting and expressing affection.

17. Radiohead – “All I Need”

Defined by smart, unusual metaphors and Thom Yorke’s dreamy vocals, “All I Need” is essentially a love song.

It was released on Radiohead’s seventh studio album “In Rainbows” in 2007, and it remains one of the band’s most haunting and delicate songs.

“I’m the next act
Waiting in the wings
I’m an animal
Trapped in your hot car
I am all the days
That you choose to ignore.”

18. Rihanna – “Diamonds”

In her 2012 track, Rihanna uses figurative language in the first verse.

The lyrics were written by Sia, and although the song has a touch of melancholy, they are positive and hopeful, and they capture the feeling of being happily in love.

“You and I, you and I
We’re like diamonds in the sky
You’re a shooting star I see
A vision of ecstasy
When you hold me, I’m alive
We’re like diamonds in the sky.”

19. Green Day – “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”

The 90’s kids probably recognize this song from the first note.

“Boulevard of Broken Dreams” is Green Day’s signature track that won a Grammy for Record Of The Year in 2006.

In a nutshell, it’s a song about loneliness, and that feeling is also conjured with the verse and the personification: “where the city sleeps.”

“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.”

20. Frank Ocean – “Thinking Bout You”

“A tornado flew around my room before you came
Excuse the mess it made, it usually doesn’t rain.”

“Thinking Bout You” was released on Frank Ocean’s debut album “Channel Orange”  in 2002.

It’s an R&B song using figurative speech to portray emotions of love and affection.

In the first verse, Ocean describes his restless life before meeting this girl as a room wrecked by a tornado.

21. Frou Frou – “Let Go”

“Let Go” by the British electronic duo Frou Frou is a beautiful track about letting go.

In music, letting go always means being free or going through something without holding back (oh well, another figure of speech).

And to some extent, the Frou Frou song is about starting another relationship without thinking about the previous one.

“So let go, so let go and jump in
Oh, well, whatcha waiting for? It’s alright
‘Cause there’s beauty in the breakdown.”

22. Tash Sultana – “Jungle”

Released in 2016, “Jungle” by the Australian artist Tash Sultana is a real indie gem.

By using figurative language, mostly metaphors, Tash Sultana conveys the message of love (and hurt) in a unique and mesmerizing way.

“I know that you’re hurting
I see the tears behind those eyes
And I can’t wipe them clear
Your love is like gold to me.”

23. Red Hot Chili Peppers – “Under The Bridge”

In “Under The Bridge”, Red Hot Chili Peppers use personification when talking about Los Angeles.

The song was released in 1991 on their album Blood Sugar Sex Magik“, and it remains one of the band’s most popular and acclaimed songs.

“Sometimes I feel like my only friend
Is the city I live in, the city of angels
Lonely as I am, together we cry
I drive on her streets ’cause she’s my companion
I walk through her hills ’cause she knows who I am.”

24. Billie Eilish – “No Time To Die”

Billie Eilish recorded “No Time To Die” for the James Bond movie No Time To Die.

It’s a powerful, Bond-like song with figurative language and an emotional message.

In one of the verses, she asks whether the person she is referring to is death or paradise, and concludes:

“I let it burn
You’re no longer my concern
Faces from my past return
Another lesson yet to learn.”

25. Amy Winehouse – “You Sent Me Flying”

Although it’s not one of Amy’s most popular songs, “You Sent Me Flying” is definitely memorable.

The song was released on her debut studio album “Frank” in 2003.

It’s a raw, honest song about former relationships and unrequited love.

And the name of the song is surely a nice example of figurative language in songs.

“And although my pride’s, not easy to disturbed,
You sent me flying when you kicked me to the curb,
So with your battered jeans, and your Beasties tee
Now I can’t work like this, no, with you next to me.”

Final Thoughts

I hope you had fun going through all of these songs!

Some of them are really defined by their figurative language, and most of them are allowing listeners to interpret the lyrics in their own way.

And there are many more great examples of the songs with figurative language, but I’ll have to leave them for another article.

Similar articles: Songs That Tell A Story & Love Songs For Him

Will Fenton

Will, the founder of MIDDER, is a multifaceted individual with a deep passion for music and personal finance. As a self-proclaimed music and personal finance geek, he has a keen eye for futuristic technologies, especially those that empower creators and the public.

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