Personification is a great tool for songs – which is why it is a shame that more singers and songwriters don’t use it. See how the literary device makes these songs that much better:
Hummingbird Heartbeat by Katy Perry
When you give me the hummingbird heartbeat
You give me the hummingbird heartbeat
Spread my wings and make me fly
In many cases of personification, non-human objects are given a human quality. However, in this song we see a non-human quality, in this case a hummingbird heartbeat, given to a human. This type of personification is rare, but fits in with Katy Perry’s style.
Here Comes the Sun – The Beatles
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
And I say it’s all right
Little darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter
Little darling, it feels like years since it’s been here
You’ve likely seen seasons personified by poets, but it isn’t done all that often in song. Still, the best lyricists use it without allowing it to become clichéd. Winter is almost always personified as a villainous or sad season – and summer is always happy and the hero.
Thriller – Michael Jackson
You try to scream but terror takes the sound before you make it
You start to freeze as horror looks you right between the eyes
‘Cause this is thriller, thriller night
And no one’s gonna save you from the beast about to strike.
The concept of “horror” is given lifelike qualities – which is what helped this song become the “go to” for every Halloween party for the last few decades. Don’t go by the video here – in the video, the “horror” is a zombie but in just the song, it is just the craziness that is the “Thriller!”
Can You Feel the Love Tonight – Elton John
There’s a calm surrender to the rush of day
When the heat of a rolling wind can be turned away
An enchanted moment, and it sees me through
It’s enough for this restless warrior just to be with you.
This beautiful Disney song is enough to bring out the sentiment in all of us – but it has personification that cannot be ignored. Throughout the entire song there are many layers of personification – this is just a sample!
Careless Whisper – George Michael
I’m never gonna dance again
Guilty feet have got no rhythm
Though it’s easy to pretend. I know you’re not a fool…
…Time can never mend
The careless whisper of a good friend
To the heart and mind, ignorance is kind
There’s no comfort in the truth, pain is all you’ll find.
This song is filled with personification as well. Just this section of the song has more than most albums have: ‘guilty feet’, ‘time’ being expected to ‘mend’ mistakes, and ‘ignorance’ being ‘kind.’
Your Love is King – Sade
Your love is king
Crown you with my heart
Your love is king
Never need to part
Personification is in the name of this song. Giving an emotion or feeling like “love” a title such as “king” is an age-old technique that poets and lyricists have been using for centuries.
Thank You – Led Zeppelin
And so today, my world it smiles
Your hand in mine, we walk the miles,
Thanks to you it will be done,
For you to me are the only one
“My world” isn’t just one thing – it is many things. By giving it human qualities and the ability to smile, Led Zeppelin paints a romantic picture that is hard to beat.
Concrete Jungle – Bob Marley
No sun will shine in my day today
The high yellow moon won’t come out to play
I said darkness has covered my light,
And has changed my day into night, yeah.
“The moon won’t come out to play” shows just how filled with rebellion that many of Bob Marley’s songs were. There is a reason he is considered a revolutionary.
New York, New York – Frank Sinatra
These vagabond shoes
Are longing to stray
Right through the very heart of it
New York, New York
I want to wake up in a city
That doesn’t sleep
“The city that doesn’t sleep” is always New York – but you probably didn’t know that the saying comes from a Frank Sinatra song. The saying gives human qualities (the ability to sleep) to New York.
La Isla Bonita – Madonna
Tropical the island breeze
All of nature wild and free
This is where I long to be
La Isla Bonita
Nature that is “wild and free” is personification and a metaphor. Madonna wants listeners to think of her as a type of natural woman who hangs out on La Isla Bonita.