Emotion-Color Synesthesia Examples in Song

Taylor Swift’s ‘Red’ brings to light the power of the color metaphor in music. Whether Ms. Swift has synesthesia or not, we can appreciate the metaphor (or reality). Nothing says burning love quite like the color red; let’s be honest. You might as well have a listen:

Not bad, is it? To each his or her own, I guess. Anyways, it turns out that Taylor isn’t the only popular artist who’s tangled color and emotion in song. While some of you may actually experience emotion-color synesthesia, artists find the metaphor to be an incredible lyrical device. Whole songs (and in this case, albums) can hinge on the relationship between color and emotion. Let’s look at three examples, starting with ‘Red’.

1. ‘Red‘ from Taylor Swift’s Album Red (2012)

Grapheme-color synesthetes may relate the color red with the letter ‘A’, the number ’1′, or other objects/words in the graphemic spectrum. (This young synesthete spells out her red perceptions in a YouTube video.) Emotion-color synesthetes, on the other hand, might involuntarily perceive emotions – perhaps anger, aggression, jealousy, love – as having the color red. This is subjective, of course. Love isn’t red for everyone!

In ‘Red’, Taylor Swift’s use of this emotion-color metaphor comes through clearly in the first two lines of the chorus:

Losing him was blue like I’d never known
Missing him was dark grey all alone

Pretty powerful stuff, isn’t it? The metaphor appears again in the hook’s emphatic finish.

Loving him was red

Whether Taylor Swift is synesthetic or not, she does a good job of bringing the real experiences of some alive for her many listeners. Bravo!

2. ‘Blue (Da Ba Dee)’ from Eiffel 65′s Album Europop (1999)

Perhaps one of the more polarizing dance songs of our time, Eiffel 65′s ‘Blue’ took the use of color in song to an entirely new place. To this day, the color blue must invoke some sort of subconscious singsong in my mind’s periphery. It’s catchy; there’s no denying it. Have a listen. I’ll apologize ahead of time if you find yourself trying to make sense of the nonsensical chorus.

Too many things are blue in this song, so I won’t list them all. However, as blue is the color perhaps most frequently associated with emotion (typically sadness, loneliness, etc.), we come to associate these emotions with the song’s subject. These lyrics help to fortify the assumption:

Blue are the words I say and what I think
Blue are the feelings that live inside me

Nothing like dancing to the sad (albeit uppity) song of another person, eh? Well – I’m not sure about that. What I do know is that – should there come a day when (for whatever reason) I need to scrawl ‘Eiffel 65′ on a piece of paper – I’ll be inclined to do so with a blue ink pen. In my mind, they’ve forever aligned themselves with this color.

3. ‘Yellow‘ from Coldplay’s Album Parachutes (2000)

Now on the last example, I realize that, at one point or another, I’ve listened to each of these songs in rather irresponsible repetition – to the point of temporary ruination, even. Still, I have a certain appreciation for each of them – Coldplay’s ‘Yellow’ included. Smooth vocals. Catchy riff. I’ll catch you on the other side of the song.

Pretty great, isn’t it? While Wikipedia indicates that the use of the color yellow may be completely arbitrary, I can’t help but think that it fits the mood of the song perfectly. Ostensibly, the song’s lyrics qualify the unrequited love of the band’s lead vocalist. Unrequited love seems yellow to me (a non-synesthete); how ’bout you?

Here’s a selection from the lyrics:

So then I took my time
Oh what a thing to’ve done
And it was all yellow

Whether yellow was chosen arbitrarily or not, I can’t help but appreciate its thematic presence throughout the song. Unrequited love is yellow, folks.

We’ve reached the end of our examples. I hope you’ve enjoyed the music. I encourage emotion-color synesthetes (hopefully you come in droves – ha!) to share their experiences with emotion and color. As previous post comments have shown, you tend to learn a lot from one another! Also, it provides great insight for all of us non-synesthetes. The floor is yours!

5 Comments on “Emotion-Color Synesthesia Examples in Song”

    • by Elizabeth

    I think that I am a synesthete, and I have to disagree with Taylor Swift. The word “love” is yellow. Or more specifically, yellow/pale green/cream.

    • by Marcie Bruce

    My letters not only have color, but personalities. My C is lazy or depressed because it is very pale and skinny and is laying on it’s side. My K is blue and is very strong. My 5 is pink and is having some sort of birthday party with colored streamers and confetti. I start to see it as soon as I see the green 4. One more thing, it seems like most of my colors are primary and colors like violet and light blue are nowhere to be seen.
    Please let me know if anyone else has this.

    Thanks,
    Marcie Bruce

    • by Tori Stone

    Hi, I have grapheme color, emotion color, personality color, and day/month color synesthesia. I actually disagree with Taylor Swift, love is a bright, vibrant yellow that stands out in sentences, like other adjectives. Missing somebody if a light gray, and has fainted shadows that are a gray. However, the word missing is orange, so my synesthesia can be overwhelming. Sadness is the same, but mine is light blue, like the sky with clouds stuck in there. For Coldplay, I was a bit confused, because it was talking about an upbeat color, while having a sad tune. Also, you are correct about synesthetes being artists, I am one! In art, of course. Music is very difficult for me. As you have probably noticed, I have a lot of color synesthesia and the ironic thing about it is that i hate colors. I’m assuming it is because it is a bit too frightening to be at the beginning and then I tend to stick to numbers and letters at the end o the alphabet, like x, z, 9,and 99 (which are black). I am also very shy and don’t talk to people with bright colors on.

    • by Steph

    I have synesthesia (exactly this colour/emotion type) and i dont really agree with these (unless the blue is a dark hue / navy )
    yellow to me is more of a determination colour whilst red means pain (physical pain, emotional pain is a dark hue of blue)
    My mother would have to disagree with all of these, however.
    I guess we have different opinions as to what each colour means

    • by Jamie

    I just realized tonight that I might have synesthesia. I happened to read something about Pharrell and how he is a nerdy synesthete. I didn’t know what that word meant, so I Googled it and realized I might have the grapheme-color type. Since I was a little girl, probably around 4 or 5 (as far back as my memory goes), I have “assigned” colors to numbers and letters. I see them in my mind, not when I am actually seeing the number or letter on a piece of paper or elsewhere in real life. But when I think of a number or letter, I automatically see it as a specific color.

    My colors are all bright (no shades), and not every number or letter has a color. The colors I see for letters and numbers are generally red, blue, yellow, green, and orange. I also assign gender and personality to some letters and numbers and colors. Red is a girl, but a tomboy and outspoken. However, the number 1 is red, but it is a boy. Blue is a boy, yet 2 is blue but a girl. I have other color / letter / gender / personality combinations as well. All of the usual colors are assigned genders and some are given personalities.

    I never thought about this, but while reading other posts, I found that I might have something like sympathy pains. When I see someone getting hurt, I get a sharp pain internally, in my very lower gut, just above my pelvic bone. It sometimes takes my breath away and makes me suck in my breath with a weird sound. I don’t know if that is synesthesia or not.

    When I listen to music, I get very emotional. I didn’t realize that I see some emotions as colors, but when I think about it, since I have assigned personality traits different colors, those traits can extend to emotions. But when I think about some of the songs that hit me powerfully, I do get a sensation of a color. These colors tend to be shades. I am constantly humming a song or have on on constant repeat in my head.

    I think this is fascinating and I cannot believe this is actually a “thing”. My aunt, cousin, and I have all talked about this before, but we never knew it actually had a name. I am fascinated by the types I do not have, and I keep going into my mind to think about how I think about things. I have never really thought about it before and it never occurred to me that others didn’t do the same thing.

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