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!