Personification is the attribution of human characteristics to inanimate objects or something that isn’t human, such as talking about the way the sun kisses your skin on a warm summer day, but it can also include assigning abstract qualities or ideas to things. It’s an interesting literary device that pops up in songs almost as much as normal metaphors do, and there are some pretty interesting uses out there in very famous tracks. In this article, we’ll take a look at 25 songs that interestingly use personification.
1. Thriller – Michael Jackson
Thriller is one of Michael Jackson’s most famous singles and one of the best-selling singles—and albums—of all time. But part of the beauty of the song is the literary devices he uses to convey the emotions of the track. It’s actively describing a zombie in one part of the song, but instead of using the word “zombie,” the term “horror” is used. The word as a concept ends up being personified by its ability to look you in the eyes and paralyze you.
2. Can You Feel The Love Tonight – Elton John
Disney might seem like the king of personification, given that their animated films often portray inanimate objects as thinking and breathing creatures with human traits. So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that a song from one of those movies appears on this list—and we’ll actually look at The Lion King twice here.
Can You Feel The Love Tonight is played during the scene where Simba and Nala reunite, and it’s chock full of examples of personification. This version is different from the Elton John version outside of the film though. Regardless, nearly every line personifies something, from moments seeing you through to the evening bringing you peace.
3. Here Comes the Sun – The Beatles
Seasons are often personified in poetry, to the point that it’s become a type of cliche. They’re often used to represent emotions or different periods of life, such as a hot summer being youthful or a cold winter being lonely. The second of those appears in The Beatles’ song Here Comes The Sun.
They personify Winter as an almost evil character, full of cold emotions and general sadness. Summer, on the other hand, is personified in the track as happy to be there. This is a human trait given to the season as well since the concept of summer can’t actually feel that way.
4. Hummingbird Heartbeat – Katy Perry
Personification is almost always when a non-human thing or concept is given the ability to do something human, but this isn’t always the case. One of the most interesting uses of personification on this list, if you happen to be a literary nerd like me, has to be Katy Perry’s song Hummingbird Heartbeat.
Rather than give something a human quality, this rare type of personification bestows a non-human trait onto a person. The lines talk about how the singer is given a “hummingbird heartbeat” by another person that allows them to spread their wings and fly. This is obviously used to represent a faster heart rate and the feeling of flying when you’re in love, but it’s definitely one of the most creative uses of personification in track out there.
5. Concrete Jungle – Bob Marley
Much of Bob Marley’s work was rebellious in nature, aiming to change society on a fundamental level. But with that comes persecution, typically by those in power. In order to try to dodge that oppression, he used metaphor and allegories to plant indirect messages in songs. One of the best examples of this came in Concrete Jungle, where he points out that the yellow moon won’t come out to play. Now the moon can’t play at all, but it not coming out casts a shadow over his life that he hopes to change someday soon.
6. Thank You – Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin’s Thank You is another interesting and unique use of personification. It doesn’t focus on a single thing to ascribe traits to the way most of our other songs do. Instead, it gives the ability to smile to the singer’s entire world. And while that’s wrapped up in a single word, it’s actually many different things given this ability, to an almost limitless extent. The point of the line is that everything seems happier and better when the narrator is with their lover, making it an incredibly romantic usage of personification.
7. Careless Whisper – George Michael
Sometimes, even human body parts are personified by giving them traits they typically wouldn’t be able to have. Yes, any part of the body can be tired, but what about guilt? George Michael pulls this off beautifully in Careless Whisper.
After the narrator has obviously stepped out on a lover, he realizes he can’t dance with them the same way anymore because his guilt has taken away the rhythm from his feet. They’re personified as guilty, which just means that they’ve been overwhelmed by his mistakes. The song is full of other examples of personification as well, but this one was perhaps the most clever and subtle.
8. Theme From New York, New York – Frank Sinatra
New York might be the most personified city in all of music. Its famous title “The City That Never Sleeps” originated in the Frank Sinatra song Theme From New York, New York, which personifies the city as having the ability to sleep but never actually doing it.
That’s not the end of personification in the track though; New York is given several other human qualities as well. But one of the more interesting uses is when he says that his “Vagabond shoes are longing to stray,” which gives the ability to want something to a pair of shoes as well.
9. La Isla Bonita – Madonna
Nature and the natural world are often the subjects of personification, thanks largely in part to the ease at which it comes to poets and the fact that anything natural is, by nature, not human or human-made. One of the most obvious and frequent ways nature is personified is by calling it “free” or “wild.” Madonna uses this as both personification and a metaphor in La Isla Bonita, calling for her own personal freedom to live as she pleases by using the common trope of nature being free of societal expectations.
10. Landslide – Fleetwood Mac
In Landslide by Fleetwood Mac, we get another rare and interesting use of personification that doesn’t come up too often. Stevie Nicks subtly slips into a mirror in the sky that she speaks to. Simply speaking to a mirror, imaginary or not, personifies it by making it able to hear her.
It doesn’t speak back to her in the song, but it doesn’t need to, as she already knows what it would tell her. There doesn’t have to be an expectation of a response for the personification to work in this case, making it an awesome way for us to include Fleetwood Mac in our list.
11. Awkward – SZA
Awkward might be the most modern entry to our list of interesting uses of personification but don’t let that take away from how common it still is today. SZA uses the device to set the tone of her song, discussing the way time passes in her life and moves away from the singer in a constant and unstoppable fashion. Time marching cruelly onwards is a classic use of personification that makes inevitable awkward tragedies in life something that happens regardless of whether we are ready or not.
12. Killing Me Softly With His Song – Fugees
Killing Me Softly With His Song is one of the most famous soul singles in history and has been recorded by a ton of different artists. The most famous of them are Roberta Flack and the Fugees versions of the song. The man in the track remains unnamed but being able to kill with a song is personification on its own. It also delves into being able to “strum pain” and “sing my life,” two interesting and subtle uses of the device.
13. Be Prepared – From The Lion King
And now we turn back to another song from The Lion King for a great use of personification. Despite Disney already animating inanimate objects with human traits, it doesn’t matter that those things have already been humanized when considering if something is personification, but Be Prepared has plenty of great examples. The “shining new era” that is “tiptoeing nearer” is perhaps the best usage in the song, and it isn’t a particularly common one.
14. The Sounds of Silence – Simon & Garfunkel
The Sounds Of Silence might be the most layered and prevalent use of personification on the list. Just about every line in the song uses the device in some way, and it throws unique and interesting uses all over the place.
Darkness is being spoken to and heard, visions creeping around, neon lights stabbing into your eyes; these are all things that feel very normal, yet they’re beautiful uses of personification because they seem perfectly plausible. Plus, the track is an utter masterpiece with several incredible versions that have been released since Simon & Garfunkel recorded their original.
15. Master of Puppets – Metallica
Yep, even thrash metal employs literary devices like personification. In fact, the entirety of Metallica’s Master Of Puppets consists of personifying the use of drugs and alcohol. Each of the lines is another way that using those substances takes over your body and directs your actions. It was meant to be about their vocalist’s struggle with substance abuse.
16. Death By a Thousand Cuts – Taylor Swift
Now we look at Taylor Swift for what might be the most direct personification on this list. In Death By A Thousand Cuts, she asks traffic lights if they will be okay, and they respond to her that they don’t know. This is an easy case to point out, like in Landslide, the narrator is talking to an inanimate object, but this time it speaks back. The scenery in the song also goes on to talk with her, adding more uses of personification in the background setting of the track.
17. Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) – Green Day
Green Day uses all kinds of literary devices in their songs, making them one of the most poetic alternative rock groups out there. Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life) is one of their most famous tracks, but it’s also one of the most emotional and nostalgic. It focuses on the meaningful things about life, encouraging listeners to be careful about not missing things as they pass. The personification device comes in droves, but the best example in the song is when they discuss time. It grabs the narrator by the wrist and pulls them along.
18. Under the Bridge – Red Hot Chili Peppers
Under The Bridge was written by Anthony Kiedis during a deep depression and was based on his struggle after giving up heroin and cocaine. His sobering journey left him feeling isolated from his other band members who continued to use different substances. That loneliness led to him feeling like the city of Los Angeles was his only real companion, which ends up being what gets personified in the song. The city itself and the spirit of the hills looking out for him made for a beautiful literary device.
19. Happy – Pharrell Williams
Happy was a big hit for Pharrell Williams and is one of the most cheerful and simple songs out there. It even earned him a number-one single on the Hot 100, but for our focus, we want to look at the personification in the track. The best example of this comes from the sun greeting him as he leaves his house. It’s meant to describe how bright and wonderful the world looks when you’re in a good mood, with everyone around you smiling and giving their greetings.
20. Highway Don’t Care – Tim McGraw Feat. Taylor Swift And Keith Urban
Highways, interstates, and backroads get personified in music a lot, likely because of the modern way artists go on tour. Tim McGraw perhaps does it the best in Highway Don’t Care, a song that personifies the road systems of the US by comparing them to people. It won’t dry your tears, doesn’t need you, and doesn’t care where you’re headed. It’s a looming, uncaring object that can wreck you if you let it.
21. Rooster – Alice in Chains
Rooster by Alice In Chains is an incredible song on so many levels and well worth an article unto itself to delve into. But for this one, we just want interesting uses of personification. Using the Vietnam War as a topic in a track is hardly a happy way to start, and it isn’t meant to be. The song is based on the singer’s father’s experiences serving during the war. The best examples of the device focus on bullets screaming, but this grunge hit single has much more to offer than a one-off use of personification.
22. Fields of Gold – Sting
Fields Of Gold has plenty of personification throughout the lyrics. The best example of this is when it frames the sky as being jealous, with the sun sitting up above as it watches over the farm fields full of barley.
23. I Gave You Power – Nas
Perhaps no genre uses more literary devices than hip hop. Nas, one of the greatest rappers to ever take the stage, used plenty during his time, including personification. One of the best examples of this came in his song I Gave You Power. It talks from the perspective of a gun that wants its next owner to be a thoroughbred, hides under beds, and is quiet when it’s empty. It’s a masterclass of lyrical skill that’s more than worth listening to.
24. Your Love is King – Sade
Your Love Is King literally uses personification in its title. Ascribing a title like “king” or “queen” to a concept like “love” has been used by poets and writers for centuries. It’s a way to honor the importance and impact of a concept, but the inverse can also be true. You could call someone’s love a “jester” or “torture” to add negative connotations to the concept. It’s a tried and tested use of personification that Sade picked up on for this interesting usage.
25. The House That Built Me – Miranda Lambert
We’ll end off with one of Miranda Lambert’s greatest singles. The House That Built Me personifies her childhood home in its title, but it goes a bit deeper than that. The lyrics describe her growing up there to explain why she is the way she is. And she believes that going back, even for a while, will help her heal the broken parts of her and allow her to find her center.
As a contributing writer for Music Grotto, Dakotah writes and produces professional music/media content. He works closely with editorial staff to meet editorial standards and create
quality content for the Music Grotto website. Dakotah is passionate about music in a wide variety of genres, from hip-hop to country and lo-fi to metal, and he enjoys creating music pieces for Music Grotto.