Synesthesia in Pop Music

Isn’t it interesting how music seems to extend metaphors way more than speech does? I’ve noticed that in some pop songs, the artist uses a kind of cross-sensory synesthesia-like metaphor or exaggeration to make their music more interesting and intense.

For example, in “Red” by Taylor Swift:

Losing him was blue like I’d never known
Missing him was dark grey all alone
Forgetting him was like trying to know somebody you never met
But loving him was red

This sounds a lot like emotion-color synesthesia to me. Of course, most people associate emotions with colors—and there’s a long history of the two going together in songs. Ever wonder why blues music is called that? But perhaps Taylor Swift’s own color associations are stronger than the omnipresent cultural ones, and she’s actually a synesthete.

And in “Sparks” by Hilary Duff:

Turn the lights down low and kiss me in the dark
‘Cause when you’re touching me, baby I see sparks

Some kind of touch-vision syn? It’s very hard to tell in these kinds of songs whether she’s actually, literally seeing colors in her vision, vividly associating, or just using “seeing sparks” as a way to show off the extreme way in which she’s attracted to this dude. So seeing colors like that is now sexy, eh, Hilary Duff?

In any case, it’s interesting how closely metaphors can resemble synesthetic experiences—a phenomenon explored by V.S. Ramachandran in a chapter of his book, A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness. Where do we draw the line between ordinary people who describe colors or clothing as “loud” or cheese as “sharp”, and synesthetes? It seems that a little bit of cross-sensory activation is a universal experience.

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