There’s a lot to be said for the poetry of music. Many of the most evocative, inspiring metaphors have come out of songs, and prose writers often seek that “musical” quality in their own writing.
But sometimes, it seems like music is taking things a bit too far with the metaphors, getting away with imagery that’s just…well…bad. Here are a few of my favorite bad metaphors in music.
1. Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen
I’m opening with a classic everybody will know, but which very few people seem to have scrutinized. “Don’t Stop Me Now” is a fantastic song, with an upbeat pace that’s almost impossible not to dance to, and you really can’t go wrong with Freddie Mercury’s vocals, no matter what he’s actually saying. In this case, though? You might want to pay a little bit closer attention to the lyrics:
I’m a shooting star leaping through the skies,
Like a tiger, defying the laws of gravity.
…since when do tigers defy the laws of gravity? Generally when you are creating metaphors, you want to compare what you are doing to something that does it in a more well-known way. Last I checked, tigers weren’t exactly kings of the sky. In fact, shooting stars and tigers have almost nothing in common.
I am a satellite–I’m out of control.
I’m a sex machine ready to re-load,
Like an atom bomb, I’m gunna
Go, go, go, go, whoa, explode.
…once again, when you are building metaphors, you should generally choose something that actually does the thing you are doing. Satellites, out of control? Satellites, by definition, are objects trapped in orbit. There’s nothing out of control about that. I’m not even sure what a “sex machine” is suppose to be–are you a vibrator? If so, I’m not sure exploding is something those are known for, unless you’re referring to one that got recalled for being incredibly fucking dangerous. And don’t even get me started on the suggestion that you can “re-load” a freaking atom bomb.
You may have been a musical genius, Mercury, but your metaphors need work.
2. Train, entire discography
When it comes to bad metaphors, no one does them as consistently as the band Train. Train is one of those bands where every time you think they’re gone, they pop back up with yet another insanely catchy, poorly conceived hit, and then all of a sudden they’re back in everyone’s head. I actually love this band for reasons that aren’t entirely unironic, but I also don’t think Train has turned out a single song that didn’t contain at least one bizarre lyric. I mean, there’s their first big hit, “Meet Virginia,” which contains this baffling section:
You see her confidence is tragic,
But her intuition magic,
And the shape of her body–unusual.
WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?? Confidence is tragic? Her body is “unusual”? Well, maybe that’s because she also “wears high-heels when she exercises.” This song doesn’t exist in reality. But honestly, they were just getting warmed up, because then there’s their next hit, “Drops of Jupiter”:
She acts like summer and walks like rain
…how does one walk like rain? There’s no image here. Rain doesn’t walk. What are you trying to say.
And tell me, did you fall for a shooting star?
One without a permanent scar?
Stars don’t have scars, Train. Stars don’t have skin. You were just trying to force a rhyme, weren’t you? Which became A Trademark Thing for Train, because–you know what? I don’t really have time to break down each song’s lyrics, so I’m just going to post the rest of their hits and pull a bad image from each one.
Calling All Angels:
I need to know that things are gonna look up,
‘Cause I feel us drowning in a sea spilled from a cup.
Hey, Soul Sister:
Your lipstick stains
On the front lobe of my
Left side brain
Just a shy guy looking for a two-ply
Hefty bag to hold my love.
And all this is without even dipping into their B-sides, and I promise you, there is some gold there. Basically, Train are the kings of the bad metaphor. But they didn’t write the worst one I’ve ever found. That crowning glory goes to another 90s band:
3. Frost by Vertical Horizon
Vertical Horizon was a big band in the 90s, best known for their hit “Everything You Want.” You know the one–he’s everything you want, he’s everything you need, he’s everything inside of you that you wish you could be? That one. They had a couple other hits before they fizzled out, but their lack of popular success did not deter the band from continuing to make music, despite basically all of the original band members leaving. In fact, they turned out a new album in 2013, and this album contained a track called “Frost,” and “Frost” is, by far, the most poorly metaphored song I have ever heard in my life. I mean, here’s the opening stanza–
Touch ticking in the torchlight,
Flicking like a firefight in my mind.
Stuck standing in the crosswalk,
Heavy like dump trucks in my mind.
Never mind the fact that they rhymed “in my mind” with “in my mind”–heavy like dump trucks??? What? This is suppose to be poetic? Dump trucks??? Who approved these lyrics? Hell, who generated them and then didn’t immediately reject them? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU. “Flicking like a firefight in my mind” is also pretty terrible, as are the later “tender like a symphony” and the part where they misplace their love “somewhere in the basement down below,” but dump trucks takes the cake. YOU WEREN’T EVEN TRYING, WERE YOU??
What are some of your favorite bad metaphors in music?
“Life is like a beautiful melody, only the lyrics are messed up.” -Hans Christian Andersen