Have you ever listened to a song and wondered what on earth the singers mean when they throw metaphors and similes into the mix?

Have you ever wondered how you could incorporate lyrics into your writing?

Today, we try to answer both of these questions by delving into three songs, unpacking what some lyrics mean before taking a quick look at how we can utilise these lyrics to make our writing sing. 

1. Diamonds by Rihanna

  • We’re beautiful like diamonds in the sky
  • Shine bright like a diamond

First up, we have Diamonds performed by Rihanna and written by a team of songwriters, including Sia. The mid-tempo love ballad is a departure from her usual style of music. It features lyrics about a love that is fulfilling and empowering for both parties. Essentially, the song is about the limitless potential they now have because they have found each other.

The highlight of the chorus is a pair of similes that emphasise this message:

  • We’re beautiful like diamonds in the sky
  • Shine bright like a diamond. 

The reason why this simile – a comparison of two seemingly unlike entities with the word ‘like’ – works is because the lyricists tap on our understanding of what ‘diamonds’ mean.

Diamonds are culturally significant, aren’t they? The word ‘diamonds’ itself comes from the Greek word ‘adamas’, which means ‘unconquerable,’ leading to diamonds being epitomised as a sign of undying love.

Besides being a sign of love, diamonds also a sparkling sign of wealth. Yet, there is more to these stones than just love and luxury. The process of mining diamonds is arduous – diamonds are, after all, the hardest substance on Earth. The sheer amount of time and effort it takes to mine, process and transform unattractive ores into beautiful and luxurious gemstones tell a tale of dedication to uncover hidden potential.

As such, when Rihanna belts out that ‘We’re beautiful like diamonds in the sky’, it is a reminder while we might occasionally undermine ourselves, we are all capable of being as breathtakingly brilliant.

How then would this song help in writing essays?

Take, for instance, the 2018 O-level Paper 1 Question:

‘I had never seen my friend laugh so much!’
Write about a time this happened.

For this question, you might choose to write about a friend who was worried and stressed about his O-level examination that you and your classmates decide to hold a small party to cheer him up. 

Perhaps something amusing happened during the party that caused him to ‘laugh so much.’ Towards the end of the essay, however, you might advise him to take heart and to always remember that you are all ‘beautiful like diamonds in the sky,’ and that no matter what happens during your examinations, determination and perseverance will lead us to success.

2. Stitches by Shawn Mendes

  • Cut deeper than knife
  • Going under

One of Shawn Mendes’ earlier hits, this soulful pop number is about heartbreak and pain. The lyricists use a number of metaphors to emphasise the raw pain is experienced when a relationship is mercilessly ended.

Mendes sings about how the words of his partner ‘cut deeper than a knife.’ The metaphor – a comparison of two seemingly unlike entities – compares words to a cut, emphasising the power of words.

Words, when thrown about callously, can result in emotional wounds that are far more difficult to treat than physical wounds. Soon after, Mendes sings that he has a feeling that he is ‘going under.’ This metaphor does not seem fully fleshed out, right? What exactly is he under?

Again, we see how lyricists bank on our understanding of language outside the song to convey a particular message. ‘Going under’ references the idea of collapse and being stuck under debris. The visual image of being overwhelmed by a physical collapse helps us to understand the difficulties of coping with emotional challenges that are equally, if not more, paralysing.

How does this translate to essay writing?

Let’s take a look at another question from the 2018 O-level paper.

Describe an event you looked forward to which turned out to be disappointing. 

Explain why you were excited and why it didn’t live up to your expectations. 

You could write about working on a project with a friend who eventually betrays you by taking credit for the entire project. At some point, this friend might say something hurtful and his words might ‘cut me deeper than a knife.’

After failing the project and losing a friend, you might feel like you are ‘going under’ but eventually, you would pull myself together and learn something valuable from the whole experience.

Perhaps, at the end, you would also realise that you already ‘shine bright like a diamond,’ with or without your friend!

3. Memories by Maroon 5

  • Heart feels like December 
  • Heart feels like an ember and it’s lighting up the dark

The final song for today is Memories, performed by Maroon 5 and written by a team including Adam Levine (the lead vocalist of Maroon 5).

In an interview, Levine expressed that this song is “for anyone who has ever experienced loss.” The song was written after their friend passed away in 2017. As such, this pop rock piece deals heavily with grief, loss and what it is like to move forward with life after such a devastating loss.

At one point, Levine sings that his ‘heart feels like December.’ When I first heard it, I must admit I was confused. What could that possibly mean? After all, December, the last month of the year, is generally associated with festivities and positive vibes – what is it doing in a song about grief?

Well, being the last month of the year, also means that time has passed – time that we can never get back. There is a weight that we feel at the end of the year, sometimes, when we think about everything we have lost. When we lose someone significant to us, moving forward to a new year can be painful because it means that we are starting a new year in which this person can never be a part of.

But, Levine follows up by saying that his “heart feels like an ember and it’s lighting up the dark.” An ember is a small piece of glowing coal or wood in a dying fire. The idea of a remaining source of light in a landscape of darkness signifies hope. Even if the darkness is physically or emotionally suffocating, the very existence of an ember is what gives us the strength to move forward.

Through these lines, the lyricists convey the complexity of living with grief. Even when our hearts are heavy and we come to terms with the crushing notion of never being able to see someone again, the reason why we are able to rise again and move forward is precisely because our loved ones will always remain with us, in our memories.

Of course, in utilising these lines for essays, we do not always have to write about such extreme forms of grief.

Using Lyrics in Writing  

Let’s move back to the first question we explored:

‘I had never seen my friend laugh so much!’
Write about a time when this happened. 

Perhaps you could write about graduation and all the fun you shared with your friends during your final year in school and during our graduation ceremony. Towards the end of the essay, you might use these lyrics to describe your wistful feelings.

You might say that your heart felt like December as you walked away from school but the memories will forever remain as embers in your heart, lighting up your path, no matter where you go.

There you go! I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed unpacking all the metaphors and similes in this short article.

Can you think of any other lyrics that you could incorporate into your writing?

Feel free to us let know!

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