What is Symbolism?
Put very generally, a symbol is anything that stands in for something else. For example, a flag can represent a country. The United States flag is representative of the nation as a whole. While this definition is good enough for a basic literary understanding of symbolism, it is not good enough if you are a songwriter.
For a songwriter, symbolism is like an extension of your body. It is such a vital part of songwriting, it cannot be a tool you leave out of your creative toolbox. In songwriting, a symbol works much the same as it does in any other application. But it packs much more emotional punch.
Why does Symbolism matter?
You may ask, why do I need symbolism? If you are talking about love, why not just say you are? While simplicity such as that may be appealing at some times, the greatest songs do not hold to the same basics. A love song can be written a million times, and after so many times, your audience can get bored with it. In order to keep your songs relevant, and intriguing to listeners, you need to make it unique. Symbolism allows you to do that.
How Can I Use Symbolism?
There is no special formula for how you can use or not use symbolism. The only limit upon it is the one you place upon it yourself. A symbol can be anything, and represent anything. As we will go into deeper later in the article, many of the greatest songs have symbolic meanings hidden within them that are often overlooked.
Another benefit to using symbolism is that the symbols you chose can mean a multitude of things. The color yellow can mean something to you the songwriter, but it will mean something completely different to someone else who is listening to the song. Overtime, your songs will develop new meanings as new connotations are attached to words, and new cultural norms are brought into fruition. Symbolism can add a sense of dynamism and depth to your songs, while also adding beauty and elegance.
Where Can I Find Symbolism?
Symbolism is not a new tool in songwriting. In fact it is quite old. Artists in all genres, generations, and popularity have used symbolism to create meaning in their songs. Many of the most famous songs employ this strategy in their songwriting in order to create a dynamic song for listeners.
Demi Lovato’s smash hit “Skyscraper” is a modern example of the use of symbolism. In the song, Demi says “I will be rising from the ground like a skyscraper.” She is not literally a skyscraper, obviously. However, what she is saying is that she is strong, and she will not be held down, rather she will stand up tall and live her life how she wants to.
The Eagles famous song “Hotel California” also has symbolism within it. The symbolism in the song is complex and ever changing, and each person will interpret it differently. One of the widely held understandings is that the Hotel California is representative of the lives the rich and famous lead in California, and how destructive and inescapable it is.