Hyperbole is a common trope, and it is used with an unusually high degree of frequency in love songs; unsurprisingly, since hyperbole is a figure of emphasis, and love is the trigger for arguably the most vigorous feelings one can experience in life. The five songs below illustrate how when mere descriptive language won’t do for enamored lyricists, overblown hyperboles unarguably will.
5 Songs with Hyperbole
Example #1. Beach Boys, God Only Knows (1966)
I may not always love you
But long as there are stars above you
You never need to doubt it
I’ll make you so sure about it
God only knows what I’d be without you
Written by Brian Wilson and sung by his younger brother Carl, God Only Knows is, perhaps, Beach Boys’ masterwork. Almost perfectly constructed and harmonious beyond belief, it is also, by acclamation, one of the most beautiful love songs ever recorded. And it is not merely the simplicity of the lyrics which further backs this description; but it is also the ingenuity with which Brian Wilson introduces the almost obligatory love-related overstatements (“as long as there are stars above you”): namely, only after first sabotaging the stereotypical hyperbole of love poetry: “I will always love you.” This leads to a beautiful and rarely remarked upon paradox: one of the greatest and most beloved love songs in history opens with the defeatist “I may not always love you.”
Example #2. Meat Loaf, I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That) (1993)
And some nights you’re breathing fire
And some nights you’re carved in ice
Some nights you’re like nothing I’ve ever seen before or will again
And maybe I’m crazy, oh it’s crazy and it’s true
I know you can save me, no-one else can save me now but you
As long as the planets are turning
As long as the stars are burning
As long as your dreams are coming true
You’d better believe it,
That I would do anything for love
And I’ll be there to the final act
And I would do anything for love
And I’ll take a vow and seal a pact.
Everything in Jim Steinman’s Wagnerian style is so bombastic and over-the-top that his lyrics are bound to be overflowing with hyperboles so as to keep up the musical pace. This is obvious in almost any verse of I’d Do Anything for Love, a 12-minute power ballad first recorded by Meat Loaf for the 1993 sequel-album to their ultra-successful 1977 debut, Bat Out of Hell. Just like its title, almost every verse of this song contains a hyperbole. Case in point: provided that the lyrical subject is not actually crazy, in the excerpt above, the ninth (“You’d better believe it”) is the only line which lacks an exaggerated claim; that is, unless he is dating a dragon.
Example #3. Bon Jovi, Always (1995)
I will love you, baby, always,
And I’ll be there
Forever and a day, always,
I’ll be there, till the stars don’t shine
Till the heavens burst and the words don’t rhyme
I know when I die you’ll be on my mind
And I’ll love you, always
Originally written for the well-acted, but below-average 1993 movie, Romeo Is Bleeding (hence the first line), Always was released by Bon Jovi one year later as a single and became one of the band’s most recognizable songs. A powerful love ballad—just like many other Bon Jovi songs—it is rife with mawkish hyperboles from the outset (“It’s been raining since you left me/ Now I’m drowning in the flood”), but it is the chorus which brings both the mawkishness and the hyperboles to a whole other level. It is a love song, though, so this somehow works. Plus, one of the hyperboles is borrowed straight from a comedy by Shakespeare: if you don’t know which, it is “forever and a day” (As You Like It IV.1.124).
Example #4. Josh Ritter, Kathleen (2003)
All the other girls here are stars, you are the Northern Lights;
They try to shine in through your curtains, you’re too close and too bright
They try and they try but everything that they do
Is the ghost of a trace of a pale imitation of you
Josh Ritter’s 2003 hit Kathleen kicks off with one of the most swoon-worthy hyperbolic comparisons in the history of pop music. Note that the previous sentence would not have been a particular exaggeration even if Ritter had written merely the first line of the four cited above: “all the other girls here are stars, you are the Northern Lights.” However, as innovative and as charming as it is, that is not the hyperbole which could leave one at a loss for words. It is the one which builds upon it in the following verses and brings the art of the praise to a whole other level (literally). Being stars, Ritter says, these other girls try “to shine through [his beloved’s] curtains” (for that’s indeed how the Northern Lights often look like). However, not only they are unable to do this, but “everything that they do/ is the ghost of a trace of a pale imitation” of his love. From the standpoint of the other girls—whoever they are—this must be as unflattering as an understatement can be; to the ears of Kathleen, though, this is undoubtedly the greatest compliment she will ever get.
Example #5. Bruno Mars, Grenade (2010)
I’d catch a grenade for ya
Throw my hand on a blade for ya
I’d jump in front of a train for ya
You know I’d do anything for ya
I would go through all this pain
Take a bullet straight through my brain
Yes, I would die for you baby
But you won’t do the same
We started our list above with a most romantic song which opens with one downright unromantic verse; we’ll end it with its antipode: a song which features a conventionally exaggerated expression of love, only to end with an unexpected and painful reality slap. The seven hyperboles in the chorus of Bruno Mars’ Grenade are so inflated that some of them even border on the comical and the grotesque; for example, the emphasis on “straight” in the sixth line sounds almost too masochistic to be real. However, there’s nothing funny in the eighth, closing verse of the chorus, which reveals to the listener that this is yet another retelling of that saddest of all stories: the story of the unrequited love. You know we feel for ya, Bruno, right?