Certain musicians are blessed with the ability to hear, see, feel, or taste music, a variant of the neurological condition known as synesthesia.

While you don't need to have synesthesia in order to be a great musician, there seems to be a significant correlation between musicians capable of creating exceptionally impactful tunes and those who perceive sound in color. Here are some of the most noteworthy musicians with synesthesia:

Frank Ocean

Anyone who's heard Frank Ocean's Blonde knows that the album exists in more than one dimension, and this isn't an accident. Ocean sees colors associated with his music, and his album Channel Orange was inspired by the color he saw when he first fell in love (which was, obviously, orange).

Pink Matter www.youtube.com


Lorde

Extra Minutes | How Lorde sees sound as colour www.youtube.com

Lorde has described synesthesia as a driving force behind all her music, and like Ocean, she has sound-to-color synesthesia, which means all music has a color in her mind. "If a song's colors are too oppressive or ugly, sometimes I won't want to work on it," she once told MTV. "When we first started 'Tennis Court' we just had that pad playing the chords, and it was the worst textured tan colour, like really dated, and it made me feel sick, and then we figured out that prechorus and I started the lyric, and the song changed to all these incredible greens overnight!"

Lorde - Green Light www.youtube.com

Stevie Wonder

Even though he's blind, the musical legend and innovator Stevie Wonder can see the colors of his music in his head, which might explain why his music sounds so vast and rich.

Stevie Wonder - Moon Blue www.youtube.com

Billy Joel

The "Piano Man" singer can see the colors of the music that he plays, and it sounds like his perception is influenced by tempo and mood. "When I think of different types of melodies which are slower or softer, I think in terms of blues or greens," he said. "When I [see] a particularly vivid color, it is usually a strong melodic, strong rhythmic pattern which emerges at the same time," he said. "When I think of these songs, I think of vivid reds, oranges, and golds."

Billy Joel - Scenes from an Italian Restaurant (Official Audio) www.youtube.com


Kanye West

The brilliant musician and recently born-again Christian once said that all his music has a visual component. "Everything I sonically make is a painting," he said. "I see it. I see the importance and the value of everyone being able to experience a more beautiful life."

Kanye West - All Of The Lights ft. Rihanna, Kid Cudi www.youtube.com

For West, visuals need to be compatible with the colors he hears in his head. "I see music in color and shapes and all and it's very important for me when I'm performing or doing a video that the visuals match up with the music – the colors, y'know," he said. "A lot of times it's a lonely piano [that] can look like a black and white visual to fit that emotion, even though pianos are blue to me and bass and snares are white; bass lines are like dark brown, dark purple."

No Church In The Wild www.youtube.com


Pharrell Williams

The "Happy" singer (a yellow song if there ever was one) has been open about his synesthesia, and he has a very in-depth way of perceiving musical color. "There are seven basic colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet," he said. And those also correspond with musical notes…White, believe it or not, which gives you an octave is the blending of all the colors…" So that means chords would be blends of different shades, and harmonies would likely involve the blending of compatible colors. For Pharrell, synesthesia is instrumental to his creative process and to his worldview at large. "It's my only reference for understanding," he said. "I don't think I would have what some people would call talent and what I would call a gift. The ability to see and feel [this way] was a gift given to me that I did not have to have. And if it was taken from me suddenly I'm not sure that I could make music. I wouldn't be able to keep up with it. I wouldn't have a measure to understand."

Pharrell Williams - Happy (Official Music Video) www.youtube.com

Duke Ellington

For the jazz great, individual notes also have different colors—but their exact shades depend on who's playing them, not the note itself. "I hear a note by one of the fellows in the band and it's one color. I hear the same note played by someone else and it's a different color," he said. In addition to associating music with colors, he also sees sound as texture. "When I hear sustained musical tones, I see just about the same colors that you do, but I see them in textures," he added. "If Harry Carney is playing, D is dark blue burlap. If Johnny Hodges is playing, G becomes light blue satin."

Duke Ellington - Blue Feeling www.youtube.com

Tori Amos

From the sound of things, Tori Amos experiences music in a very dreamlike and psychedelic way. The singer-songwriter and piano prodigy has said that songwriting feels like chasing after light. "The song appears as light filament once I've cracked it. As long as I've been doing this, which is more than 35 years, I've never seen a duplicated song structure. I've never seen the same light creature in my life. Obviously, similar chord progressions follow similar light patterns…try to imagine the best kaleidoscope ever."

16 Shades of Blue www.youtube.com


Dev Hynes

After hearing Blood Orange's saturated, vivid sonic craftsmanship, it's not hard to believe that its creator is synesthetic. However, for Dev Hynes, synesthesia isn't a walk in the park. "Imagine color streamers just bouncing around," he explained. "It's hard for me to focus at times because there's a lot of things floating around, pulling me away. Situations can become very overbearing and overwhelming."

Blood Orange - Dark & Handsome | A COLORS SHOW www.youtube.com


Charli XCX

Synesthesia helps Charli XCX curate and shape her songs, and apparently, the pop queen favors sweeter, brighter colors. "I see music in colors. I love music that's black, pink, purple or red - but I hate music that's green, yellow or brown," she said.

Charli XCX - Silver Cross [Official Audio] www.youtube.com


Mary J. Blige

"I have that condition, synesthesia. I see music in colors. That's how my synesthesia plays out," singer, rapper, actress, and legend Mary J. Blige explained succinctly.

Mary J. Blige - Be Without You (Official Music Video) www.youtube.com


Marina Diamandis

The former star of Marina and the Diamonds (who now goes by only Marina) apparently can see sound as color, but she also associates certain colors with days of the week. Her synesthesia also sometimes causes her to associate music with scents. "Mine usually only expresses itself in color association but I do smell strange scents out of the blue for no reason," she's said.

MARINA - Orange Trees [Official Music Video] www.youtube.com


Billie Eilish and Finneas O'Connell

In Billie Eilish's technicolor universe, every sense bleeds into everything else, and things like numbers and days of the week have their own color palettes. "I think visually first with everything I do, and also I have synesthesia, so everything that I make I'm already thinking of what color it is, and what texture it is, and what day of the week it is, and what number it is, and what shape," she said in a YouTube Music video. "We both have it [she and brother, Finneas O'Connell], so we think about everything this way."

Billie Eilish - Ocean Eyes (Official Music Video) www.youtube.com

Alessia Cara

Alessia Cara thought that synesthesia was just something everybody had, until she realized not everyone could see sounds. "I didn't know that synesthesia was something that was, I guess, only a thing for some people," she said. "I thought that everybody kind of experienced it. So for me, it was just a natural pairing to my music. Everything audible was visual to me, and it still is. And so I think when I write, it's kind of cool to listen back and say, 'Well, this song feels kind of purple' — if a certain drum sound sounds purple and the song feels purple, then I know that they kind of match. It just really helps me figure out the whole package of a song." And like Kanye West, her synesthesia influences her visual content. "Even with videos — it helps me figure out what I want to do music video-wise," she added. "So it's definitely a strong aspect of my writing."

Alessia Cara - Ready (Lyric Video) www.youtube.com


Franz Liszt

Synesthesia isn't reserved for 20th and 21st century legends. Many classical musicians possessed synesthetic abilities, such as the composer Franz Liszt, who apparently used to ask orchestra members to make their tone qualities "bluer" and would say things like, "That is a deep violet, please, depend on it! Not so rose!" While orchestra members thought he was joking, they soon realized that the musician could actually see colors in the music he created.

Franz Liszt - Liebestraum - Love Dream www.youtube.com

Music Features

On This Day: Shakira Liberated Everyone's “She Wolf”

"I was in the studio in a bad mood that day, then I got inspired and went to a corner and I wrote the lyrics and the melody in 10 minutes. The image of the she wolf just came to my head, and when I least expected it I was howling and panting," Shakira said.

By Fabio Alexx

11 years ago, on July 10th, 2009, Colombian singer Shakira released the first single off her third studio album.

"She Wolf" is a synth-pop banger built on a B minor progression. It was, in many ways, an insane song, born out of the singer's own frustration and ennui.

"I was in the studio in a bad mood that day, then I got inspired and went to a corner and I wrote the lyrics and the melody in 10 minutes. The image of the she wolf just came to my head, and when I least expected it I was howling and panting," Shakira said.

Though the music was composed by John Hill and Sam Endicott, lead singer of post-punk band The Bravery, the lyrics were all Shakira's own. "[Shakira] contacted him (Hill), asking if he had any stuff," said Endicott. "We never had her in mind. We just made the thing independently of her, and then she liked it a lot, and she sang over it. She used some of the melodies we put in there and then wrote these crazy lyrics about being a werewolf. And that's how it happened."

Shakira - She Wolf www.youtube.com


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MUSIC

Post Malone's "Hollywood's Bleeding" Is Zombie Pop for the Tik Tok Era

Our favorite cursed Bud Light influencer has returned with a vengeance.

After he released his last album, beerbongs and bentleys, Post Malone left Hollywood for northern Utah.

He purchased a $3 million home, which he described as an "apocalypse shelter" on one occasion and a "fallout shelter" on another. "I'm just buying a place out in the sticks," he said. "I'm building it underground. It's going to be fun until the world ends. But whenever the world ends, it's going to be functional."

You can see this dichotomy (between ecstasy and paranoia, isolation and crowds, stars and neon lights) playing out on Hollywood's Bleeding, which adds scope and abstraction to his typically hedonistic trip-hop.

For all intents and purposes, his music shouldn't be able to emote and resonate the way it does. His lyrics aren't exactly poetic, to say the least ("Bud light running through my d*ck" is a very real line that appears on "Saint-Tropez"). His beats are relatively formulaic, and his image is shaped by absurdity and excess. The messages he sings about are destructive and shallow, and he only gets away with it because he's more of a caricature than a person. He presents himself like a dilapidated zombie, the mutated product of too many nights spent wandering around drugstores, surrendering to carnal impulses, and compulsively ordering from Postmates.

Yet Hollywood's Bleeding manages to be an excellent album, a hard-working fusion of genres that incorporates everything from anthemic 80s-style choruses to faded 90s punk to glossy 2000s trap. The 17-track album is a master class in the art of modern pop songwriting, which is to say post-genre songwriting, and every track feels baked to perfection (pun entirely intended).

Post is an expert at placing that perfect minor chord in that exact place where it'll derail an otherwise shallow or synthetic track. His music is almost robotically perfect, except in those moments where it cracks open and lets in the blues. Despite the absurdity of his image, there's an underlying darkness to everything that Post makes. His music is kind of like a sonic depression meme, never self-serious but built around a foundation of egotistical yet resigned desperation.

Because it's Post Malone, even the album's moments of vulnerability are calculated, wound together by exquisite production helmed here by none other than Kanye West. Like most of Kanye's mixes, no matter their content, every single sound is isolated in perfect detail, designed for crystalline sound even through cheap headphones or laptop speakers; you can't miss the grinding bass, the echoing reverb, or, of course, Post's signature quavering vibrato.

Aside from the production quality, Austin Post's voice might be the stitch that holds the whole industrial complex that is Post Malone together. No matter what he's singing about, his voice soars above it, raw and wounded. True Post fans have known for a while that he's the real deal, because they've seen his old Dylan covers and the like, but on this album, he really lets his vocals barrel through.

Bob Dylan Don't Think Twice, It's All Right Cover - Austin Richard www.youtube.com

Though they don't sound similar, his voice's raggedly meditative quality is sometimes reminiscent of Kurt Cobain's, especially on songs like "Im Gonna Be" where vocals take center stage. The thing about Post Malone is that no matter what he's singing about—ecstasy, breakups, death, or truly unfathomable quantities of beer—his music feels peaceful, largely thanks to his voice, which switches from primal screams to pillow-talk, from whispery rap to folky howling, before decompensating into lush choral harmonies. Like a greasy, sweat-stained, drug-fueled bear hug, his music can be disorienting at first, but there's a sense of relief to be found when you surrender to its warmth.

Still, with his gold teeth, face tattoos, and his endless rambling about getting wasted and wiping out, his music shouldn't be as comforting as it is. "Circles," the album's lead single, is a blend of beachy guitars and swirling, luxurious synths that somehow still manage to fit into a neat pop structure. Songs like "Allergic" start out with a boppy motif that sounds like it could get repetitive fast, but he doesn't let that happen, instead stripping things down at the chorus. The song winds up being one of the saddest on the album, despite its gleeful exterior; like many Post tracks, it's utterly resigned to its own misery, and ready to dance through it. If anything, that's Post Malone's message for all of us. Party with your demons (or laugh off their criticism), he seems to say, laugh at all of it, and build your shelter away from the disaster zone for when it all gets to be too much.


Post Malone - Circles www.youtube.com

Of course, he has a lot of help. Halsey shines on the otherwise unremarkable "Die For Me," and SZA brings her punchy rhythms on the bubbly, spaced-out "Staring At the Sun." One of the album's highlights is "Take What You Want," which melds Ozzy Osbourne's blistering guitar solos with hyper-modern beats, proving that boomers and millennials can get along after all.

There's a kind of liberation to surrendering to one's love (or, ahem, attraction to) Post Malone; like a modern Dionysus, he seems to promise revelry and relief. That's not to say that he's stuck in the past—with his post-ironic image that feels tailor-made for the Internet's landscape, his name feels prescient. Post Malone makes music for the post-postmodern era, when meaninglessness itself has become meaningless. On "Myself," he talks about Internet-era dissociation. "I'm sick of this American dream sh*t," he says in a rare moment when he looks beyond his chaotic inner life, only to see it reflected in the equally chaotic universe.

In many ways, his music is a natural fit for the Tik Tok era and for the schizophrenic and persona-driven entity that is social media, which tends to distort reality while making it unavoidable. On Hollywood's Bleeding, he seems more aware of that than usual, and there are moments he breaks away from it entirely. "The world has gone to sh*t and we all know that," he sings on the triumphant, melancholy "Internet." "People freaking out, like get to Prozac." It's classic Post Malone—outlandish, inappropriate, and bizarre, but somehow cogent at the same time. When the song surrenders to a dramatic string section, it feels inevitable. Post always had a symphony behind him. He's just letting us all hear it for the first time.