Like “baby,” the word “honey” as term of affection appears in thousands of songs across eras and genres. But every now and then a lyric will extend the endearment into a more concrete metaphor, using honey’s taste or texture or even its means of production to build up a conceit about sweetness, longing, or comfort.
Fiona Apple, “Slow like Honey”
One of my first favorites; I’ve loved this song since I was a teenager. Fiona Apple sings of dreaming about someone who “moved like honey,” and one might imagine a slow, langorous movement that echoes the unhurried heavy tempo of the song. It’s a moody, sultry melody about desire–not just her own, but that of the dream figure who she claims will be haunted and reaching for her–but the yearning must be enjoyable, because she’s in no hurry to bring about its conclusion. I like that honey characterizes both the nature of this longing–heavy, slow, sweet–and the qualities of the music.
Erykah Badu, “Honey”
The honey in this song is unmistakably a stand-in for sexual desire. Erykah Badu riffs on the metaphor in a few different ways–in one line, her not-yet-attained honey is compared to a bumblebee flying away–but she comes back to a desire to have and enjoy sweetness. It’s a much more playful expression than the song above: she teases that if she adds some lemon, he’d be her favorite drink, and there’s a line about tea and pinky fingers that is fit for the euphemism playlist.
Mainly you should watch the incredible video, in which Erykah Badu dances her way through dozens of popular album covers: here is a list of all of them.
Feist, “Honey Honey”
Like Erykah Badu, Feist also feels that her honey is flying away from her. In fact, she doesn’t sing about the sensual qualities of honey at all; honey is something that’s happening far away (“up in the trees”) and for others (“food for the bees”). Honey is very much identified with the outdoors and natural world rather than the intimate realm of taste–but her voice catches a little on the repetitions of the word, making it sound a little sticky.
This song, too, has a really striking video–puppetry, bizarre but lovely.
Sparklehorse, “Shade and Honey”
Here, too, the figurative impact of honey draws from the realm of natural beauty rather than sensual pleasure. In this quiet, melancholy song, the singer wishes that “your shade be sweet and float upon the lakes/ where the sun will be made of honey.” This invocation of simple, natural yet somehow mystical pleasure is of a piece with many other Sparklehorse songs; in contrast to the artist’s troubled life, the lyrics are populated with pretty fairytale images of elemental beauty: silver and gold, apples and honey, horses and sunlight. I like this song particularly because “shade and honey” are not a contrast but two kinds of comfort; the title reminds me of phrases like “sweetness and light” and “milk and honey,” comfort and satiation. It’s a little sad to listen, though; the honey-sun is a wish for warmth and beauty, not a reality.
Roxette, “Milk and Toast and Honey”
I always like to contrast the more evocative food metaphors with something a bit more. . . . straightforward. This is literally a song about how honey is literally a sweet comforting food. Having a terrible day? The cure is milk and toast and honey. And coffee. and love, of course. The video is pretty much a Folgers commercial. Enjoy!