In a figurative sense, songs about water allude to a myriad of things that other elements cannot easily convey. Granted, it does not have the blazing property of fire, which can effectively describe passion. It does not have the same lightness of air, like a zephyr that can beautifully symbolize inner peace.
But water, just like fire and air, can be just as effective in conveying such intense and mellow nuances. It can be shallow as a pond or deep as an ocean. Whatever it stands for, whether hidden or explicit, there is no denying that songs about water drive the message home.
Pour Out Your Feelings with These Songs About Water
1. “Cry Me a River” by Justin Timberlake
Failed romance is one of the artists’ strongest motivations to come up with a song. It’s also among the most-used themes. Take a look at your own playlist; chances are, some songs center on lost love.
Inspired by Timberlake’s breakup with Britney Spears, “Cry Me a River” is one of his most memorable—and controversial—works. The song hints at Britney cheating on Justin, saying, “You don’t have to say, what you did; I already know, I found out from him.” Then, “You must have me confused with some other guy” further confirms the meaning. While some people believe she cheated, others think it’s nothing more than he-said-she-said. What do you think about it?
2. “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfunkel
Songs about water usually tell a story of love, sadness, and empowerment. This list, for instance, uses water to represent those concepts. But this time, we will have an entry with water in the lyrics to symbolize a platonic relationship.
Simon and Garfunkel’s folk hit from the 70s, “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” is like a soothing salve for the soul. The song’s reassuring lyrics and warm tune show us a kind of friendship that’s definitely for keeps. After all, someone willing to help you get through troubled waters, even if it means sacrificing their convenience, is a friend indeed.
3. “The River” by Bruce Springsteen
Water signifying hope is also a powerful concept when juxtaposed against a seemingly hopeless setting. The folk-rock song “The River” beautifully demonstrates this. The story, crooned in a chronological fashion, tells of a couple on their journey through life filled with hardship.
The river is where they used to go for a dip as a young couple. Years down the road, after marrying and seeing their family through challenging times, the couple would go back to the river. There, they find solace as they remember the good old days.
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4. “Come In With the Rain” by Taylor Swift
Love is blind, and nothing can ever prove this more than wanting someone who’s obviously not good for you. This is what Taylor Swift sings about in “Come In With the Rain.” Despite being tired of waiting and chasing after a guy, she still longs for him. Thus, she kept her door open, hoping that he would come in with the rain.
This song’s general meaning is to let go of hope and move on from a problematic relationship; there is a catch, though. Like in the song, she is still holding that person in her heart and will even accept him back into her life if he only makes an effort. If you ask me, this is not a very good way of moving forward (if you could actually call it moving forward). But hey, love is blind.
5. “Moon River” by Andy Williams
When we think of the 1961 classic film inspired by Truman Capote’s novel, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” we almost always envision Audrey Hepburn sitting on the windowsill with her guitar. Then she starts strumming as she softly sings, “Moon river, wider than a mile, I’m crossing you in style someday…” Maybe it’s the tenderness in the song; perhaps it’s the serenity in the scene. Or maybe, it’s both; something about it is just so dreamy.
Johnny Mercer wrote the lyrics inspired by the waterways in his native Savannah, Georgia. Henry Mancini composed the instrumental version used in the film. “Moon River” won the Academy Award for Best Original Song and a Grammy Award for Record of the Year and Song of the Year, both in 1962.
6. “Come Clean” by Hilary Duff
“Let the rain fall down and wake my dreams, let it wash away my sanity; ‘Cause I wanna feel the thunder, I wanna scream; Let the rain fall down, I’m coming clean…” Water has the magic to heal and renew, and Hilary Duff’s teenage pop hit “Come Clean” shows us how.
Freeing herself of all that she has become in the name of conformity, she basks in the rain and takes refuge in thunder. She sheds all traces of falseness and regains her old, genuine self in the process.
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7. “Water Under the Bridge” by Adele
It seems that unrequited love is also a recurrent theme in songs about water. Affection is not always returned in equal measure, and it feels like water under the bridge—insignificant and negligible. Adele’s soulful pop song “Water Under the Bridge” is all about this—a love that never was.
Adele pleads with the man, “be my keeper” or “let me down gently.” Even if she thinks their love “ain’t water under the bridge, “she can’t just make him love her so easily (and naturally) like that. And thus, she sings of the pain and rejection of unreciprocated love.
8. “Through the Rain” by Mariah Carey
Water represents adversity in this Mariah Carey song, “Through the Rain.” In this song, she radiates confidence and control as she gets pelted by the rain. She sings about believing in yourself and holding on to your faith to help you weather any storm.
Marah Carey wrote the song after losing her father to cancer in 2002. Before this, she was cut loose by her record label for not reaching the target sales. More than a self-empowering song, she penned it to remind her fans that they have the strength within them to overcome any difficulties and misfortunes. All that’s needed is to believe in themselves and keep going; the sun will shine again one day.
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Songs About Water with Hidden Meanings
9. “Cake by the Ocean” by DNCE
Hidden meaning in songs is nothing new. Songwriters sometimes use this technique to tame or “sanitize” a message that is either potentially offensive or risqué. “Cake by the Ocean” is one of those songs that hide a rather adult meaning within its seemingly harmless lyrics.
So, what is this song actually about, you ask? Well, the song is a straight-up metaphor for sex. To be very specific, it references sex on the beach (and no, we’re not talking about the popular cocktail drink). You know, ocean = beach, cake = the female anatomy.
10. “Forever Rain” by RM
RM, leader of the K-pop supergroup BTS, composed an emotional (and personal) track called “Forever Rain” for his second mixtape, Mono. The slow-paced song features heavy percussions and a somber melody which add to its nostalgic air.
Through this song, RM expresses his exhaustion with everything; he yearns for something that seems out of reach. As someone battling depression, this introspective song resonates with everyone who is going through the same thing. This is one of RM’s most personal works, and he even said he wants this song played at his funeral.
11. “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
We mentioned how songs about water might refer to breakups. By breakup, we didn’t just mean a romantic relationship (or rather, what used to be one). Water in breakup songs may also mean the breaking up of a group. In the case of CCR’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain,” the song revealed the group’s then-impending disbandment.
Many singers, such as Bonnie Tyler and Rod Stewart, covered this song. It has been translated into Spanish and Portuguese languages, as well. The song goes, “Someone told me long ago, there’s a calm before the storm…” signifying an expected drastic change. Then it continues, “I know, it’s been coming for some time; when it’s over, so they say, it’ll rain a sunny day; I know, shining down like water…” Despite the group’s success, they were still washed in grief because they were disbanding due to conflicts among group members.
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12. “Head Above Water” by Avril Lavigne
“God, please help me to keep my head above water.” This was Avril Lavigne’s exact prayer during a difficult time of her life. “Head Above Water” is an emotional ballad written by Avril Lavigne herself, which talks about her tough battle with Lyme Disease.
Through this song, the Canadian singer shared how she once thought she would die (and had even already come to terms with her death). Despite the hopelessness, she asked, “God, keep my head above water, don’t let me drown…” Needless to say, her prayers were heard; she survived the illness and lived to share this amazing story.
13. “Waterfalls” by TLC
Who would have thought that this catchy, summery 90s R&B hit hides a rather sinister meaning? TLC’s “Waterfalls” actually references self-destructive behaviors, drugs, and even AIDS. We know that that’s pretty loaded; again, water in songs may hide meanings that were “sterilized” to sound more acceptable.
The actual meanings were hidden in plain sight when you think about it. “Chasing waterfalls” allude to going after something dangerous or illegal. The vibrantly evocative presentation of the song won the MTV Video Music Award for Video of the Year in 1995.
14. “When the Levee Breaks“ by Led Zeppelin
The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 inspired this Led Zeppelin classic, “When the Levee Breaks.” The historic flood happened when, well, the levee swelled and broke along the stretch of the Mississippi delta. Billions of gallons of floodwater made their way into towns and farms, destroying properties and everything in its path.
The song may seem to be just another disaster story relayed through music to the unfamiliar. But for those who have some form of relevant connection to this history, the song looks back at the great misfortune that occurred in Mississippi 95 years ago. Fun fact: the band recorded the song’s epic drum part in Headley Grange’s lobby using two microphones hung up a flight of stairs.
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15. “Swim” by Madonna
The Queen of Pop talks about resurrection and rebirth in this cosmic track, “Swim.” The philosophical song uses water as a figurative element to “wash away all our sins,” and it delves into the mental process of unlocking life’s lessons by swimming to the ocean floor.
“Let the water wash over you, wash it all over you; swim to the ocean floor, so that we can begin again…” The song exhibits the cleansing and reviving power of water, allowing us a clean slate and a brand new start. According to Madonna, “Swim” is all about the redemption of the world eaten away by envy, greed, and hatred.
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16. “Rain on Me” by Lady Gaga featuring Ariana Grande
Life ain’t a bed of roses, and water in songs sometimes represents adversities no one is spared of; no one. And so, the ever-flamboyant Lady Gaga teamed up with the equally-talented Ariana Grande to sing a song of resilience and grace while being beaten by the rain.
“Rain on Me” tells us that we should embrace and celebrate life despite its imperfections. It’s the kind of feel-good, energetic music to infuse good vibes into your day. Yes, include this in your playlist already if you haven’t yet! MTV hailed this empowering track as the Song of the Year in 2020.
17. “Umbrella” by Rihanna (featuring Jay-Z)
This famous pop track by Rihanna became some sort of a national anthem back in 2008. And like the previous entry, “Umbrella” also talks about overcoming hardships together. “Now that it’s raining more than ever, know that we still have each other, you can stand under my umbrella…” It basically says you have someone you can lean on when times get tough.
“Umbrella” was a smash hit in the UK; it debuted at the top spot and went to the top of the charts in most countries where the song was released. The track’s success also inspired the singer to launch her own line of umbrellas. Fun fact: this song was originally written for Mary J. Blige; unfortunately, her impossible schedule wouldn’t allow her to record. She said she was happy about how it ended up with Rihanna. It is among Blige’s favorite songs to date.
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18. “Set Fire to the Rain” by Adele
This song has appeared in many “songs about” articles; this time, it will grace this list of songs about water. “Set Fire to the Rain” deals with heartbreaking contradictions in relationships and how it can be impossible to let go.
On the surface, it seems like a song about being vulnerable. And yes, it’s a breakup song of sorts. But this song is also about soldiering on; you own the pain and set yourself free from it at the same time.
19. “Orinoco Flow (Sail Away)“ by Enya
Everyone had this feeling, at least once in their life, of wanting to break away and escape somewhere more peaceful and pleasant. Enya takes the listeners’ minds on a journey of the imagination, sailing into various distant ports around the world.
The Celtic-themed track’s music video features a montage of images woven together fluidly. “Orinoco Flow” is an aural and visual treat that will leave you feeling more serene and relaxed.
20. “Dreams” by The Corrs
Ah, the restorative magic of water again. Although the song’s title carries no indication of water or any source thereof, the chorus will tell you that water has more bearing than dreams in this song, lyric-wise.
“Thunder only happens when it’s raining, players only love you when they’re playing; they say women, they will come and they will go, when the rain washes you clean, you’ll know…” The chorus is a truth slap and a validation that you will realize things once the fog has cleared. It’s a great chill-out tune, if you ask me. The Corrs performed this song live with Mick Fleetwood in 1998 at the Royal Albert Hall. Here’s the official music video of their cover:
21. “It’s Raining Men” by The Weather Girls
“It’s raining men, hallelujah, it’s raining men, amen…” such a hysterical line, but effective nonetheless! The song was first offered to then-popular singers Barbra Streisand (their strongest bet), Cher, Patti LaBelle, and Donna Summer. Perhaps the song’s crazy concept drove each of these singers to turn it down.
The Weather Girls ended up recording “It’s Raining Men” after much persuasion and pressure from the record label. The song became a hot number in dance clubs and bars and was actually well-received by music consumers. The danceable track has been covered by Geri Halliwell (of the Spice Girls fame); it also has been used in various movies and TV shows.
22. “Waters of March (Águas de Março)” by Antônio Carlos Jobim
For the sake of variety, let’s add another song to this list with a non-English language origin (but still an international hit, of course). The Portuguese song “Águas de Março” means “Waters of March,” which metaphorically signifies the end of the summer season in Brazil. Antônio Carlos Jobim composed the song in the early 70s, while various singers through the years sang and gave life to this bossa nova track. Perhaps the most memorable covers would be of Sérgio Mendes & Brasil, Susannah McCorkle, Elis Regina, and Oleta Adams.
The song’s English lyrics are a collage of phrases that reflect the stream of consciousness in the passing of time. It is refreshingly sweet and beautiful, the kind of music you can listen to on a weekend morning.
With so many songs about water out there that are not mentioned here, it’s evident that this element is a perennial source of inspiration for musicians. It represents a lot of things, as well—many of which are not covered here.
Indeed, its significance and symbolism are immeasurable, and its appeal, timeless. We hope that you will enjoy these songs next time in your playlist. And maybe, these entries will remind you of old favorites, too. Happy listening!