What do Billie Eilish, Kanye West and Lorde have in common other than being famous musicians? They all share the same neurological condition, synesthesia, which can play a role in their artistic prowess and success as stars of the entertainment industry.
The definition of synesthesia is “a neurological condition in which information intended to stimulate one of your senses stimulates several of your senses”. People with synesthesia, also called synesthetes, may see different colors when they listen to music or taste certain foods when they say or hear words.
While researchers aren’t sure how rare synesthesia is, a 2006 study suggests that only 2-4% of the population suffer from this unusual condition. Here are some of the most famous modern day celebrity synaesthetes, and how they use their special senses to improve their craft.
Billie Eilish attends the 2020 Vanity Fair Oscar Party in Beverly Hills, California | David Crotty and Patrick McMullan / Getty Images
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Billie Eilish uses her synesthesia to create music videos
Teenage pop star Billie Eilish spoke about her synesthesia in an interview with Rolling Stone in 2019. “Everyone I know has their own color and shape and number in my head, but that’s normal for me,” she said. Her brother and musical collaborator Finneas, for example, is an orange triangle, although his name “Finneas” is dark green. She described her song “Bad Guy” as “yellow, but also red and the number seven. It’s not hot, but warm, like an oven. And it smells like cookies. “
In an interview with Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show, Eilish stated that her synesthesia “inspires a lot of things. As all of my videos have to do with synesthesia for the most part, all of my artwork, everything I do live, all colors for every song, because those are the colors specifically for those songs. “
Kanye West attends the 2020 Vanity Fair Oscar Party in Beverly Hills, California. | Rich Fury / Getty Images
Kanye West sees his music as a painting
Musician and fashion designer Kanye West spoke about his synesthesia on Ellen. “I have a disease called synesthesia that makes me see noises,” West revealed to the live audience and presenter Ellen DeGeneres. “Everything I do sonically is a painting. I see it. I see the importance and the value of each individual to experience a better life. “
Lorde to perform on July 21, 2021 | Lloyd Bishop / NBCU Photo Bank
Lorde used her chromaesthesia to perfect ‘tennis court’
Singer / songwriter Lorde revealed herself to be a synesthet in a Twitter Q&A. She has chromesthesia, a type of synesthesia in which sounds are translated into colors. When Lorde hears certain musical notes and noises, she sees the corresponding colors.
Lorde has stated that synesthesia is a driving force behind all of their work. “If the colors of a song are too oppressive or ugly, sometimes I don’t want to work on them. When we started on ‘Tennis Court’ we just had this pad that played the chords and it was the worst textured tan, like really out of date, and it got me sick, and then we found out that the pre-chorus and I started with the lyrics and the song turned to all these incredible shades of green overnight! “
Grimes Attends Marvel Studios’ Captain Marvel Premiere | Frazer Harrison / Getty Images
Grimes can see people’s spirit animals
Canadian musician Grimes’ synesthesia is a bit unusual even for a synesthete. The singer can “look at a person and see what kind of animal they would be”.
For her own animal, Grimes claims she is both “a hyena and a beluga. The hyenas are crazy – female hyenas have penises! And they laugh all the time – like Puck, they are the sacred fool of the animal kingdom. And the beluga is similar; it always smiles. “
Pharrell Williams Attends Inter Miami CF Season Opening Party | Johnny Louis / WireImage
Pharrell Williams sees each musical note as a different color
The all-rounder Pharrell Williams is so attuned to his synesthesia that his music group NERD even named one of their albums “Seeing Sounds”.
Speaking to Psychology Today about his synesthesia in 2012, Williams explained, “There are seven basic colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and purple. And they also correspond to musical notes … Know whether you believe it or not, what gives you an octave is the amalgamation of all colors. “