Kanye West And Charli XCX Can See Music -- Wait, What?

Plus more famous folks with synesthesia.

It's no just coincidence that some musicians are more gifted than others -- in some cases, people like Charli XCX and Kanye West have something in their brains that gives them a little extra oomph when it comes to perception. That something's name? That would be synesthesia.

"People would always ask me how I came up with my music and what it felt like to make music and I would always see colors and then I found out that that was synesthesia," Charli recently told Nylon. "It helps me understand songs and what I like." Songs that she likes, like those on her upcoming record Sucker, are red and pink. Those she doesn't -- read anything by Pitbull -- are green.

To the casual observer, Charli's admission might seem a little out-there, but synesthesia is actually a pretty commonly studied trait. Author Maureen Seaberg -- who has penned a blog for Psychology Today and a book on the subject, Struck By Genius: How a Brain Injury Made Me a Mathematical Marvel -- is among those who explore it.

A synesthete herself, Seaberg wants to clear up to the general public how the trait works in the roughly 4% of people who boast it. "Everybody thinks that synesthetes get a substitution of sense -- like an inappropriate sense -- for stimulus," she told MTV News. "If I say [the number six] is green, people think I don't see the black on a white newspaper background [where the six is printed] -- but I do." She just sees green, too.

So, with Charli, she can still hear the songs on Sucker -- including that new banger of a track, "Breaking Up" -- but she can also see the color her brain associates with it. She doesn't see color in lieu of hearing music, in other words.

Artist Michal Levy's video shows what she sees when she listens to jazz.

"All it really it is is bonus senses," Seaberg explained, and added that there have been studies that show that creative people -- like Charli -- are more likely to have those bonus senses. Still, it's believed that we're all born with these abilities; we just lose them over time. Although, Seaberg said that we can experience them again by practicing meditation.

It wasn't until the 20th century, however, that synesthesia became something that was seriously studied, Seaberg said, citing neurologist Richard E. Cytowic as central to figuring out how the trait affects the human brain. For example, a brain scan of Seaberg herself, who sees sixes as green, would show that the number and color centers in her brain light up when she sees the digit.

So who else, aside from Seaberg and Charli, has synesthesia? Let's take a look at some more famous people who claim to possess the trait:

Pharrell Williams


"It's the only way that I can identify what something sounds like," Williams told NPR of his synesthesia. "I know when something is in key because it either matches the same color or it doesn't. Or it feels different and it doesn't feel right."

Kanye West


“I give you paintings, sonic paintings," West told Seth Meyers earlier this year. "You know, I have synesthesia. I can see sound in front of me."

Blood Orange


“The way it works for me is my sight and sound senses are combined," Blood Orange (a.k.a. Dev Hynes) said during a TED talk on the subject. "Every sound I associate with a color and every color I associate with a sound. The way I see things is constant streamers across the room, bouncing off from every touch and every sound. Over the years, I’ve learned what color palates I love most.”

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