To put it concisely, breakups suck; but they’re also the driving force behind some of the world’s best movies, TV episodes, art, and music. From the soggy pillowcase phase to the eventual self-loving reincarnation, we’ve rounded up the best breakup songs for whatever stage you’re in.
“Don’t Watch Me Cry” by Jorja Smith
With nearly nothing to it aside from piano keys and Jorja’s absolutely haunting vocals, “Don’t Watch Me Cry” is a somber, indulgent lullaby for the deepest depths of melancholia.
“It’s Gonna Be Lonely” by Prince
Unexpected and prolonged alone time is a universal post-breakup side effect. “It’s Gonna Be Lonely” hits a nearly screeching crescendo about three-fourths of the way in, as Prince somehow seems to make loneliness sound so sexy.
“Your Dog” by Soccer Mommy
On “Your Dog,” Soccer Mommy deftly articulates the very specific resentment that comes with a belittling relationship; the kind of anger that’s sometimes interrupted by the longing for “forehead kisses” but pulls you right back to that initial state of rage. Special thank you to Sophie Allison for giving us “I don’t wanna be your fucking dog” as the ultimate closed-door cry-shout lyric.
“Unhappy” by Outkast
“Might as well have fun once your happiness is done” is the mantra at the epicenter of this Outkast cut, a simple repeated line that holds weight for situations aside from your toe-in-the-water entrance back into the dating scene.
“Thanks 4 Nothing” by Nilüfer Yanya
British indie pop angel Nilüfer Yanya finds a way to sound absolutely ethereal while completely ripping into an ex. “Thanks 4 Nothing” is a gorgeously melodic song that lightly edges on garage rock influences to dig into whomever fucked her up.
“Loose” by Daniel Caesar
For the majority of his catalogue, Daniel Caesar is an R&B healer, delivering messages of intense romance and tales of lust and love. On “Loose,” he lets us know he’s also fully in favor of cutting ties when the time comes.
Plus, you know it’s a gold star-certified R&B breakup track when there’s a recording of a girl on the phone to close it out.
“Broken Clocks” by SZA
I’m getting the lyric, “I’ve had enough of petty dues, I’ve had enough of shitty nudes,” tatted on my chest. As the most relatable bad bitch of our generation, SZA hits the months-later sweet spot of no longer being mad, but also no longer caring, on “Broken Clocks.”
“Can’t Get Enough of Myself” by Santigold feat. BC Unidos
“Can’t Get Enough of Myself” is the world’s most convincing self-love anthem, and that’s not hyperbole. With whistles, claps, and layered vocals, Santigold injects her insane energy and life coach one-liners into a track that’s made for the oh-so-important stage of loving yourself and no one else.
“Needed Me” by Rihanna
If you’re reading this and you have a significant other, break up with them so you can play this the right way. By that, we mean by screaming the lyrics at full volume in the face of the one who’s done you wrong. “Tryna fix your inner issues with a bad bitch” is the most concise, thoughtful read on one-way emotional relationships.
“Tears Dry on Their Own” by Amy Winehouse
With an iconic sample, Amy does the seemingly impossible: She samples “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and does it full, refreshing justice. “Tears Dry On Their Own” is an absolute anthem for finding out the real priorities in life: “I don’t understand / Why do I stress the man / When there’s so many bigger things at hand.”
“It’s Not Right But It’s Okay” by Whitney Houston
Sonically, “It’s Not Right But It’s Okay” is a packed club dance track, but lyrically, it’s an emotional narrative driven by deceit and led by the absolutely piercing vocals that made Whitney the icon she is.
“Unrequited Love” by Lykke Li
“Unrequited Love” is a heart wrenching hymnal from the so-sad-so-sexy Lykke Li, as she mourns the loss of the love she put out that was never returned.
“Can We Still Be Friends?” by Todd Rundgren
For all the resentment on this playlist, we’ve squeezed in some room for the relationships that end with a line that’s a little less harshly drawn. “Can We Still Be Friends?” is an endearingly self-aware plea for friendship against all odds. Todd said it best when he called it a “strange, sad affair.”
“Godspeed” by Frank Ocean
With a reverberating underbelly that drives Frank’s vocals into the heavens, “Godspeed” is a time-stopping confessional that feels like a punch in the chest, without even fully hitting the three-minute mark.
“I’ll let go of my claim on you / It’s a free world,” he gushes. May we all be as big as Frank Ocean after a breakup.
“Ex-Factor” by Lauryn Hill
“Ex-Factor” is a real-time realization of a relationship coming to an end, and the subsequent, illogical competing thoughts of longing and holding on. “I keep letting you back in / How can I explain myself?” Hill ponders in the second verse.
“Cry Me a River” by Justin Timberlake
Not sure anyone else would be bold enough to beatbox while talking shit on a cheating ex, but leave it to Timbaland and Timberlake to transform infidelity into a smooth, futuristic pop ballad.
“Cranes In The Sky” by Solange
Solange runs through a litany of failed self-care attempts (“Tried to run it away, thought then my head be feeling clearer / I traveled 70 states, thought moving around make me feel better”) on the ethereal “Cranes In the Sky,” which describes the roadblocks to and ultimate arrival at self-actualization.
“Everybody Knows” by John Legend
“Everybody knows” reveals a universal truth: that absolutely no one knows what to do or how to cope with their suffering. “Cause everybody knows, that nobody really knows / How to make it work, or how to ease the hurt,” Legend sings.
Listen to all of the songs in the playlist below.
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