Does it have to address the breakup in the lyrics? Taylor Swift has many entrants in this category, and Marvin Gaye penned an entire album about his divorce. We here at The Ringer believe that since heartache comes in many forms, so should the breakup song.
The list spans several decades and many different moods, but all are rooted in some type of pain. There was only one rule for the final ranking: just one song per artist was included to avoid Dolly Parton or even Drake from dominating. Like, ever.
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It rules. Anyway, where are my altos at? This is our karaoke song. Also, Eric Roberts in the video.
Just like a broken relationship. On this classic Motown tearjerker, Smokey embodies the idea of the sad clown better than any song ever has. And the makeup only makes the tear tracks that much more apparent. This song is so petty and I love it.
This is one of those bangers that you and your girls blast post-breakup, pre-going-out. Long may she reign. The earworm of a generation! Blood strikes such a chord because the heartache it mines feels at once deeply personal and universal.
The song cycles through the same phases that so many of us do while processing heartbreak: denial, despair, anger, desire. Oasis knows a thing or two about writing for the communal sing-along, the importance of the languid, memorable melody and the propulsive chord change—this song would carry about the same emotional weight if it were just a title and a chorus. Sometimes you have to lie to yourself to get through heartache.
Rollercoaster of emotions
I can do better. And the only way to work through the pain is to drop the lying and come clean with himself. No matter your current relationship status, you will for sure sing your heart out when this song comes on. I do not care, I am Mary J. Also, remember when Tamera sang this song for the talent show on Sister, Sister? Breakups are freeing; breakups are imprisoning. When you come out of a yearslong relationship, you have to relearn how to live without that person in your life. Parts of that process are beautiful—reconnecting with old friends, picking up a new hobby, shaking off the shackles.
But the breakup sticks with you.
Your best hope is just giving in and living for yourself. Is he happy for her? Guess what I saw?
“chelsea hotel #2,” leonard cohen
Turns out this woman did not have what Biz Markie needed. As he singsplains, he became kitten smitten with a woman at one of his shows.
My guy. Sit down. First off, she was not your girl. You met her one time. Second, you did not catch her tongue-kissing a dude.
You stalked her. Third, it was extremely obvious that this friend was not just her friend. What Biz Markie needed was someone to listen to his story and give him honest feedback about his predicament. You know, a friend. Usher is all over the place. Get your shit together, Usher!
Still, for all of its confusing back-and-forth, this is a breakup classic. After a heartbreak, everyone has found themselves teetering on the line between regret and freedom. Or if you need some more twang accompanying your despair, you can try the Faith Hill version. The call-and-response structure of the chorus builds those simmering resentments and releases them with a sharp, primal cry.
A good rule for breakup songs is that there has to be a part that you can yell along to, unencumbered by silly things like constraint and self-awareness. You know the story by now: InJustin Vernon broke up with his girlfriend, packed up his car, and drove into the Wisconsin wilderness, emerging only after recording an album of weepy breakup songs.
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Lemonade was inspired by true events—i. You switch from one emotion to another in a matter of minutes. She opens the song with confidence: No other woman can give what she can. The cute oneif you will.
He even had the perfect girlfriend for that type of stardom: Britney Spears, with whom he pulled off this iconic denim fit. He had split with not only Britney, but also his past, and he was ready for the world. This song was first released by Gladys Knight and the Pips in A year later Marvin Gaye released a slower version of it on his album In the Groove. Perhaps the song resonated with Gaye because he married a year-old woman when he was only 24, and their marriage was full of infidelities.
Each line, so honest it hurts, is about the fruitless search for reason in a scenario devoid of it. Still, no one can capture the raw, uncomfortable emotion that Lauryn originally did—and no one ever will.
More than 40 years of speculation later, we now know that the singer was describing the actor Warren Beatty. This song is a decision to be done with suffering over a relationship, to recommit to oneself, to focus on healing and establishing new patterns. To not only rehearse past losses but to envision future victories, and also to live in the moment, to be here now. This to do the actual, day-in, day-out work of being happy.
Lindsey Buckingham, of course, has been known to belt out a sweetly caustic breakup anthem or two himself. As the second and best!
Or any man, depending on how hard you vibe with this song. Now he just wants another chance to prove that he knows how to treat her right.
There is a moment in every breakup where, after a few weeks of self-pity, you shed your sweatpant cocoon, step outside, and, with the instantaneity of a rubber band snap, suddenly know deep within your heart that your ex was an insufferable blowhard. Parton is sympathetic, yet determined to go. You might be a girlfriend, a husband, a partner, or even a friend with benefits. Whatever role you play in service of love, it comes with a label that sets expectations.
There is clarity and comfort in knowing where you stand with someone. But despite all of our semantics and promises, the terrifying reality of our love lives is that love itself can be a ruthlessly nonbinding agreement, an at-will arrangement.
She sets down her slide guitar, sits Bruce Hornsby down at the piano, and sings the absolute fuck out of this song with confidence and grace. The songs that touch us most deeply are the ones that unite us through the most human of shared experiences. What more could you want—other than sweet, sweet vengeance?