Breakups aren’t easy, but being single (and possibly heartbroken) doesn’t mean you are alone. In fact, now you’re in the company of some of the writers and creators of some of the most beautiful songs of all time. You may not have your ex to turn to anymore, but you have something way better: a catalog of break up songs that show us its possible to create something beautiful out of something heart-wrenching.
There is a breakup song for every type of break up, and for that, we should be forever grateful. Sifting through the thousands of breakup ballads is like going down a rabbit hole, so we made you a quiz instead. Follow our flow chart to discover the perfect breakup song for your most recent heartbreak. At the bottom, you’ll find an explanation for why we chose each song, along with some of their representative lyrics. Also, you can listen to them!
The best breakup songs
“Your Ex-Lover Is Dead”—Stars
There’s one thing I want to say, so I’ll be brave
You were what I wanted
I gave what I gave
I’m not sorry I met you
I’m not sorry it’s over
I’m not sorry there’s nothing to save
Even if you have no regrets, finding closure is a tumultuous process. The vulnerability of the lyrics in the 2004 indie song “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead” show that when it comes to moving on, being honest is the bravest thing you can do.
“Fake Empire”—The National
Turn the light out, say goodnight
No thinking for a little while
Let’s not try to figure out everything at once
It’s hard to keep track of you falling through the sky
There’s something about the way that the piano melody on this 2004 song slip in and out of tempo that oozes nostalgia: temporality is slippery, it seems to say. And though the lyrics are ostensibly about post-modern disaffection, someone undergoing the disillusionment of romance will relate to the more universal message: there’s often a rotten core hidden underneath the shiny surface of a thing, but when you think back on that thing, you’re likely to recall the glint and not the rot.
Well, I’ve been afraid of changing
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you
Getting to un-know someone is arguably much harder than getting to know them—especially when your life revolved around your relationship with them. This 1975 song touches on the fragility of unraveling yourself from a relationship and gaining the strength to move on independently.
Never saw it coming, what a cheap shot
Your strongest enemies the one who know ya weak spot
Not only does Fabolous sample Marvin Gaye on this 2014 track, he also speaks to a lesson found in many of Gaye’s tracks: that people who know you the best can hurt you the most.
Loving you is like a battle (it’s like a battle)
And we both end up with scars
Tell me, who I have to be
To get some reciprocity
This 1998 song speaks to the feeling of being in a relationship that will never work, but pining for it anyway, and to Hill’s ability to make anything she sings feel soulful. Somehow, “Ex-Factor” sounds like it’s crying despite the fact that it samples a Wu-Tang-Clan beat.
“Ain’t No Sunshine”—Bill Withers
Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone
Only darkness every day
Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone
And this house just ain’t no home anytime she goes away
Coming to the realization that you just lost someone you love forever is brutal—but there is a silver lining. You are now a part of a pretty cool club, one that includes Withers, Sam Smith, Lauryn Hill, and countless others who not only suffered heartbreak but made it through. If you aren’t ready to express your feelings about that experience yourself, let Mr. Withers do it for you.
“Love of My Life”—Queen
Bring it back, bring it back, don’t take it away from me
Because you don’t know what it means to me’
This speaks to the power of breakup songs to talk about pain while also exuding romance. If you feel you lost the love of your life, this 1975 song is for you. It leaves you feeling grateful you had the chance to experience such intense love, even though it may be coming to an end.
“Tuesday Heartbreak”—Stevie Wonder
Tuesday heartbreak seem to be a drag
When you know that you love her especially
Catch up baby, catch up with my dreams
Maybe then I can see you all the time
Wonder’s 1972 song embodies the pain of not being able to be with the love of your life because you have conflicting aspirations for the relationship. The song’s beauty lies in the conflict between its tragic lyrics and its joyous tone. By the end of the song, your sorrow feels less heavy and your mind feels more clear.
“X”—21 Savage & Metro Boomin
Ten bad bitches in a mansion
Wrist on Milly Rock them diamonds on me dancin’
When you workin’ hard then your money start expandin’
If you are taking the jealousy route, 21 Savage should be playing in the background. Not only does he rap about how he is moving on with other girls, but he highlights his recent career success as well.
“I Will Survive”—Gloria Gaynor
I used to cry
But now I hold my head up high and you see me
I’m not that chained-up little person and still in love with you
The confidence in this 1978 song is contagious. If you know, deep down, that you don’t want to go back to your ex, this song’ll help make sure you don’t.
“Before He Cheats”—Carrie Underwood
I took a Louisville slugger to both headlights
Slashed a hole in all four tires
Maybe next time, he’ll think before he cheats
If retaliation is what you want, this 2005 song is all the inspiration you need.It might be immature, but what could offer more closure than getting revenge on your ex while simultaneously warning their new love interest about their cheating ways?
“Put Me Thru”—Anderson .Paak
There I go, volunteering, punish me
Self inflicted pain, sickness over used
Will I let it ride? (Here I stay)
Here I stay, time to time
If you left your recent relationship feeling disappointed in yourself, know you are not alone. “Put Me Thru” shows the dichotomy of pain and pleasure that in many cases characterize relationships. More importantly, Anderson .Paak’s 2016 song emphasizes how you can often end up sacrificing yourself when you are blinded by love.
“Sex With Me”—Rihanna
Sex with me, so amazing
All this all hard work, no vacation
Stay up off my Instagram, pure temptation
Everyone should enter the dating pool with the confidence Rihanna embodies in this 2016 song.
Think I’m better off here all alone tonight
Ain’t no checkin’ on when I get home tonight
Just makin’ sure I’m good on my own tonight
This 2019 song off Grande’s Thank U, Next breakup album is an extended metaphor, in which the musician is the universe and her ex is NASA. There are parts of the universe that NASA hasn’t explored, and those undiscovered parts of the universe are where its real strength lies.
Thank you, thank you so
For being the hardest heartbreak I will ever know
For helping me grow, to help me see
That I deserve the very best
And that is something you will never, never see
OFLO’s “Thank You,” released in 2018, demonstrates that unhealthy relationships can be used as opportunities for growth. You can use a breakup to learn from your mistakes and, if you do, it’ll alleviate the hostility you might otherwise feel when a relationship ends.
“Consideration”—Rihanna ft. SZA
I got to do things my own way darling
You should just let me
Will you ever respect me? No
Do things my own way darling
You should just let me
Why you ain’t ever let me grow?
Love has the ability to make you feel free or trapped. If the latter is true for you, this 2016 song will help you start prioritizing your personal growth over your previous relationship’s.
It’s Breakup Week at Quartz! Here are more stories on breakups, breaking up, and heartbreak: