So you’re going through a breakup. The bad news: it’s never easy. The good news: you’re not alone with your aching heart. If the music we listen to is any indication, then breaking up, feeling down about it and hopefully finding the courage to move on are some of the most common shared human experiences. As centuries of forlorn singletons have learned and generations of songwriters have mastered, one of the best cures for heartbreak is the balm of music that speaks to our souls — or maybe helps us rationalize away the tears.
“Heartache is what motivates many artists to write songs in the first place,” explains Spotify’s trends expert Shanon Cook to us; there are over half a million breakup-themed playlists on the platform alone. “Some people might not want or know how to articulate how they’re feeling during a rough time,” Cook adds. “Maybe it’s nice to let Sam Smith or Kelly Clarkson express it for you.”
While some classics remain timeless in their appeal — songs like Beyoncé‘s “Irreplaceable,” Adele‘s “Someone Like You” and Kelly Clarkson‘s “Since U Been Gone” remain the top three most popular additions to breakup-themed playlists on Spotify, for instance — 2018 and recent years have their own new music to throw into the heartbreak-and-recovery mix. There’s The Weeknd‘s appropriately dejected songs from his new EP My Dear Melancholy, for instance, and some powerful tunes from the past year by pop queens St. Vincent, Lorde, Kesha and P!nk, to name just a few.
As Cook notes, you can pretty much slot breakup songs into two categories: “raw, tender tracks that tap into the fragility of the human heart” (think: Adele), or “dismissive, I-don’t-care-I’m-so-over-you type of songs” (here’s where Clarkson would come in). “Interestingly, a great many of the popular songs in break-up-themed playlists are pop songs and the artists, for the most part, are big celebrities,” Cook continues, suggesting that we often turn to familiar, beloved artists when we’re going through a rough time.
Below, we have pulled together a list of some of the most popular breakup songs on those Spotify playlists, as well as some under-the-radar favorites that might just come in handy when dealing with a broken heart. Here’s to moving on — eventually.
“Call Out My Name,” The Weeknd
When The Weeknd dropped an EP My Dear Melancholy in March 2018, he had not one but two breakups to pour out into his dark, moody R&B. On “Call Out My Name,” his raw heartbreak comes through loud and clear. “I almost cut a piece of myself for your life / Guess I was just another pit stop.” At least we can commiserate with The Weeknd, who’s going through it right alongside the rest of us.
“Chelsea Hotel #2,” Leonard Cohen
Some heartbreak is predicated on just a few powerful moments. “You got away, didn’t you babe?” Cohen recalls in this simple, poetic ode to a love affair gone awry. “I never once heard you say, ‘I need you.’” Time marches on, the moment passes, and we’re left with Cohen’s evocative memories.
“Stay,” Rihanna feat. Mikky Ekko
As it turns out, Rihanna can turn on the tears just as well as she can pump up the party. “Stay,” her 2012 collaboration with singer-songwriter Mikky Ekko, is an aching, searching ballad that lets her lead in an expressive push and pull duet. “The reason I hold on / ’cause I need this hole gone
/ Funny you’re the broken one / but I’m the only one who needed saving,” they join together to sing — an apt description of how we can get it twisted.
“Heartbeats,” José González
Sweet and dreamy, González’s “Heartbeats” sounds like what a warm bath feels like at the end of a long, hard day. Let his subtle guitar and rolling voice take you away.
“Love Yourself,” Justin Bieber
It was a song that ruled airwaves — and, in its simplicity of construction and catchiness of refrain, remains timeless. When you’re ready to move on, “Love Yourself” should be on repeat. Because as Bieber tells us, “And now I know, I’m better sleeping on my own.”
“Ain’t No Sunshine,” Bill Withers
This Bill Withers classic tells it like it is, in signature blues style with its haunting instrumentation. “Only darkness when she’s gone,” he croons. “And this house just ain’t a home any time she goes away.”
“Skinny Love,” Bon Iver
For a little bit of folk salvation, turn to Bon Iver, whose evocative strums and lilting voice speak straight to the soul. “I tell my love to wreck it all
/ Cut out all the ropes and let me fall,” he mourns. “And now all your love is wasted / And then who the hell was I?” Sometimes we can’t be the people we want to be in love; sometimes they can’t be the people we want them to be, either.
“Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright,” Bob Dylan
A little harmonica, a little Dylan poetry, and you’re well on your way to recovery. Some things just aren’t meant to be. “It ain’t not use in turning on your light, babe / I’m on the dark side of the road,” he shrugs. Go ahead, shrug it off with him.
“Someone Like You,” Adele
Sit down. Grab the Kleenex. Cue up “Someone Like You.” This is the ritual of heartbreak. Adele’s range evokes every shade of pain, regret and nostalgia. “For me, it isn’t over,” she admits. And yet: “Never mind, I’ll find someone like you,” she fights on.
“Stitches,” Shawn Mendes
When you’re still in the thick of it, turn to young crooner Mendes, who sings like he means it. “Just like a moth drawn to a flame, you lured me in, I couldn’t sense the pain,” he sighs. Yet stitches suggests that things are soon to be on the mend.
“Back to Black,” Amy Winehouse
The jazzy swing of “Back to Black” belies the darkness of Winehouse’s challenging mixed emotions. “We only said goodbye with words / I died a hundred times,” she croons. Some failures hurt every time.
“Somebody That I Used to Know,” Gotye
Given a little time and introspection, perhaps the relationship wasn’t so perfect after all. That’s what Gotye and Kimbra are here to tell us on the insidious and light 2011 breakout hit “Somebody That I Used to Know.” “Told myself that you were right for me / But felt so lonely in your company / But that was love and it’s an ache I still remember,” Gotye sings: even the frustrations come with their lingering appeal, despite it all.
“Let Her Go,” Passenger
Passenger has a sweet, light touch on “Let Her Go” that will be soothing to anyone mourning a relationship’s end. “‘Cause you only need the light when it’s burning low / Only miss the sun when it starts to snow / Only know you love her when you let her go,” he sings. Yes: we always want what we can’t have. That bittersweet truth is something we just have to sit with.
“Stay With Me,” Sam Smith
After a breakup, it might not be a bad idea to just play both of Sam Smith‘s albums on back-to-back repeat for a few days — if your heart can handle it. That’s what the British crooner is best at: tapping into that emotional ache and wringing every bit of beautiful sound out of it. When you’re still in the thick of the regret stage, turn to “Stay With Me” to say in song everything you want to say out loud. The melody is so pretty that humming along might help you feel just a little better.
“To the left, to the left / everything you own in a box to the left.” In this 2006 classic and breakup mainstay, Beyoncé wrote the playbook on kicking someone out — and when the Queen speaks, it’s worth listening. The gentle R&B ballad is a reminder to value yourself first; let the partners make their own mistakes.
“I Fall Apart,” Post Malone
Post Malone’s big hit may be titled “rockstar,” but it turns out that the bulk of his work is actually not about living the good life. Instead, the Texan singer-songwriter has a knack for setting his heartbreak and emotional vulnerability to music. Exhibit A: “I Fall Apart,” a warbling, raw slow-jam that falls somewhere between ballad and R&B: “Try to brush it off but it keep on goin’ / All these scars can’t help from showing,” he sings, a reminder that self-medication is not always an answer.
“New York,” St. Vincent
Indie darling St. Vincent knows how to hit the emotional pain points on “New York,” her balladic ode to a relationship long gone, and the city that’s changed around her. “New York isn’t New York without you love,” she admits. “I have lost a hero / I have lost a friend / But for you, darling I’d do it all again.” For anyone who’s stayed in place while others have moved on, the soaring, simple tune should hit home.
“Happier,” Ed Sheeran
Turn to Ed Sheeran for that moment when you know your lover has moved on. And it’s a good thing. And yet. “Ain’t nobody hurt you like I hurt you / but ain’t nobody need you like I do,” he reflects on this down-tempo ballad. It’s a moment of resigning yourself to fate, but also accepting that feelings remain.
“Fix You,” Coldplay
Chris Martin kicks things off with a gut punch: “When you try your best, but you don’t succeed / When you get what you want, but not what you need / When you feel so tired but you can’t sleep / Stuck in reverse… When you love someone but it goes to waste / Could it be worse?” Not by much, no. Thankfully we have the soothing chords of Coldplay to wash over us.
“Retrograde,” James Blake
James Blake’s haunting hum of a voice on “Retrograde” and the staticky buzz of the production in the background feels like a hymn. Is it a love song or a song of yearning? Maybe a bit of both, but dark enough to match a heartbreak mood anyway. “We’re alone now,” he intones. “Ignore everybody else, we’re alone now.”
“What About Us,” P!nk
P!nk has always made big, stadium-ready anthems. “What About Us” is that, but for the outcasts and the lovelorn, a purely beautiful melody amped up by her powerful voice and insistent questions. “What about us? What about the plans that ended in disaster?” she wonders. “What about love? What about trust? What about us?” She may not have the answers, but her music is a good place to start.
Few songs of 2017 pack as much emotional wallop as Kesha’s powerful comeback ballad. “You brought the flames and you put me through hell, I had to learn how to fight for myself,” she admits. But ultimately it’s a song of redemption and healing — with a whistle note good enough to break glass.
“Dreaming with a Broken Heart,” John Mayer
Mayer’s sweet piano ballad is a masterful ode to the broken-hearted. “Is she standing in my room? No she’s not, cause she’s gone, gone, gone, gone,” he sighs. At least his warm, soothing voice is right there with you.
“Fireworks,” First Aid Kit
“Why do I do this to myself?” croon the Swedish folk-singing sisters of First Aid Kit. “Every time, I know the way it ends.” Their song is a lullaby and a balm: we may not learn from our mistakes, but at least we’re not alone in making them.
“Act III: The Reason,” Dennis Lloyd
Don’t blame yourself for what went wrong. In fact, suggests Israeli singer-songwriter Dennis Lloyd, feel free to put it all on the other person. “Act III: The Reason” has an unbeatable, just-dark-enough electro-pop beat and a refrain that bears repeating once you’ve washed your hands of someone who’s done you wrong: “I’m not the reason that you walk away / baby I’m not / I’m not the reason / take all your bags and get the hell away / baby I’m not the reason.”
“Green Light,” Lorde
Lorde balances anger and confidence in equal measure on “Green Light,” an exuberant dance anthem that comes out of a dark place. She’s mad, but she’s over it, just waiting for her spirit to catch up with her mind. “Did it frighten you / How we kissed when we danced on the light up floor?” she taunts her ex. Lesson learned: if you can’t keep up with Lorde, don’t even try to date her.
“Since U Been Gone,” Kelly Clarkson
Clarkson’s classic pop-rock breakup jam is the ultimate I’m-over-it-now singalong song. If you haven’t rocked out to the chorus at full volume at least once in your life, well, you’ve probably never had your heart broken and made it to the other side.
“We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” Taylor Swift
Swift knows a thing or two about moving on. In this 2012 Red album classic, she channels her relatable experiences into the talk-singing that made it a hit. Shout it from the mountaintops along with her: “You go talk to your friends, talk to my friends, talk to me, but we / are never ever ever getting back together.”
“Hit ‘Em Up Style (Oops!),” Blu Cantrell
R&B singer Blu Cantrell takes no prisoners on her memorable 2009 jam “Hit ‘Em Up Style.” It’s as good of an after-breakup playbook as any — if your situation suggests it’s time to get even, instead of getting sad (or mad). “There goes the love we had, but you cheated on me, and that’s for that now,” she chants. “For all the lies you told, this is what you’re owed.” Payback hurts.
“New Rules,” Dua Lipa
“One, don’t pick up the phone / he’s only calling cause he’s drunk and alone.” On her breakout hit, Dua Lipa laid down the law about how to get over someone who is lingering in your life — even though you know it’s high time they hit the road. Listen, memorize and apply to your own life as needed.
“Survivor,” Destiny’s Child
It’s time to pick your head up. From the opening strains of “Survivor,” Destiny’s Child proves that they have made the enduring after-breakup-anthem that the world needs. Take it away, Beyoncé: “Now that you’re out of my life, I’m so much better / You thought that I’d be weak without you, but I’m stronger / You thought that I’d be broke without you, but I’m richer / You thought that I’d be sad without you, I laugh harder.” And repeat.
“Dancing On My Own,” Robyn
“Somebody said you got a new friend. Does she love you better than I can?” iconic Swedish pop singer Robyn wants to know. But follow Robyn’s advice: dance all night. Dance on your own. Who needs anyone else, anyway? Love hurts, but dancing heals.