Ariana Grande – thank u, next
Ariana Grande made the break-up song to end all break-up songs when she released ‘thank u, next’ in 2019 and name-checked four high-profile ex-boyfriends (Pete Davidson, Mac Miller, Big Sean and Ricky Alvarez). Grande is living proof that you can truly shine after aforementioned break-ups with this mighty music video being evidence in itself.
Perhaps this is a song for a few months/years down the line when you are actually grateful for the experience rather than in that immediate post-break up period.
Beyoncé – Irreplaceable
’To the left to the left’… never has someone moving their stuff out of a shared flat been so catchy. Beyoncé reminded us all that no one is ever ‘irreplaceable’, giving a modern update to the ‘if it’s meant to be’ adage.
Fleetwood Mac – Go Your Own Way
The song begins ‘loving you isn’t the right thing to do’, suggesting that sometimes life gets in the way and relationships break down despite the love you may have for one another.
Written by Lyndsey Buckingham in 1976, in the aftermath of his break-up from bandmate Stevie Nicks, the song is still regarded as iconic all these years later.
Destiny’s Child – Independent Women Part II
If we’re honest, many of Destiny’s Child’s songs are appropriate for break-ups: ‘Girl’ reenforces the need to lean on friends post break-up, ‘Jumpin’ Jumpin’ tells you to head to the club with your friends ASAP, ‘Survivor’ reminds us of how strong we are and, well, ‘Independent Women’ is pretty self-explanatory.
Lauryn Hill – Ex-Factor
Released in 1998 on her bestselling post-Fugees album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, ‘Ex-Factor’ documents the painful final stages of a relationship through Hill’s soulful melodies and riffs.
Recently, the song has been sampled by Drake and Cardi B, proving its legacy status as the ultimate heartbreak song.
No Doubt – Don’t Speak
In 1996, the band released ‘Don’t Speak’ which had been rewritten by Gwen Stefani to reflect her break-up from her No Doubt bandmate Tony Kanal.
Reflecting on the hit single when the band reunited in 2021, Kanal told The Guardian: ‘We were on tour for 28 months. We were going through the breakup and in every interview we were talking about it so we were opening this wound on an hourly basis. It was so brutal, but I don’t know how we made it through.’
Sinéad O’Connor – Nothing Compares 2 U
Is there a song more devastating? No, we don’t think so. As for the lyrics, we have Prince to thank for that. O’Connor recorded the heartbreak track four years after the ‘Purple Rain’ singer wrote it with a new arrangement – and accompanied it with a simple yet powerful music video – and it was a hit.
Amy Winehouse – Tears Dry On Their Own
’Back To Black’ and ‘Love Is A Losing Game’ are two of Winehouse’s best known break-up songs, but the upbeat tempo of ‘Tears Dry On Their Own’ coupled with the late singer’s powerful, unrivalled vocals serves to uplift, reminding us that happier times can come after walking away from a relationship.
All Saints – Never Ever
The instantly recognisable piano chords, spoken word intro and moody backing vocals cement this song’s status as an iconic Nineties break-up anthem.
Penned by bandmate Shaznay Lewis after a break-up (who then delivers a rousing second bridge, we might add), the hurt, confusion and breakdown of communication around a break-up is felt through the lyrics.
Bill Withers – Ain’t No Sunshine
The late Bill Withers wrote this devastating song about heartbreak in 1971, yet it still stands as one of the most emotional break-up songs, which is why it’s been featured in the sad moments of romantic movies like Notting Hill.
Robyn – With Every Heartbeat
Despite the EDM beat and synth-esque sounds in the backing track, the lyrics to ‘With Every Heartbeat’ – where Robyn contemplates ending a relationship or continuing even though the relationship is difficult – are crushing.
Beyoncè – Sorry
Though Lemonade was an album about heartbreak, betrayal and ultimately choosing to stay with a partner in spite of the hurt, ‘Sorry’ has to be featured on this list for several reasons. 1. ‘Tell that boy, bye’ is now embedded in pop culture when referencing break-ups, 2. Serena Williams and Beyoncé are formidable in the video and 3. The song serves as a final warning for a straying partner.
Miley Cyrus – Midnight Sky
Written and released in the aftermath of her separation from husband Liam Hemsworth, ‘Midnight Sky’ sees Cyrus reclaiming her independence with lyrics like ‘I was born to run, I don’t belong to anyone’ set against samples of Stevie Nicks’ ‘Edge Of Seventeen’.
Dua Lipa – New Rules
Lipa reminds everyone that ‘if you’re under him, you ain’t getting over him’ as part of her many new rules for what to do after a break-up in this huge hit from the Grammy winner’s debut self-titled album.
Lizzo – Truth Hurts
Thank you to Lizzo for reminding us that we are ‘100% that b*tch’ regardless of what’s going on in our relationships. Full of confidence-instilling one-liners and lyrics, this is an infectious, uplifting song for the millennial generation.
Adele – Someone Like You
One of the most devastating break-up songs of recent time came thanks to Adele with her second album. The singer’s 2011 performance at the BRIT awards – where she silenced the O2 arena with her emotive vocal chords – has gone down as one of the very best by the multi-Grammy winner.
Jorja Smith X Preditah – On My Mind
An anthem to dance and sing along to when you’ve reached the post break-up stage of acceptance and the realisation that things weren’t perfect.
Gotye – Somebody That I Used To Know
This reflective song, looking back on a former relationship with hindsight, was released in 2012 and brought a new format to the break-up song genre by featuring two singers (Gotye and Kimbra) providing alternate perspectives of the relationship.
Carrie Underwood – Before He Cheats
Even if we are less familiar with country music in the UK, the palpable anger of Underwood radiates through this raging break-up anthem about a cheating ex-boyfriend.
Frank Ocean – Thinkin Bout You
A track from Ocean’s critically-acclaimed Channel Orange album, but was actually written for another artist before Ocean decided to keep it for himself.
Sam Smith – I’m Not The Only One
Another crooner with an association for singing sad songs about love is Smith, who released ‘I’m Not The Only One’ in 2014 and accompanied it with a star-studded music video chronicling a Hollywood affair.
Gloria Gaynor – I Will Survive
An oldie but a goodie. Even in 1978, Gloria Gaynor knew best when she reminded us that even without our former partner ‘by our side’ we will most definitely survive.
Taylor Swift – We Are Never Getting Back Together
A karaoke classic and one of Swift’s best known songs about love. Released for her xx album, the star joyfully sings how this time it really is over because she just can’t put up with his rubbish excuses any more.
The singer explained how the song came about when a friend of an ex-boyfriend walked into the recording studio she was in and questioned whether they were in fact getting back together.
’He starts talking about how he’s heard we were getting back together and that was not the case,’ Swift told ABC. ‘When he leaves, Max and Johan [Swifts co-songwriters] are like, “what’s the story behind that?” And so I start telling them the story of break up, get back together, break up, get back together, just, ugh, the worst. Max says, “this is what we’re writing. We’re writing this song”, and I picked up the guitar and just started singing… It just happened so fast. It was so much fun.’
Mariah Carey – Shake It Off
Though ‘We Belong Together’ is a very emotional song about heartbreak (‘When you left, I lost a part of me’), for the vibe of picking yourself up and getting back out there we’ll listen to another song on The Emancipation Of Mimi – ‘Shake It Off’ – instead.
Jazmine Sullivan – Bust The Windows Out Your Car
Another song with immediate post-break up anger at the centre of it is Sullivan’s heartbreak classic about smashing an ex’s car. She sings how it didn’t ‘mend her broken heart’ it helped with the initial rage (though we don’t advise doing this at home, people).
Toni Braxton – Un-Break My Heart
This Grammy winning song – written by Diane Warren and produced by David Foster – sums up the initial pain and trauma of a break-up so beautifully.
Mahalia – I Wish I Missed My Ex
Showing it’s not all doom and gloom after a break-up, Mahalia sings about feeling just ‘fine?’ after a break-up.
As she told NME in 2018: ‘It’s basically me just talking about breaking up with somebody, them constantly calling me and me just being like “I’m really sorry but I’m just not feeling this anymore”. Its that’s kind of thing where its not a spiteful song, its actually kind of the opposite, its saying “I wish I missed you, but I don’t”.’
Rihanna – Take A Bow
A Good Girl Gone Bad era Rihanna sarcastically tells her ex to ‘take a bow’ after breaking her heart, betraying and fooling her. Fun fact: It was co-written by Rihanna’s fellow R&B artist Ne-Yo.
Kelly Clarkson – Since U Been Gone
A break-up song to scream at the top of your lungs when you’ve finally ditched your rubbish ex.
Lorde – Green Light
Emerging with a second album and new sound in 2017, Lorde arrived with this break-up anthem. Explaining to Apple Music’s Zane Lowe that the song is about her ‘first major heartbreak’.
’The song is really about those moments kind of immediately after your life changes and about all the silly little things that you gravitate towards. I say, “She thinks you love the beach, you’re such a liar.” What the f*ck, she thinks you like the beach?! You don’t like the beach! It’s those little stupid things,’ the singer explained.
Lorde, we relate.
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