We’ve heard nonstop buzz about Hot Girl Summer this year, especially as pandemic restrictions are loosened and we can return to Hot Girl activities. But while I love to indulge in the carefree confidence artists like Meagan Thee Stallion have championed, I am a firm believer in holding space for Sad Girl Summer. There are plenty of people who fell into relationships during the pandemic, and as things begin opening up, it’s clear that many of those so-called “quarantine couples” are finally parting ways. Whether you’re going through it, or just looking to sit in your feels for a while, here are some of the best breakup songs to get you through.
1. “Till It Happens To You” – Corinne Bailey Rae
Corinne Bailey Rae became an instant sensation with her stunning self-titled 2006 album. This song is so sultry, with Corinne’s voice taking center stage. “You won’t believe what love can do, ’til it happens to you” she sings in the chorus. She perfectly captures the yearning and desperation that comes after a devastating breakup, and the disbelief at how your feelings can possibly be this intense.
2. “tolerate it” – Taylor Swift
I remember when ‘evermore’ first came out, and I put the album on during my commute. When the wafting piano on this song came in, I didn’t know what I was in for. Taylor describes everything she lovingly does for her partner, painting a portrait of them, setting the dinner table, and waiting for them to get home each day, only to watch them “tolerate it”. When that first “tolerate it” came in, I had to pull over. Taylor Swift was able to paint such a vivid picture of unreciprocated love, with the most devastating lyrics. I actually cite that first listen as one of the key moments I knew an old relationship was over. Swift has truly earned her title as the queen of the breakup song.
3. “Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right” – Bob Dylan
This song is from early within Dylan’s discography, and its musing on love is so uniquely youthful. At the time, Dylan’s girlfriend Suze Rotolo had just moved to Italy to attend university, and in this song Dylan bids her farewell for the last time. This song is about moving on, letting go, but also wishing the best for this person you once loved. Even in moments of bitterness, he never tells her to regret leaving, because in the end, that’s life, and that simply comes with being a young person navigating love while trying to start down your own path.
4. “Habits (Stay High)” Hippie Sabotage Remix – Tove Lo
This song was a smash hit when it first came out and for good reason. Tove Lo’s saga of post-breakup self-destruction struck a chord with so many people, not only for its soaring chorus, but because of its relatability. Hippie Sabotage take the party-girl aesthetic of Tove Lo’s original and elevate it to its full potential. In this remix, the drop as Lo sings “You’re gone and I gotta stay high all the time to keep you off my mind” is literally perfect, representing the ecstasy and inner turmoil that comes with numbing the pain by any means necessary.
5. “Lost Ones” – Jazmine Sullivan
Jazmine Sullivan is my favorite new voice in R&B. Her most recent album ‘Heaux Tales’ tackles all aspects of navigating dating as a woman. This song “Lost Ones” is Sullivan’s heartbreaking open letter to an ex. My favorite breakup songs approach the subject with extreme specificity, examining a specific angle of the emotion of loss. If you’ve ever had your heart broken, you know how all-consuming that feeling is. When an artist can identify one of our specific desires or regrets, can break through the confusion and weight of that devastation through storytelling, it feels like pure magic. When Sullivan sings, “Just don’t have to much fun without me… please don’t forget about me, try not to love no one” I feel that magic. The way Sullivan begs this person to keep her in their thoughts, to not force her to see them move on, shows how attached to them she really is. She can bear the physical loss, but still can’t begin to imagine how she will move on.
6. “I Will Survive” – Gloria Gaynor
This song is probably the most celebratory song on this list. This is the best pick-me-up song when reeling from heartbreak. Sometimes all you need to know is that you will indeed survive, and that you are stronger than you think. Gaynor yelling at her former man to “Go! Walk out the door!” is probably the most thrilling verse to sing along to as you picture kicking your ex to the curb.
7. “Stayaway” – MUNA
MUNA’s songwriting is absolutely phenomenal, and this is possibly the best demonstration of that. The verses on this song are perfectly structured, with a driving rhythm that puts you directly in their stream of consciousness. If you have the feeling like everything reminds you of your ex, or are trying to exercise control over your crazy side, this is the perfect song for you.
8. “What Used To Be Mine” – Faye Webster
This song is off of Faye Webster’s breakout album ‘Atlanta Millionaires Club”, and is still one of my favorite songs in her discography. The track leans into Webster’s country influences sonically and lyrically, with crooning steel guitar and precise storytelling. There’s distance and time between Webster and her ex, but everywhere she goes, the billboards, cities, and neighborhoods remind her of their old relationship. You can feel the subtle ache of those tender memories in Faye’s voice. The simplicity of this song combined with that authenticity makes it truly great.
9. “Silver Springs” – Fleetwood Mac
The year was 1997, nearly 20 years after Stevie Nicks and Lyndsey Buckingham had broken up. “Silver Springs” was released as a B-Side to “Go Your Own Way”, and was rarely performed live. But at this taping of a Fleetwood Mac reunion show, the band decided to play it. In the last bridge, Nicks turned directly to Buckingham, singing “Time cast a spell on you, but you won’t forget me… I will follow you down until the sound of my voice will haunt you… you will never get away from the sound of the woman who loves you”. It was possibly one of the most intense moments in music history, but speaks to the spirit of this song. Nicks found power in knowing that her bandmate would forever have to hear her voice, will have to hear the songs she wrote for him, and will live with the knowledge that he can never run from that deafening sound. It’s a testament to Nicks’ power, her stubbornness, and her sensitivity.
10. “Don’t Know How To Keep Loving You” – Julia Jacklin
Julia Jacklin’s sophomore album ‘Crushing’ was one of my favorite records of 2019, and this song is a definitive highlight on that album. When you’re with someone for so long, your lives become pretty intertwined without you even realizing it. Your moms become friends, you start to understand how the person thinks, what they want, and who they are. When you can’t figure out how to stay with this person, how to stay in love, but also aren’t sure how you could possibly leave, you’re left with this confusion and desperation. You may try to change your appearance, or the dynamic of your relationship, but who’s to say if that will work or if you just need to leave . These are all questions Jacklin wrestles with on “Don’t Know How To Keep Loving You”. It’s a profound look at the perils of intimacy, and put Jacklin’s tenacity and insight on full display.