10 Personal Picks of Break-up Songs (And Why) – Pt I
by Karen E. Chin
Listening to Gloria Gaynor’s, or anybody else’s version of, “I Will Survive” did not help me through any break-ups (contrary to popular belief) but instead made me want to shoot myself for being THAT sad (‘la-ame’-sad, not the opposite of happy).
We all know break-ups are tough. Be it long relationships, short flings or even those imagined, unreciprocated ones. You will need all the props you need to get over things. It is a crazy phase. No one is expected to immediately feel empowered, put on glitter and disco themselves out of heartache.
Self-help articles and well-meaning people will advise all sorts of remedies: venting out in a healthy way, writing, talking, occupying your mind and thoughts with other activities, replacing negative thoughts with positive ones, exercise, etc, etc; but for me, it’s the healing power of music.
Music has the power to touch, to influence your emotions, to pick you up an otherwise dull day, to jack your body up to that weird physical movement people call ‘dance’, or to bring meaning to someone in a very relatable situation.
That is why lovebirds have ‘their’ song, parties have deejays, churches have hymns and movies have soundtracks. It is all the power of music.
Here, I have prepared a personal pick of breakup-appropriate (read: un-cheesy) songs that at one point or another have been in my playlist for getting over heartaches. My apologies if these this selections are most estrogen-filled but hey, I’m a girl.
1. “Almost Lover” by A Fine Frenzy
This song is for the short-lived romances. The ones where we were fully aware of the expiration dates before we started, but still hoped for the best and maybe invested too much emotionally (plus, usually the guys are hard to resist). So when things end unceremoniously, you may not be surprised, but it still hurts.
In truth, short romances seem better than normal extended ones because we weren’t given enough time to un-romanticize the situation or get bored. (Romeo farts too. And it will smell. And he will run out of things to say, given enough time.)
Music-wise: The tune is uncomplicated but hauntingly sad, with clean piano tracks and a voice heavy-laden with fresh pain.
Best line(s): “So you’re gone and I’m haunted / and I bet you are just fine” “Should have known you’d bring me heartache/ almost lovers always do”
2. “Cool” by Gwen Stefani
Word is Gwen Stefani wrote this song about her ex-boyfriend who’s also the bassist in the band No Doubt. Apparently, she had to write a song about how ‘cool’ they were although they broke up and moved on ages ago. I know many of us can relate.
Most times, when you end things with someone you were close to and may describe as your first love, soul mate, love of your life, etc, it is a different type of break-up than with someone you were casually dating. You end on good terms and decide to remain friends, hoping to not lose the friendship even when the romantic relationship ends.
You will need something to psych yourself to get over the awkwardness and to slowly detach. You stay cool when they start new relationships, and although you have no reason to resent their new love, you just do. But you keep it to yourself and stay cool. Not good, not awesome, not happy… just cool.
Music-wise: This is straight-out pop-rock music, but you will feel the perfect balance of peace and reminiscence. Although the music generally gives out a positive vibe, you can still hear the subtle sadness in the song melody. This song is perfectly titled; because it is cool (as in emotionless), sounds cool and Gwen is cool (as in awesome).
Best line(s): “After all that we’ve been through / I know we’re cool.”
3. “Illegal” by Shakira featuring Santana
I’m not really into Shakira, but when this song was playing in a music café one day, I just had to know more. The music was alluring and the chorus got me hooked. What I loved most about this song though was its potential to be intelligent and insightful if one cares enough to listen.
Think about it: the song tells of a woman so upset about being wronged and fooled, that she starts to be convinced that being cheated on should be against the law. I like the idea. Think of all the creeps guys I could throw into jail.
Music-wise: I personally find her voice annoying. Ignore that, and appreciate this song by listening to the chorus (I dare you not to like it). The entire song has a nice sexy and feminine feel to it (it helps with a little guitar lick here and there by Santana, and the percussion instruments in the song sound great) portraying just the right amount of vulnerability that resonates well with your current need for self-pity.
Best line(s): “You don’t even know the meaning of the words I’m sorry / I’m starting to believe it should be illegal to deceive a woman’s heart.”
4. “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morrissette
This Canadian woman says the nasty things we all think but are too polite to say out loud, but she puts it into a song and makes sh*t-loads of money from it. This song indulges in jealousy, anger and neuroses without feeling the need to “take the high road”. You are angry and you want to ask questions that you aren’t sure you want answers to. You have been wronged and you need to be crazy for a while.
Music-wise: Alanis came out right around the alternative/grunge-era of the 90s. Raw alternative-rock music (packaged with her makeup-free, masculine-looking face and the hair I aspired to have; long, wavy, parted down in the middle and hygiene-questionable) with even more raw vocals like she’s a breakdown away from murdering your cat and hanging it from the tree in your backyard.
Best line(s): So many good lines (google the lyrics!) that would make the decent blush. Among them are: “It was a slap in the face how quickly I was replaced / Are you thinking of me when you f*** her?”
5. “When I Was Your Man” by Bruno Mars
The greatest stroke to your ego is imagining your ex-boyfriend, fast forward a few months post-breakup, listening to this song in public and choking back his tears thinking about how he should have bought you flowers, held your hand more often, or taken you and your two left feet dancing more often.
Dream on girls, if he wanted to be with you he would have, but then again no harm in indulging in a feel-good fantasy while getting over someone. If he ever regrets letting you go, hopefully by that time you would be like “I’m sorry, which (insert name here) are you?” when he calls.
Music-wise: Simple with just piano accompaniment. Tune and words would be plain cheesy if Bruno Mars’ voice was not that soulful and swoon-worthy.
Best line(s): “My heart breaks a little when I hear your name.” (Serves you right, ex-boyfriend who I am fantasizing to be pining over me!)
6. “My Immortal” by Evanescence
This song helped me sort out my emotions after parting ways with my so-called soul mate. The song speaks of the seemingly un-severable attachment to this other human being whose presence still hangs around even after they are gone. That is how it is, when you’ve been with someone through many milestones in your life, sharing firsts and then having them out of your life, like an amputated limb (and now you are experiencing phantom limb syndrome).
FYI, this song helped me get over my ‘soul mate’ in two weeks.
Music-wise: When this song was first released in studio version, it was a piano-laden track with some over-lays of gothic-sounding string instruments. It was refreshing because most of Evanescence’s work is pretty heavy rock music. So when this came, emotional, soothing and pleading, we all loved it. Later, they added on the beautiful cherry to the already delicious cake by rocking out of the end of the song in a new version: something fans were totally ecstatic about when they tried that for their live show so they did another version for radio. Kudos, Evanescence!
Best line: “I held your hands through all of these years, and you still have all of me.” / “I try so hard to tell myself that you’re gone”
7. “Love Is Gone” by David Guetta
This is perfect for when the breakup is fresh (the very day itself). Maybe you are in your car, or in your room blasting this song out of your headphones, it doesn’t matter because it is time to feel like you don’t give a crap. Do a possessed crazy dance and ignore the urge to crawl back to your ex. Feel the bass, memorise the words, sing along and lose yourself in the song (lying in bed really still and letting the music bring you to another place helps too).
Music-wise: David Guetta is a French house deejay and this sort of repetitive – almost hypnotising – house music is great to try to hammer a message into your brain. The bass line is powerful (check out the music video for the carefree moves the jilted waitress does).
Best line: “When everything that felt so right is wrong / now that the love is gone” “Can’t find a reason to keep holding on / now that the love is gone”
8. “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” by Bonnie Tyler
This is definitely a golden hit of the 80s (a Platinum-certified power ballad, to be exact), a fantastic example of the strength of a female rock star which we don’t get much of anymore.
Released 30 years ago in 1983, a 2013 UK survey found that it topped the list of most popular songs to sing in the shower – above Justin Bieber and One Direction!
There is something totally heart-wrenching about the song tune (I lay in bed throughout several different break-ups sobbing to this song). The words however, are wide open for interpretation with a lot of euphemisms, ‘we’re living in a powder keg and giving off sparks’ kind of stuff, providing different meaning to different listeners.
Music-wise: It transitions from being sad, to hopeful and back to sad. Feel the music and the melody if you can’t appreciate the words. Watch for the builds and the falls in the dynamics of the song. Pure genius. There is a rough-edged quality to Tyler’s voice that appeals to many listeners. Ah, rock chicks of the 80s, they were the coolest.
Best line(s): “Once upon a time I was falling in love / now I’m only falling apart”
9. “Crazy” by Patsy Cline (best version ever is the one covered by The Kills)
The Kills took this really old song from the 60s and turned it into an extremely cool acoustic cover where Allison Mosshart’s smoky voice makes the song an intimate, borderline breaking-down, raw message to your ex-beau. (And she is smoking hot!) Patsy Cline made people think she is crazy sweet with this song like, “I was so crazy FOR you.” But Mosshart makes it sound like she’s just plain crazy.
Music-wise: The difference between the two versions of the song is like day and night. Cline’s version is typical of the 60s and The Kills’ version is pure raw acoustic.
Best line(s): “Crazy for thinking that my love could hold you / crazy for crying / and I’m crazy for trying, and I’m crazy for loving you”
10. “Anyone But You” by Jewel
This song will bring you to a barnyard party, where everything and everyone is moving in slow motion. You have been laying low after your break-up and your friends force you to dress up in a sundress, a pair of boots and a cowboy hat. They tell you to come out with them and have some fun, and to forget about HIM. But then you see him there.
This song is about that, the numbing moment you see your ex after the break-up.
Music-wise: Classic country music at its most authentic: everything including the style and the vocals. The words tell a story (as country music typically does) and the bridge brings up the whole emotion of the song with pure heart-breaking pain.
Best line(s): “I’d like to fall into your arms / with all your charms / but we both know how that would end / it would end with me crying / and you leaving again”
Karen is a born-and-bred Kuching singer/songwriter who made her debut with her single ‘Cold’ in 2011. She is a trained occupational therapist, experienced makeup artist and has been a writer her whole life. She writes on a variety of topics and the tried-and-tested lifestyle as she sees it; direct, witty and down-to-earth.