Top 20 Empowering Breakup Songs Of All Time
Top 20 Empowering Breakup Songs Of All Time
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Breaking up is hard to do. When a relationship comes to a painful end, however, there is one bright side — you get to enjoy breakup songs in a way you might not have before.

Like the jaded evil twins of love songs, breakup anthems run the full gamut of emotion. Sadness and grief, sure, but like the events that inspire them, breakup songs come in all flavours. Some are righteous cries of joy following the end of a rough union. Others are pensive meditations on human connection. And some just want to burn the very concept of love to the ground.

Here are the top 20 empowering breakup songs that will help you through your breaking-up time.

What is a breakup song?

A breakup song is a song describing the breakup of an intimate relationship, with associated emotions of sadness, frustration, anger, and sometimes of acceptance or relief. As one source states (discussing the upbeat breakup song "Better Things" by The Kinks), "Pop music is littered with break-up masterpieces", but "[i]t's a rare break-up song that isn't bitter".

Listening to breakup songs during a breakup can help the listener to experience a sense of catharsis. For example, songwriter Phil Collins notes that "People hate a break-up, but they love a break-up song. "Against All Odds" pins down how it feels to be broken-hearted, and it's one of the songs most often mentioned when people write to me, describing how it helped them through the trauma of heartbreak".

The all-time best-selling single of a breakup song is the 1992 Whitney Houston version of "I Will Always Love You", which sold over 20 million copies. The song had originally been written and recorded in 1973 by American singer-songwriter Dolly Parton, and topped the country charts in 1974. It was written as a farewell to her one-time partner and mentor of seven years, Porter Wagoner, following Parton's decision to pursue a solo career. Other high-selling breakup songs include "Un-Break My Heart" by Toni Braxton in 1996 (10 million copies), "Believe" by Cher in 1998 (10 million copies) and "Careless Whisper" by George Michael in 1984 (6 million copies). Best-selling digital singles include "Somebody That I Used to Know" by Gotye featuring Kimbra in 2011 (13 million copies), "Hello" by Adele in 2015 (12.3 million copies), and "Love Yourself" by Justin Bieber in 2016 (11.7 million copies).

Why people love breakup songs so much?

A breakup is a loss, so it evokes everything that comes with loss: confusion, denial, longing, anger, depression, despair. Through all this chaos, heartbreak can magnify our needs for comfort, support, and understanding. One way we can meet those needs is through music.

Breakup songs bring pain relief

For decades, researchers have been examining the pain-relieving effects of music, and for good reason: a considerable amount of research supports the notion that music can have positive effects on listeners in pain.

In one study, published in 2006, Mitchell and McDonald induced pain by having participants immerse their hands in ice water. They found participants who listened to music of their choosing could withstand pain for significantly longer than those who listened to music chosen by the experimenters or no music at all. In a 2008 study, Mitchell, McDonald, and Knussen found listening to music also decreased study participants’ levels of anxiety when the researchers induced pain.

Researchers are investigating the mechanics underlying the impact of music on coping with pain. In a 2010 study by Salimpoor et al., participants were asked to bring along music they found moving. The researchers then examined functional MRI scans of participants and found significant increases of dopamine, the neurotransmitter involved in reward and pleasure, in the brain at the moments that participants were deeply moved by the music they chose. The dopamine increase started even in preceding moments, when the participants started to anticipate these poignant parts of their songs.

Have you ever gotten the chills while listening to music? Salimpoor et al. suggest this dopamine rush is responsible.

Music can have soothing and moving effects on us, including actual physiological reactions in our brains. Neuroscientists are continuing to research this topic, learning more about the way music affects our brains and shapes our experiences. But what we know so far indicates what many of us recognize intuitively: listening to music you love can alleviate some of the hurt in your heart.

What are the best and empowering breakup songs of all time?

1. Taylor Swift - "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together"

"We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" is a song by American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift, taken from her fourth studio album, Red (2012). It was released for digital download and to U.S. pop radio as the lead single from Red on August 13, 2012, by Big Machine Records. Swift wrote and produced the song with Max Martin and Shellback. An upbeat dance-pop and pop rock song, "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" contains pulsing synthesizers, processed guitar riffs, bass drums, and a spoken-word bridge. Its lyrics express Swift's frustration with an ex-lover who wants to rekindle their relationship. An alternate version was released to U.S. country radio on August 21, 2012.

Music critics praised the track for its catchy melody and radio-friendly sound, though some described its lyrics as subpar for Swift's songwriting abilities. The song appeared in year-end lists by Rolling Stone, Time, and The Village Voice. "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" peaked atop the charts in Canada and New Zealand, and reached the top five in Australia, Ireland, Israel, Japan, and the U.K. On the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, the single debuted at number 72 and rose to number one the following week, registering one of the biggest single-week jumps in chart history. The single spent a record-breaking nine consecutive weeks topping the Hot Country Songs chart, and received multi-platinum certifications in Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and the U.S.

2. ‘Somebody That I Used to Know’ by Elliott Smith

Gotye might have scored a hit with the song by the same name, but Gotye doesn’t hold a flame to the heartbroken depths of Elliott Smith. Nobody does. The late-great Smith might have sung, ‘So when I go home, I’ll be happy to go / You’re just somebody that I used to know," but he wasn’t fooling anyone: This bare-bones, beautiful track is all about full-on heartache, albeit of the dismissive, fuck-you-I'm-fine variety. (For evidence, just skip to two songs later on Figure 8, ‘Everything Reminds Me of Her.’)

Gotye told Rolling Stone Australia that this song is about an ex-girlfriend, saying: “It was five-six years ago. It wasn’t a nasty breakup, but it was messy in the sense that we hurt each other more than we needed to because it wasn’t a clean break. I guess it’s closest to what the chorus is about. We both realized we had to move on and we haven’t seen each other since.”

Gotye also talked about the song in another interview with American Songwriter: “I think it’s the kind of slow build and drama that it has, the two-part story, and the multiple perspective aspect that has struck people. It’s written openly enough that it expresses that confusion you can have after a broken relationship, and the way you can feel emotionally quite up and down. You can feel nostalgic and rosily melancholy, in a way. But sometimes we often feel quite bitter about things, when you have nothing to do with that relationship or maybe with that person anymore, at least not actively. It can be quite a confusing feeling. So maybe the way the song expresses those feelings appears to strike people as quite true, and quite relevant with their experiences.”

How words remind us of our strength

The lyrics of a good breakup song can help you express thoughts and feelings often difficult to articulate otherwise. You may not even know how you feel before you hear it stated perfectly in a song. At a time when it can be difficult to organize your thoughts—let alone communicate them to others—hearing, “How can you mend a broken heart?” can suddenly give you clarity about the anguish you’ve been dealing with: it’s a broken heart! The lyrics of a song can bring unresolved, unspoken, unknown thoughts to the surface and bring you closer to understanding what is happening inside of you.

You learn even though you are hurting, you are not alone in an abyss of misery built only for you. You’re grieving, and that’s a human reaction to losing love. That experience doesn’t isolate you. In fact, it connects you to the people around you.

3. Gracie Abrams - "I Miss You, I'm Sorry"

In many ways, Gracie Abrams’ “I Miss You, I’m Sorry” feels like a sequel to, or perhaps a continuation of, “21.” On the emotional ballad, she’s still trying to sort through the jumbled emotions that follow a breakup — including the very real temptation of trying to piece something irreparably broken back together. “You said ‘forever’ in the end I fought it, please be honest are we better for it?” the 20-year-old tortures herself. “Thought you’d hate me but instead you called and said ‘I miss you,’ I caught it.”

The breakout singer/songwriter continues to question her decisions on the chorus. “Nothing happened in the way I wanted, every corner of this house is haunted,” Gracie sings over Blake Slatkin’s piano-driven production. “And I know you said that we’re not talking, but I miss you — I’m sorry.” At this point, the newcomer already has enough material for a very good EP. (Particularly if you take “Stay” and “Mean It” into consideration). Hopefully, we get a larger body of work in the coming weeks.

4. Lewis Capaldi - "Someone You Loved"

"Someone You Loved" is a song recorded by Scottish singer-songwriter Lewis Capaldi. It was released as a download on 8 November 2018 through Vertigo Records and Universal Music as the third single from his second extended play, Breach (2018), and was later included on his debut album, Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent (2019). The song was written by Capaldi, Samuel Romans, and its producers Thomas Barnes, Peter Kelleher and Benjamin Kohn. It was serviced to radio stations on 16 April 2019 as the first US single.

"Someone You Loved" was a commercial success, peaking at number one on the UK Singles Chart. The song became Capaldi's first number one single, spending seven consecutive weeks atop of the chart and was the best selling single of 2019 in the UK. It also peaked at number one on the Irish Singles Chart in March 2019. In the United States, "Someone You Loved", a piano ballad, was a sleeper hit, topping the Billboard Hot 100 in its 24th week on the chart. It was nominated for Song of the Year at the 62nd Grammy Awards. It also received an award for Song of the Year at the 2020 Brit Awards. As of 2021, "Someone You Loved" is the 5th most streamed song on Spotify with 2.3 billion streams on Spotify.

5. Kanye West - "Love Lockdown"

"Love Lockdown" is a song by American record producer and vocalist Kanye West from his fourth studio album, 808s & Heartbreak (2008). The song was produced by West, while co-produced by Jeff Bhasker. The producers co-wrote it with Esthero, Malik Yusef, and Starshell. West initially shared the song via his blog on September 10, 2008, before re-recording it after negative reactions. The song was later released for digital download on September 18, 2008 by Roc-A-Fella and Def Jam as the lead single from the album. An electropop song, its instrumentation relies on piano and Roland TR-808 drumbeats.

West first performed the song live at the 2008 MTV Video Music Awards, taking influence from the 2008 Summer Olympics' opening ceremony for the performance. He later performed it on multiple occasions, including at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and Hollywood Bowl in 2011 and 2015, respectively. The song was used for Grand Theft Auto's standalone video game compilation, Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City (2009). Cover versions of it were performed by Glass Animals and Lorde in 2014 and 2018, respectively. A remix 12" vinyl was released in November 2008 for "Love Lockdown", which included remixes done by Chew Fu and Jake Trothn, among others.

6. ‘I Will Always Love You’ by Whitney Houston

"I Will Always Love You" is a song written and originally recorded in 1973 by American singer-songwriter Dolly Parton. Written as a farewell to her business partner and mentor Porter Wagoner, expressing Parton's decision to pursue a solo career, the country single was released in 1974. The song was a commercial success for Parton, twice reaching the top spot of Billboard Hot Country Songs: first in June 1974, then again in October 1982, with a re-recording for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas soundtrack.

Whitney Houston recorded a soul-ballad arrangement of the song for the 1992 film The Bodyguard. Houston's version peaked at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 for a then-record-breaking 14 weeks. The single was certified Diamond by the RIAA, making Houston's first Diamond single, the third female artist who had a Diamond single, and becoming the best-selling single by a woman in the U.S. The song was a global success, topping the charts in almost all countries. With 20 million copies sold it became the best-selling single of all time by a female solo artist. Houston won the Grammy Award for Record of the Year in 1994 for "I Will Always Love You".

7. ‘Someone Like You’ by Adele

"Someone like You" is a song recorded by English singer-songwriter Adele. It was written and produced by Adele and Dan Wilson for her second studio album, 21 (2011). It is the second single and final track on the album. The song was inspired by a broken relationship with one's life partner, and lyrically speaks of Adele's coming to terms with it. XL Recordings released the song as the second single from the album on 24 January 2011 (the same day the album was released) in the United Kingdom and on 9 August 2011 in the United States. Accompanied only by a piano in the song (played by co-writer Wilson), Adele sings about the end of the relationship with her ex-partner.

In a list voted for by the public in conjunction with the Official Charts Company's 60th anniversary, "Someone like You" was voted the third-most favourite number-one single of the last 60 years in the UK, with Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" voted number two and Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" as number one. "Someone like You" is the 36th-best-selling single in the history of the UK Singles Chart. "Someone like You" appeared on many year-end lists about the best songs of 2011, and was the inaugural recipient of the Grammy Award for Best Pop Solo Performance, at the 54th ceremony in 2012. The Song also received a nomination for the Brit Award for British Single at the 32nd ceremony and also several other nominations.

8. King Princess - "Talia"

"Talia" is a single recorded by American singer-songwriter King Princess. It was released on April 13, 2018, by Zelig Recordings as the second single from her debut extended play Make My Bed. The song has been described by MTV as "a quintessential song about heartbreak, as the singer calls out to someone long gone and out of reach". King Princess has said that Talia was her way of dealing with heartbreak.

The music video was released over a month after the initial release of the song and as of January 2022, it had amassed over 9.7 million views. The video was directed by Clare Gillen. The video features King Princess rolling around and caressing a sex doll. The video has been described as: "an emotional stand-in as King Princess gnaws and smokes her way through losing someone special." Amandla Stenberg who worked on the video as a colorist has said: "[the doll is] kind of ironic, self-aware idea of a sex doll, something that's generally discarded and abused by men. But you get to see a gay girl treating it with love and respect."

9. ‘All Too Well (10-Minute Version) by Taylor Swift

On the original cut of Red, ‘All Too Well’ was a torch song about young love gone sour. But when a post folklore Taylor revisited the album as an older and wiser songwriter in 2021, she ditched the torch in favor of a flamethrower. Clocking in at a breathless 10 minutes, the new version of ‘All Too Well’ finds Swift’s animosity over the heartbreak endured when she was 21 curdled into righteous resentment as she goes into extreme detail about her former beau’s duplicitous charms, manipulations and deceptions. In extending the song, Taylor transformed a fan favorite into a haunting masterpiece, and while she’s never confirmed who it’s about, it’s probably an awkward time to be an actor whose name rhymes with ‘rake spillin’ ball.’

10. Conan Gray - "Maniac"

"Maniac" is a song by American singer-songwriter Conan Gray. Republic Records released it as the third single from his debut studio album Kid Krow on October 24, 2019. "Maniac" was written by Gray and Dan Nigro, who also produced the song. The song has been certified Platinum in Australia, Brazil, Canada and the United States, becoming his first certifications in all four countries. In early 2020, the song was successful on international mainstream pop radio. It had gained 50 million accumulative streams on Spotify by January 2020, before clocking 90 million streams only two months later. The song also became trending on the video-sharing platform TikTok, debuting in the app's Top 25 trending chart.

Gray wrote "Maniac" in the shower after receiving a sobbing text message from an ex-lover at midnight. The ex had supposedly been spreading rumors about how Gray was "some freak who wouldn't leave them alone" he continues, "when in reality, they were the freak." He referred to the song as "a cathartic post break-up song dedicated to psychotic exes." Madeline Roth of MTV described the song as "a total '80s fever dream, marked by shimmering synths and Gray's quirky lyrics about a fickle ex who leaves him simultaneously amused and hurt."

11. Harry Nilsson - "Without You"

"Without You" is a song written by Pete Ham and Tom Evans of British rock group Badfinger, and first released on their 1970 album No Dice. The power ballad has been recorded by over 180 artists, and versions released as singles by Harry Nilsson (1971), T. G. Sheppard (1983) and Mariah Carey (1994) became international best-sellers. The Nilsson version was included in 2021's Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Paul McCartney once described the ballad as "the killer song of all time".

In 1972, writers Ham and Evans received the British Academy's Ivor Novello Award for Best Song Musically and Lyrically.

12. ‘Back to Black’ by Amy Winehouse

Back to Black is the second and final studio album by English singer and songwriter Amy Winehouse, released on 27 October 2006 by Island Records. Winehouse predominantly based the album on her tumultuous relationship with then-ex-boyfriend and future husband Blake Fielder-Civil, who temporarily left her to pursue his previous ex-girlfriend. Their short-lived separation spurred her to create an album that explores themes of guilt, grief, infidelity, heartbreak and trauma in a relationship.

At the 2008 Grammy Awards, Back to Black won Best Pop Vocal Album and was also nominated for Album of the Year. At the same ceremony, Winehouse won four additional awards, tying her with five other artists as the second-most awarded female in a single ceremony. The album was also nominated at the 2007 Brit Awards for MasterCard British Album and was shortlisted for the 2007 Mercury Prize. Back to Black sold 3.58 million copies in the UK alone, becoming the UK's second best-selling album of the 21st century so far. The album has sold over 16 million copies worldwide.

13. Joy Division - "Love Will Tear Us Apart"

"Love Will Tear Us Apart" is a song by English rock band Joy Division, released in June 1980 as a non-album single. Its lyrics were inspired by lead singer Ian Curtis's marital problems and struggles with epilepsy. The single was released the month after his suicide.

The song was certified platinum in the UK, selling over 600,000 copies, and has an ongoing legacy as a defining song of the era. In 2002, NME named "Love Will Tear Us Apart" as the greatest single of all time, while Rolling Stone named it one of the 500 best songs ever in 2004, 2011, and 2021.

14. Ariana Grande - "Thank U, Next"

"Thank U, Next" (stylized in all lowercase) is a song by American singer Ariana Grande. It was released on November 3, 2018, through Republic Records, as the lead single from her fifth studio album of the same name (2019), without any prior announcement or promotion. Written by Grande, Tayla Parx and Victoria Monét, along with its producers Tommy Brown, Charles Anderson, and Michael Foster, "Thank U, Next" is a celebratory ode to Grande's failed relationships, following her highly-publicized breakup with then-fiancé, Pete Davidson. Considered a modern cultural phenomenon, the song's title and its lyrics spawned several catch phrases and online memes.

"Thank U, Next" was an international commercial success. It debuted atop the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States and spent seven weeks at the top of the chart, earning Grande her first number one single. Reaching number one in 20 other countries, "Thank U, Next" also broke numerous streaming records, including the record for the most streams received by a song in a single day for a female artist on Spotify, and the largest on-demand streaming week for a female artist ever recorded in the US. The song has been certified five-times platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

15. Jojo - "Leave (Get Out)"

"Leave (Get Out)" is the debut single of American singer JoJo from her self-titled debut studio album (2004). It was released as the album's lead single on February 24, 2004. Produced by Danish production duo Soulshock & Karlin, the song became a commercial success, reaching number 12 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and number two in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and on the European Hot 100 Singles. It also reached the top five in Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. The single was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) on October 25, 2004. When the single reached number one on Billboard's Pop Songs chart, JoJo became, at age 13, the youngest female solo artist to have a number-one single in the United States. The song appears in the 2004 PlayStation 2 karaoke game Karaoke Revolution Volume 3 and Singstar Pop Hits.

16. ‘How Can You Mend a Broken Heart’ by Al Green

"How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" is a song released by the Bee Gees in 1971. It was written by Barry and Robin Gibb and was the first single on the group's 1971 album Trafalgar. It was their first US No. 1 single and also reached No. 1 in Cashbox magazine for two weeks. In the US Atco Records issued both mono and stereo versions of the song on each side as a promo single. The B-side was a Maurice Gibb composition "Country Woman".

The song appears in the 2013 film American Hustle and on its soundtrack. It also provided the title to director Frank Marshall's 2020 documentary film The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart.

17. The All-American Rejects - "Gives You Hell"

"Gives You Hell" is a song by American rock band the All-American Rejects, released as the lead single from their third studio album, When the World Comes Down on September 30, 2008.

The song is The All-American Rejects' most successful song to date, receiving positive reviews and topping the Billboard's Mainstream Top 40 and Adult Top 40 charts as well as peaking at number four on the Hot 100 chart. It was certified RIAA 4× Platinum for four million shipments.

18. ‘Tangled Up in Blue’ by Bob Dylan

"Tangled Up in Blue" is a song by American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, which was released as the opening track on his 15th studio album Blood on the Tracks (1975). The song was written by Dylan and produced by David Zimmerman, Dylan's brother. Released as a single, it reached No. 31 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song concerns relationships and contains different narrative perspectives. Dylan has altered the lyrics in subsequent performances, changing the point of view and details in the song.

The track was initially recorded in September 1974, but later re-recorded on 30 December of that year at Sound 80 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The latter version was released on Blood on the Tracks on 20 January 1975. The song received widespread acclaim from music critics, with particular praise for the lyrics. Rolling Stone ranked it No. 68 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. A number of alternate versions have been released, including multiple studio out-takes on The Bootleg Series Vol. 14: More Blood, More Tracks (2014). Dylan has performed the song live over 1,600 times.

19. ‘Irreplaceable’ by Beyoncé

"Irreplaceable" is a song by American singer Beyoncé for her second studio album, B'Day (2006). The song was written by Shaffer "Ne-Yo" Smith, Tor Erik Hermansen, Mikkel S. Eriksen, Espen Lind, Amund Bjørklund, Beyoncé and produced by Stargate and Beyoncé. "Irreplaceable" was originally a country record; it was re-arranged as a mid-tempo ballad with pop and R&B influences by modifying the vocal arrangements and instrumentation. During the production and recording sessions, Beyoncé and Ne-Yo wanted to create a record which people of either gender could relate to. The song's lyrics are about the breakdown of a relationship with an unfaithful man and the song contains a message about female empowerment.

20. ‘Always on My Mind’ by Willie Nelson

Always on My Mind is the twenty-seventh studio album by country singer Willie Nelson. It was the Billboard number one country album of the year for 1982, and stayed 253 weeks on the Billboard Top Country Albums charts, peaking at number one for a total of 22 weeks, as well as spending 99 weeks on the Billboard 200 for all albums, peaking at number two for 3 weeks.

During the recording sessions for Nelson's collaboration album with Merle Haggard, Pancho & Lefty, the producer Chips Moman and Bobby Emmons suggested that they record Johnny Christopher's "Always on My Mind". Haggard had no interest in recording a version of the song for the album, so instead Nelson recorded his own version—the first for the album entitled Always on My Mind. In his autobiography, Nelson stated: "We'll never know what would have happened if Merle had really heard the song right. 'Always on My Mind' bowled me over the moment I first heard it, which is one way I pick songs to record".

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