Here’s the thing: Breakups are sad. They can make your heart literally ache—it’s called heartache for a reason. It can feel like a donkey kicked you in the chest. We aren’t telling you anything you don’t know—IYKYK.
While we can’t make it all better, since trite sayings like “Time heals all wounds” and other cliched sentences that well-meaning friends and family hurl at you when you’re in the throes of emotional devastation, we can offer you something else—the ultimate breakup playlist.
You want to ugly cry it out while making Kim Kardashian’s sobbing face that’s been meme-d into oblivion? We can help you with this collection of the most cry-worthy songs. You don’t have to keep a stiff upper lip—you need to lean in to the sadness, and the songs we’ve chosen are for a good wallow.
Songs can be a three-minute emotional Band-Aid for whatever is ailing you—whether you’re the dumper or the dumpee, the heart-wrenching symphony of emotions can leave you feeling like you can’t take a breath.
Thankfully, music is here to fill your ears and souls like a comforting friend who knows exactly what you’re going through—it feels like they get you. So we made a list of the 11 best breakup songs and why; whether you use Apple Music like I do (for some reason, I am ride or die for Apple, don’t ask, I cannot explain) or use Spotify to curate your playlists, put these songs on and bawl your eyes out.
Forget your dignity, grab some tissues, and let’s embark on an emotional feels musical journey with the 11 best breakup songs to cry to.
Note: These are in no particular order—we aren’t playing favorites, even though I have a clear favorite.
1. “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor: The Vintage Tearjerker
The ‘70s—when bellbottoms were in (they came back) and other questionable fashion choices were being made. Disco balls were spinning, and Gloria Gaynor was belting out the breakup anthem that would resonate across generations. Why is it great for a sob fest? Because it starts with despair and ends with empowerment. You WILL survive, even if you have to cry your way through it while wearing a polyester jumpsuit to get to the other side.
2. “The Night We Met” by Lord Huron: The Indie Inducer
This indie gem (and my fav, sorry to all the other songs) will make you cry over a love you never even had or even if you aren’t experiencing a breakup. Its haunting melody acts like a hypnotic lure that drags you down Memory Lane, even if you don’t wanna go. By the time you hit the line, “I had all and then most of you, some and now none of you. Take me back to the night we met. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do, haunted by the ghost of you,” you’re already a mess.
3. “Somebody That I Used To Know” by Gotye: The Pop-Infused Puzzle
This man came out of nowhere and wrecked those going through a breakup by painting a Picasso of heartbreak that’s as relatable as it is catchy. You’ll cry because you relate too much, then bop along because the song is so, so good. Add Kimbra’s feature with strong vocals and the female perspective of the he said/she said, and it’s emotional whiplash at its best.
4. “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” by Hank Williams: The Country Crooner
Hank Williams understands us. This song is like the emotional equivalent of drinking whiskey alone in a sorta shady, dimly lit bar. It’s a no-nonsense, straight-to-the-point tearjerker that encapsulates loneliness so well that if you have a dog, he or she may join in and mournfully howl along with you.
5. “Back To Black” by Amy Winehouse: The Neo-Soul Sinker
Amy’s gravelly voice and retro vibe make this a heartbreaking classic. It’s like someone took your emotional angst, mixed it with a heaping teaspoon of Winehouse’s soul, and poured it into a retro glass–it tastes a little bitter but goes down smoothly.
6. “Tiny Vessels” by Death Cab for Cutie: The Indie Confessional
Genre: Indie Rock
When it comes to dishing out raw, unfiltered emotion, “Tiny Vessels” serves it by the vat. Ben Gibbard, who is a poet, uses brutally honest lyrics to cut deep, confessing the ugly truths we often keep hidden during a breakup. This song doesn’t sugarcoat; it makes you confront your feelings head-on. It’s the type of song you listen to while wondering how it all went so horribly wrong, adding a layer of introspection to your cry fest.
7. “Purple Rain” by Prince: The Glam Gusher
Who knew glam could make you so glamorously sad? Prince did, that’s who! With the iconic guitar solos and Prince’s unforgettable voice, “Purple Rain” delivers a one-two punch that leaves you in a puddle of your own making—all of your tears.
8. “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele: The Revengeful Ballad
Genre: Pop Ballad
While some breakup songs aim for a soft, contemplative mood, Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” is the true anthem of someone scorned. This song is for all those who’ve ever felt underestimated or like they gave their all, only to be betrayed in the end. Adele’s powerful voice embodies the mixed emotions of anger, regret, and, finally, assent, turning your sobbing sesh into a cathartic, almost triumphant experience. This is the one that will blow your eardrums or one of your car speakers while you scream-sing along.
9. “I Miss You” by Blink-182: The Emo Extravaganza
You want emo? You got it. It’s the genre where sadness finds its poetic justice, and Blink-182 encapsulates youthful love and heartbreak in a way that makes your inner teenager sob uncontrollably. If you’ve ever written breakup poetry, this one’s for you.
10. “Nothing Compares 2 U” by Sinéad O’Connor: The Powerhouse Performer
This song doesn’t just tug at your heartstrings—it yanks them out and plays them like a harp. The sheer emotion in O’Connor’s voice makes you believe that; indeed, nothing will ever compare to your lost love…or you. Shoutout to Prince for writing this masterpiece and Sinead for making it the iconic breakup song that lives on through the years.
11. “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division: The New Wave Weeper
If ever there was an anthem for gloomy introspection, this is it. The raw energy and palpable sense of disillusionment in Ian Curtis’s vocals make this the ultimate song for when you’re feeling the breakup blues. It’s literally a musical version of an existential crisis.
There are way too many breakup songs out there that deserve to be on this list, but we only got to pick 11! That being said, here are some that could’ve been on our playlist, grouped by the five stages of grief, of course.
The denial stage is that maybe it’s not happening; it could be a bad dream? These songs are what we would be listening to first:
- Last Goodbye by Jeff Buckley
- Why by Annie Lennox
- Somebody Else by The 1975
The anger phase is a strange space where you ping pong between sadness and being absolutely furious, so sing along to these bangers with your full chest:
- Mudvayne by Stained
- Sorry by Beyoncé
- Kill Bill by SZA
- You Oughta Know by Alanis Morrisette
What can you do to get them back? Can you get them back and change that breakup into a makeup? This is the bargaining phase:
- My Backward Walk by Frightened Rabbit
- Linger by The Cranberries
- Vindicated by Dashboard Confessional
This is the worst stage, the lying in bed, not showering, barely eating, barely functioning as a human being stage:
- Against All Odds by Phil Collins
- Pictures of You by The Cure
- Lose You to Love Me by Selena Gomez
- 2 You by Mariah the Scientist
Just Like Stella, your groove is coming back, albeit slowly, so put on these bops to guide you back to feeling like it is going to be okay (eventually):
- Dancing On My Own by Robyn
- Not Miserable by Frightened Rabbit
- Never Going Back Again by Fleetwood Mac
- Return of the Mack by Mark Morrison
Closing Notes: Pass the Kleenex, Please
And there you have it—a roundup of the 11 best breakup songs from across the genre spectrum to cry until your heart’s content.
And while these songs won’t cure what ails you, there is a release in having a good cry—bottling it up is no good! So, if you find yourself on the wrong side of heartbreak, hit ‘play’ on this carefully curated list and press the ‘repeat’ function if one especially resonates with you.
Whether it’s pop, country, or emo, these songs all have one thing in common: they understand you and whatever you’re going through. So go ahead, let it all out—tears are just liquid emotions, and everyone needs a good crying cleanse, especially during a breakup.