15 Sad Songs to Torture Yourself with After a Breakup

Brett Daniel

Valentine’s Day is over. First dates have come and gone. Existing couples bought the flowers, the chocolates, the teddy bears and the Hallmark cards. New couples got lucky and entered into a hopefully long-lasting relationship. Single folks went on about their day as usual, unmarked by Cupid’s arrow.

But the most unfortunate romantics suffered through a breakup, a traumatic departure from a loving commitment, and are now experiencing what it feels like to be alone for the first time in a while. This list is not only for them, but it’s for anyone who has experienced a terrible breakup in the past. Music has a mysterious way of healing heartache, and self-repair is crucial post-breakup. So, let’s get emotional.

Music is all around us. It’s a cultural art form, dating back as far as humanity itself. Music has the ability to make us feel a wide variety of emotions, including happiness and sadness, but what is it about music that makes us feel joy, pleasure and happiness, as opposed to depression, misery and sadness?

“The brain processes music uniquely to any other form of art or sound,” says Jon Jones, a music major at Georgia Southern. “Certain chords are engineered to make us feel certain things. If it’s a song with lyrics, then the lyrics obviously play a part in that as well. The tone of voice can have an effect as well. Brighter, more piercing voices can generally communicate positive emotions better, while darker voices can more effectively get across sadness.”

The choice of instrument plays a role, too, Jones said. A trumpet or a tuba, for instance, will give rise to different emotions than, say, a guitar or a violin. In addition, major chords engender happy feelings, whereas minor chords will feel more sad, Jones said.

And sadness in music is the focus of this playlist. Don’t worry – letting it all out promotes healing and recovery. Also, the title of this article is intended to be humorous, but sadness, loneliness, depression and self-harm are not laughing matters. Mental health is a serious issue, and if you need help with post-breakup sadness and depression, or are having thoughts about harming yourself, please contact Georgia Southern’s Counseling Center at 912-478-5541.

Without further ado, here are “15 Sad Songs to Torture Yourself with After a Breakup.” Be sure to listen to the songs on our Spotify playlist of the same name, and don’t forget to tweet us your favorite sad songs @ReflectorGSU on Twitter!

“Habits (Stay High)” – Tove Lo

No one writes a depressing ditty quite like Tove Lo. If you’re like me, the original version of “Habits” will have you pulling over on the side of the road to cry and punch your steering wheel, agonizing over the thought of never recapturing the true love you once shared with your partner. Listening to “Habits” after a breakup will make you ask yourself: Is it possible to keep the love alive? but also What can I do to heal? How can I break this torturous memory loop?

PSA: Do not get high to get over an ex.

Favorite lyrics: Staying in my play pretend / Where the fun ain’t got no end / Can’t go home alone again / Need someone to numb the pain

Please Don’t Leave Me” – P!nk

P!nk, known for her badass pop star image and fearless empowerment anthems, gives us a glimpse into her troubled heart every once in a while. “Please Don’t Leave Me,” although still tinged with the singer’s trademark brazenness, sees P!nk questioning her obnoxiousness, irrationality and emotional volatility, all of which have led to her partner’s decision to call it quits. We’ve all been there. Then, in a soft, tragically beautiful tone of voice, P!nk apologizes, confesses her insecurities and begs her lover to stay. Sound familiar?

Favorite lyrics: I forgot to say out loud / How beautiful you really are to me / I can’t be without / You’re my perfect little punching bag / And I need you / I’m sorry

“I Miss You” – Clean Bandit, Julia Michaels

Julia Michaels’ evocative croon, coupled with her vivid, sentimental lyricism, is enough to make anyone ruminate over the good times. In “I Miss You,” Michaels’ candid, hard-hitting lyrics, accompanied by Clean Bandit’s bumping synths and fleeting piano, parallel the all-too-familiar post-breakup detachment syndrome we’ve all experienced. Come on. How many times have you replayed the breakup in your mind? How many hours have you stared at those last few text messages you both shared, torturing yourself over what you did wrong, wondering if they’ve already moved on?

Favorite lyrics: So I saved all the texts / All of the best / Over the years / Just to remind myself / Of how good it is / Or was

Un-Break My Heart” – Toni Braxton

Toni Braxton, the Queen of Vocal Fry, released the supplicatory “Un-Break My Heart” more than two decades ago, and it was a huge success. Braxton’s whispery tone transforms into a tear-jerking belt as the booming, percussion-heavy chorus begins. With its somewhat sparse instrumentation and Braxton’s intense delivery, it’s easy to see why “Un-Break My Heart” activates our tear ducts when we’re fighting the breakup rhythm and blues. Definitely listen to this song when you’re going through the motions, and once you’ve gotten all the tears out, go ahead and switch on Braxton’s “He Wasn’t Man Enough” to rebuild your confidence.

Favorite lyrics: Take back that sad word goodbye / Bring back the joy to my life / Don’t leave me here with these tears / Come and kiss the pain away

“The Blackest Day” – Lana Del Rey

Lana Del Rey tends to structure her torchy breakup songs around narratives about million-dollar men and gangster drug lords, but “The Blackest Day” showcases her somber musings about lost love outside of the formula that defines her early work. Her “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” diction, artfully drenched in psychedelic reverb, envelopes the song’s foreboding, tribal-like percussion as the listener is carried deeper and deeper into the darkest depths of Lana’s despondent heartbreak, where she’s looking for love in all the wrong places.

Favorite lyrics: ‘Cause there’s nothing for us to talk about / Like the future and those things / ‘Cause there’s nothing for me to think about / Now that he’s gone / I can’t feel nothing

Devil In Me” – Gin Wigmore

My friends back home will tell you just how emotionally significant this song is to me, and I hope it provides you with the same post-breakup relief it provided me. Gin Wigmore’s music isn’t super popular in the United States, but it should be. The cathartic, western-heavy “Devil In Me,” from the singer’s sophomore album Gravel and Wine, deals with drinking alcohol to relieve the pain of losing a lover to someone else. It’s probably Wigmore’s best track to date, and it’s bound to make you shed a tear, especially if you got dumped on a Monday. PSA: Do not drink alcohol to get over an ex.

Favorite lyrics: I’ll drink / I’ll drink until you love me / And wake up always thinking of me / You are / You are the devil in me

“Better Than Me” – Hinder

Anyone that’s heard of Hinder knows that “Lips of an Angel” and “Better Than Me” pretty much ruled Top 40 Radio during the mid-2000s. “Lips of an Angel” was a bigger hit than “Better Than Me,” however, probably because it’s cute, warm and fuzzy, whereas “Better Than Me” is cold, serrated and grief-stricken. This grungy, reflective ballad is more so for the person who regrets doing the dumping. Sometimes, breaking up with your partner feels like the right decision, but you may later discover that you made a terrible mistake, and now the guilt is eating you alive. Behold, “Better Than Me.”

Favorite lyrics: The bed I’m lying in is getting colder / Wish I never would’ve said it’s over / And I can’t pretend / I won’t think about you when I’m older

“Break It to Me Gently” – Brenda Lee

I first heard “Break It to Me Gently” during the series finale of Pan Am, a period drama about the lives of Pan American pilots and stewardesses. To this day, I’m not sure if this song makes me sad because of its music and lyrics, or because it signified the end of a truly fantastic TV show. Regardless, it’s truly a heartbreaking number, and you may want to grab a tissue or two if your breakup is fresh. The meaning of the song is rather self-explanatory given the title, and if you like smoky, string-laden, 1960s torch songs, “Break It to Me Gently” is the breakup ditty for you.

Favorite lyrics: The love we shared / For oh so long / Is such a big part of me / If you must take / Your love away / Take it gradually

“If I Ain’t Got You” – Alicia Keys

Can’t you just hear that iconic, opening piano riff in your head, followed by Alicia Keys’ goosebump-inducing “Mmmm.” Ah, the nostalgia. This song gives me all the feels after a breakup, and little did I understand the power it has when I was watching the music video for it on MTV at age seven. Now, the song cuts deep into the core of my heart, kind of like a text message that says, “This isn’t working out.” Some people want it all, but I don’t want nothing at all if it ain’t Alicia Keys when I’m feeling blue.

Favorite lyrics: Hand me the world on a silver platter / And what good would it be / With no one to share / With no one who truly cares for me

“Stay” – Rihanna, Mikky Ekko

Never did I think a song as melancholy as “Stay” would peak at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. I can remember lying in bed at night and playing this song over and over again, wondering how I would ever move on from my broken relationship. Right before releasing “Stay,” Rihanna dropped “Diamonds,” a love story and mid-tempo power anthem penned by Sia. “Stay” serves as a stark contrast, turning the triumphant sentiment of “Diamonds” upside down as Rihanna and Ekko croon about what it’s like to feel dejected in a once-loving relationship.

Favorite lyrics: Funny you’re the broken one / But I’m the only one who needed saving / ‘Cause when you never see the light / It’s hard to know which one of us is caving

“Only Love Can Hurt Like This” – Paloma Faith

Paloma Faith, a Motown-inspired British pop star whom some have compared to the likes of Adele and Amy Winehouse, dropped the soulful “Only Love Can Hurt Like This” in May of 2014. This nearly four-minute chunk of heartbreak zeroes in on how a lover makes you feel when they return after a breakup, only to pick up and leave again just as quickly. As Faith says during the bridge of the song, “Love is torture.” We feel you, Paloma. We feel you.

Favorite lyrics: Say I wouldn’t care / If you walked away / But every time you’re there / I’m begging you to stay / When you come close / I just tremble

“Burn” – Usher

Stop the presses, it’s Usher, and if it’s Usher, it’s R&B, and if it’s R&B, there’s bound to be heartbreak somewhere. Usher’s “Burn” is another one for those who are doing the dumping, rather than being dumped. It addresses a love that’s no longer mutual, one that you need to let go, to let burn, for your sake, as well as your significant other’s. It’s the perfect song for those relationships in which you ultimately felt worse because you held on for too long, and as a result, hurt your ex even more. It’s also perfect if you’re the kind of person who quickly loses feelings for someone once you’re in a relationship with them. Okay, you’ve heard enough. Get to crying. Release your inner guilt.

Favorite lyrics: Tell me why I should stay in this relationship / When I’m hurting baby / I ain’t happy baby / Plus there’s so many other things I gotta deal with / I think that you should let it burn

Crazy” – Patsy Cline

Ready for more smoky, 1960s torch songs? Listen to “Crazy” right after “Break It to Me Gently” for maximum torture. Patsy Cline’s yearning country twang lingers over the song’s scant accompaniment, bringing her vocal expertise to the forefront as The Jordanaires scat along in the background. From the very beginning, Cline determines the state of her sanity; she’s in love, but her lover is leaving her for someone new, someone fresh and exciting. She’s full of anxiety, too, and she agonizes over the delusion of thinking her own love was strong enough to make her partner stay. The key change at the end is a nice touch, too. Will you hold me?

Favorite lyrics: Worry / Why do I let myself worry? / Wondering / What in the world did I do / Crazy / For thinking that my love could hold you / I’m crazy for trying / And crazy for crying / And I’m crazy for loving you

What Hurts the Most” – Rascal Flatts

Whew, boy. This one’s definitely torturous. Listening to sad love songs that address what could have been, rather than what was, is a one-way ticket to Sob Town. And can we just commend Gary LeVox’s vocal prowess? Wow! He’s pretty much pitch-perfect during live performances, too. My favorite aspect of “What Hurts the Most” is the imagery of having to get out of bed and get dressed every morning, even though you’re severely depressed because you’ve just gone through a breakup. An honest, hard-hitting country classic, if you ask me. Seriously, will you hold me?

Favorite lyrics: I can take a few tears now and then and just let them out / I’m not afraid to cry every once in a while / Even though going on with you gone still upsets me / There are days every now and again I pretend I’m okay

Someone Like You” – Adele

Did you really think I’d write an article about sad songs to torture yourself with after a breakup without mentioning Adele, the Queen of Sad? “Someone Like You” may be composed in the key of A major, but it certainly strikes a minor chord. Adele’s somber lament of regret and of not being good enough is still just as powerful as it was eight years ago. Yep. Eight. Plus, it’s a great song with which to end this list, because it wishes nothing but the best for the ex, and that’s a good attitude to have following a breakup. Keep your chin up, champ. Time really does heal all wounds.

Favorite lyrics: Nothing compares / No worries or cares / Regrets and mistakes and their memories made / Who would have known how bittersweet / This would taste