When Adele’s 25 album came out, my then-boyfriend said, “We should break up for a week just so we can enjoy this album to its fullest potential.” It sounded ridiculous — and no, we did not break up for a week just so we could cry listening to “Hello” — but it also made sense.
Some songs just sound better when your heart is broken. Some of my greatest memories, toughest moments, and most painful heartbreaks are associated with certain songs, and when it comes to songs to listen to after a breakup, Adele isn’t the only person you can turn to (but she definitely does help).
Instead of pulling up a playlist that will only leave you wallowing in sadness, the best happy breakup songs may express feelings of regret, but more than that, they celebrate the moment you regain the freedom to live life on your own terms, the exhilaration of being single again, and the realization that you are complete in yourself.
1. Nouvelle Vague “Love Will Tear Us Apart”
This French pop take on one of the darkest breakup songs of all time (originally by Joy Division), lightens things up a little but love…it does tear you apart!
– Courtney E. Smith
2. Kacey Musgraves “Space Cowboy”
Sometimes it’s not meant to be and the only thing you can do is give (or take) some space. In this tearful ballad from Musgraves, she recognizes this isn’t the cowboy for her and hopefully rides off to greener pastures.
– Courtney E. Smith
3. Mark Ronson feat. Miley Cyrus “Nothing Breaks Like a Heart”
Sure, you love Miley’s party songs but she can really break your heart as well. This pair-up with producer Mark Ronson yields a world-weary track about the pains of a broken heart and the trials of getting through one.
– Courtney E. Smith
4. ‘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
5. ‘I Will Always Love You’ by Whitney Houston
Dolly Parton wrote and recorded this song in 1973 as a rueful envoi for her mentor and champion, Porter Wagoner, and later reprised it in the 1982 movie musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.
6. ‘Neither One of Us’ by Gladys Knight & the Pips
Over a swelling, slow and deliberate melody, the Empress of Soul calmly and painfully recounts the end of her relationship in this heartbreaker.
7. ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’’ by the Righteous Brothers
Love crashes into a wall – specifically, producer Phil Spector’s trademark ‘Wall of Sound’ – in this blue-eyed-soul lament, the 20th century’s most-played song on radio and TV.
8. ‘Someone Like You’ by Adele
Adele basically wrote the book on tear-soaked breakup ballads, and her catalog plays out like a musical tour through the stages of grief.
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.
10. ‘Back to Black’ by Amy Winehouse
The late singer-songwriter crooned plenty about addiction, depression and heartbreak, but nowhere more brutally than in this moody torch song, which gave its title to her 2007 album.
11. ‘The Tracks of My Tears’ by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles
Smokey might, indeed, ‘be the life of the party,’ but ‘deep inside [he’s] blue,’ people. As with the best soulful weepers, ‘Tracks’ beautifully and economically articulates the pain of missing the one that got away.
12. ‘Ex-Factor’ by Lauryn Hill
‘Doo Wop (That Thing)’ may have been the flagship single from Lauryn Hill’s post-Fugees solo debut – 1998’s multi-Grammy-winning The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill – but it was the languid, lovely ‘Ex-Factor’ that rocketed the disc into the realms of extraordinary.
13. ‘Maps’ by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
The enduring force of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’s most classic song lies in its expression of the inexpressible: the pithy, repetitive lyrics (‘Oh say, oh say, oh say… wait’) capturing that tongue-tied desperation between denial and acceptance.
14. ‘thank u, next’ by Ariana Grande
Following your breakup with a hit single thanking each and every one of your past flames for the lessons learned from those relationships? The phrase ‘above it’ hardly seems sufficient for this refreshingly resentment-free ode to moving on.
15. ‘Pain In My Heart’ by Otis Redding
Over and again, whether hopeful or heartbreaking, Otis Redding’s exquisite love songs bring us to our knees, like this title track off the soul icon’s 1964 debut album for Stax Records subdivision Volt (which also includes the imploring ‘