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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 flavors. 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. 

The best breakup songs distill raw, universal human emotions into symphonies of sonic catharsis. On this list, you’ll find wounded soul singers and divas walking confidently from the ashes of bad relationships. 

1. “Stay,” by Rihanna featuring Mikky Ekko (2012)

Rihanna may release club hit after club hit, but she really shines in her more vulnerable moments, like this pleading love song that is guaranteed to wreck even the strongest heart.

2. “Someone Like You,” by Adele (2011)

No list of sad love songs would be complete without the queen of heartbreak ballads: the one and only Adele.

3. “Stay With Me,” by Sam Smith (2014)

British singer Sam Smith gives Adele a run for her money in the sad love songs department, and that’s really saying something.

4. “Best Thing I Never Had,” by Beyoncé (2011)

This breakup ballad leaves you feeling empowered and ready to move on with the fierceness and dignity that only Queen Bey can inspire.

5. “Take Care,” by Drake & Rihanna (2011)

When Drake and Rihanna team up, magic happens. “Take Care” is one of their best duets because we can all identify with its lyrics about loving someone through their personal pain.

6. “Love You Goodbye,” by One Direction (2015)

Perhaps it’s because it was released shortly before One Direction’s “hiatus,” but “Love You Goodbye” still makes us cry.

7. “I Will Always Love You,” by Whitney Houston (1992)

Dolly Parton wrote this legendary love song, but Whitney Houston made it very, very, very famous. It’s one of the most emotional, powerful heartbreak songs of all time.

8. “Somebody That I Used to Know,” by Gotye & Kimbra (2011)

Gotye and Kimbra’s duet was *everywhere * a few years ago — probably because so many people identified with its lyrics about failing to recognize the person you fell in love with.

9. “We Don’t Talk Anymore,” by Charlie Puth and Selena Gomez (2016)

“Even after all this time/I still wonder why I can’t move on/the way you did so easily,” Charlie sings, stabbing us in the heart every time.

10. “thank u, next,” by Ariana Grande (2018)

Ariana sings about all her high-profile former flames in this iconic breakup song.

11. “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. 

12. “Back to Black” by Amy Winehouse

The late singer-songwriter crooned plenty about addiction, depression and heartbreak, but nowhere more brutal than in this moody torch song, which gave its title to her 2007 album. 

13. “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. “

14. “The Tracks of My Tears” by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles

Ah, the tears of a clown. 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. 

15 “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.

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