Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance — going through a breakup brings its own kind of grief, and this playlist has a song for every stage. With the month of love safely in the rearview mirror, these breakup bangers pair perfectly with clearance-sale chocolate hearts.
“Hard Feelings/Loveless” by Lorde
Stage one — denial. Lorde’s sophomore album Melodrama luxuriates in its own angst, and this two-part track reflects the pain of admitting that a relationship is really over. “When you’ve outgrown a lover / The whole world knows, but you / It’s time to let go of this endless summer afternoon” Lorde sings in her characteristic husky timbre, letting go of a former lover as she tries to untangle him from her life. Ending a long-term relationship, she admits, rarely involves a clean split. Memories linger, and without her partner by her side, Lorde must grapple with her “hard feelings” alone.
A songstress with sound-to-color synesthesia, Lorde arranges her songs as though creating works of visual art, wrapping sultry vocals in lush synths, percussion and bass. Her textured production shines on “Loveless,” an upbeat follow-up to the melancholy “Hard Feelings.” The second song builds on the themes of the first, reckoning with the broader lack of romantic sentimentality in modern dating.
“Valentine” by Snail Mail
Stage two — anger. Singer-songwriter Lindsey Jordan blends an edgy indie-rock sound and sepia-toned, historical aesthetic as Snail Mail. “Valentine,” the lead single off an album of the same name, hides its bleeding heart behind a wall of rage. Electric guitars prop up the chorus as Snail Mail practically wails, “Why’d you wanna erase me? / Darling, Valentine?”
Reeling from a split with a lover who spurned her, Snail Mail spits venom in every line. “You’ll always know where to find me,” she sings, “When you change your mind.” The singer mourns her lost love, singing how she “ruined” herself to try to salvage their relationship and thinks she was “made for” a sweetheart she fears may have moved on — a thought that makes Snail Mail “lay down and start to cry.”
“erase me” by Lizzy McAlpine feat. Jacob Collier
Stage three — bargaining. Emotional and electrifying, “erase me” dives into the complicated feelings surrounding a moving-on strategy that almost always backfires — the “rebound.”
Indie darling Lizzy McAlpine teams up with frequent collaborator Jacob Collier to weave an intoxicating track that deviates from her usual acoustic, sad-girl sound. With raw vocals that curl into a growl, McAlpine sings about throwing herself into casual intimacy in an attempt to move on before giving herself time to heal — “you’re fading, but he feels like you in between.” She imagines her ex-partner doing the same and wonders aloud, “Who will erase me?”
McAlpine finds that, with “nothing there but skin,” her one-night-stands only rub salt in the wound of her broken heart as she goes “in and out of wanting” her old love back. Genuine emotional connection — which McAlpine often weaves into the narratives of her songwriting — cannot be so easily erased.
“All Too Well (Taylor’s Version)” by Taylor Swift
Stage four — depression. Taylor Swift does it best. Fans love Swift for her emotionally charged bridges, but “All Too Well” captures the scream-until-your-lungs-give-out feeling in every line. Originally released in 2012 on Swift’s genre-crossing album “Red,” “All Too Well” got a fuller sound and roughly five more minutes in its 2022 re-release on “Red (Taylor’s Version).”
The original “All Too Well” stings with all the bittersweetness of a freshly faded love. Swift recalls the “magic” of her relationship while reconciling with the fact that “it’s long gone.” “‘Cause there we are again in the middle of the night / We’re dancing ‘round the kitchen in the refrigerator light,” she remembers in flashback — “Down the stairs, I was there / I remember it all too well.” Swift’ grief comes in waves as she relives the highs, curses the lows, smiles at the love she had and cries over its loss.
“All Too Well” has staying power as a breakup ballad because it beautifully balances specific and universal experiences of heartbreak. While listeners may have gotten lost on a different “little town street” and pored over a different “photo album on the counter,” Swift’s personal story speaks to the painful emotional reeling anyone who has gone through a breakup will remember “all too well.”
To really turn on the waterworks, stream “All Too Well (10 Minute Version)” — or, for maximum emotional devastation, the “Sad Girl Autumn Version.”
“Again” by Sasha Alex Sloan
Stage five — acceptance. With soft vocals, acoustic guitar, and strings layered over the gentle swish of percussion, King Henry’s production makes Sasha Alex Sloan’s “Again” endlessly listenable. The final track off Sloan’s EP “Loser” acknowledges the importance of a past relationship to her personal growth while ultimately letting it go.
Choosing closure over regret, Sloan sings about her gratitude for the time she spent with a partner who wasn’t meant to stay in her life. “You’ll be a part of me forever,” Sloan tells her ex in a bittersweet goodbye — “Even though it wasn’t right / I still hope you’re alright.”
These songs create a cathartic soundtrack for releasing the past and embracing the future. Breakups are a painful reality of life, but — as the virtually endless canon of songs about lost love can attest — music is the antidote for heartbreak.