For the heartbroken, nothing helps heal like music. Whether you’re trying to get in touch with the intensity of your emotions or just needing something to cry to, artists have created truly moving songs about heartbreak that will help you sit with your sadness and eventually move on. A breakup or sad life event can make anyone feel isolated and alone in their sorrow. A great song can be your friend that deeply understands you and helps you through the tough times.
We decided to think of the songs that helped us through heartbreak. It’s funny because you want to hear certain things at certain stages of your healing. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross wrote in her book On Death and Dying in 1969 and posited that grief could be divided into five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Now, it’s not perfect, but we think it’s a good framework for thinking about what sorts of songs will make you feel better in whatever stage you’re going through. Here are 10 underrated songs about heartbreak for all the emotions that accompany grief. These songs should help you feel better after a listen.
Let It Die – Fiest
If you’re going through a breakup, actually accepting that the relationship is over is one of the hardest aspects. Denial is a common defense mechanism, but it does delay the healing process. Accepting that a relationship has ended is the subject of Canadian artist, Feist‘s “Let It Die.”
“And after all, it won’t take long to fall (in love) / Now I know what I don’t want / I learned that with you,” are some of the lyrics found in this song that meditate on what’s lost. They also ask us to look to the future and what we can make with what we’ve learned. “Let it die and get out of my mind,” is another frank lyric that opens the song. Letting go is the eventuality and this song asks us to face reality.
Unf*cktheworld – Angel Olsen
“It’s not just me for you / I have to look out too / I have to save my life / I need some peace of mind.” Indie rock god, Angel Olsen made huge waves with her 2014 album, Burn Your Fire for No Witness. The first track on the album is called “Unf*cktheworld.” Which, if you’re going through some things, seems like the right sentiment. The song ends with the lyrics “I am the only one now” repeated several times.
Accepting that you need to look out for yourself to move on is a big part of the healing process. Which is why the next stage of denial is anger.
Destroyer – Lala Lala
Where denial is a coping mechanism, anger is a masking one. While your rational brain knows the object of your anger isn’t to blame, your feelings at that moment are often too intense to feel that. Chicago-based Lala Lala has an excellent song (off an equally excellent album, The Lamb) called “Destroyer” that bridges the gap between sadness and anger. The chorus pulses with intensity “You are the reason / You are the reason / You are the reason my heart broke behind my back.”
Limp – Fiona Apple
Fiona Apple‘s sophomore album, When the Pawn… never received the same praise as her debut. The album is aggressive, raw, and full of emotion. The track “Limp” is particularly good to listen to when you want to blow off some steam. The lyrics of this song are especially good when one yells them, “And when I think of it, my fingers turn to fists / I never did anything to you, man / But no matter what I try, you’ll beat me with your bitter lies / So call me crazy, hold me down / Make me cry, get off now, baby / It won’t be long ’til you’ll be lying limp in your own hands.
Whew! That should help get some stuff off your chest. During grief, you may feel vulnerable and helpless. Anger often turns to bargains as a means of feeling like you’re in control. For this reason, in the bargaining stage of grief, you may find yourself creating a lot of “what if” and “if only” statements.
Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God) – Kate Bush
While Kate Bush is definitely not underrated but when you think of “breakup song” or “heartbreak,” this is probably not one that comes to mind. According to Bush, “Running Up That Hill” is actually about gender roles and relationships. However, the lyrics “And if I only could / I’d make a deal with God / And I’d get him to swap our places” and “You don’t want to hurt me / But see how deep the bullet lies” definitely lend themselves to personal interpretation.
Home Soon – Vagabon
“I give it all away / I’ll be home soon” are lyrics that cycle over and over in Vagaon‘s “Home Soon.” The ethereal nature of the song captures feelings of yearning for safety, satisfaction, and comfort. However, Kübler-Ross suggests that bargaining is just biding time before the next stage, depression. Anger and bargaining feel like “active” emotions while depression often feels quiet in comparison.
Wild Goose Chase – Dark Dark Dark
It goes without saying that these stages of grief aren’t concrete and we all vacillate from emotion to emotion when we’re going through tough times. Dark Dark Dark‘s “Wild Goose Chase” captures the rambling, aimless feeling that many of us experience. We bounce from one thing to the next hoping that something, anything will make it better. This beautiful, somber song will allow you to meditate on those feeling and know that it’s completely normal to have them and experience what you’re feeling.
Two Slow Dancers – Mitski
While she’s huge in indie music, Mitski hasn’t received widespread recognition for her talents (which are vast). You may have heard her some of her more popular tracks like “Nobody” or “Best American Girl” both of which are fantastic. But, the closing song of her 2018 album, Be the Cowboy entitled “Two Slow Dancers” is the gorgeous ballad a broken heart needs.
The song imagines a high school romance, in all of its simplicity. “It would be a hundred times easier / If we were young again,” Mitski ruefully acknowledges. While the two slow dancers in the song are pulled back to reality from their fantasy, reality is the ground they must walk on. So, must we all.
While Mitski sings of a fantasy being tugged back to reality, Waxahatchee asks us to fully face it in the song “Ruby Falls.” This lightly country ballad is about a woman’s fear of falling and then eventually taking a leap into something new. “I tell this story every time / Real love don’t follow a straight line / It breaks your neck / It builds you a delicate shrine,” she explains.
The song ends with her facing her fears and eventually growing old with her partner. It’s a very good song about the possibilities that await after we make hard choices and face facts.
Jamila Woods – GIOVANNI
Acceptance is not necessarily an uplifting stage of grief. It doesn’t mean you’ve moved past the grief or loss. It does, however, mean that you’ve accepted it and have come to understand what it means in your life now. Jamila Woods said in an interview that her song “GIOVANNI” is based on Nikki Giovanni‘s poems “Ego Tripping (there must be a reason why)” and “Gemini” in which Giovanni discusses the people and experiences that helped form her pride in her womanhood. This is not a song about heartbreak, but it is a song about acceptance and power.
In Woods’ song, she discusses how she’s reached a level of acceptance within herself and the pride that both her mother and grandmother have passed down to her. The song is empowering while acknowledging the hardships of the past. “You can’t not smile when I smile / And I cry, I cry / It’s just the rain so I can grow,” is one such verse in which Woods accepts that sadness will come, but that it’s an opportunity for growth.
There you go! Ten songs that pair well with each stage of grief you might be feeling and all that comes in between. Mending a broken heart is a project that each person must take on in their own way. However, music’s ability to speak to universal truths like our emotions often helps. We hope these songs make you feel less alone and even inspire you.
- 1 1. Denial
- 2 2. Anger
- 3 3. Bargaining
- 4 4. Depression
- 5 5. Acceptance
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