No matter how you feel after a relationship has ended, there’s bound to be a song or breakup playlist that captures how your emotions.
The five stages of grief are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
For the purpose of keeping this post organized, we’ve divided the original breakup playlist into three emotional states — sadness, anger, and empowerment.
There are songs from different genres and decades to reflect the wide range of musical gems when it comes to relationships and heartbreak.
YouTube links and a Spotify playlist are included for you to easily check out the songs on this list. We recommend listening to the songs on Spotify first if audio quality is highly important to you.
A breakup playlist for the days where you feel like your heart can never be mended.
Listen on Spotify
1. Don’t Speak by No Doubt
Released in 1996, this song reflected lead singer Gwen Stefani’s breakup from her bassist, Tony Kanal. The song was included on the band's third album, ‘Tragic Kingdom.' Gwen’s vocals capture the anguish of keeping the silence and not saying more “because it hurts.”
2. Leave in Silence by Depeche Mode
Like many Depeche Mode songs, this one has a groovy synthetic beat. Billboard describes this song as “the rare breakup ballad that attempts to tiptoe out the back door rather than loudly storm out the front.” The lyrics reflect someone who’s been “running around in circles” in their relationship who cannot stand much more “emotional violence.” Gotta love DM!
3. Don’t Cry by Guns n’ Roses
This is a power ballad performed by Guns N' Roses. According to SongFacts, frontman Axl Rose wrote the song with guitarist Izzy Stradlin after they fell for the same girl. The girl wouldn't choose between them and told Axl, “Don't Cry,” which ended up being the song title.
When I was seventeen, I got a copy of the GnR greatest hits CD that reintroduced their classic hits to a new generation of music fans. This was always one of my favorite songs on the collection because of the mood and Axl’s exceptional vocals from start to finish.
4. Careless Whisper by George Michael
George Michael’s ‘Careless Whisper’ was voted the number one song of all time in a 2017 Smooth Radio poll. It topped the charts in 26 countries and was named Billboard's top song of 1985.
The song was co-written by Michael and his Wham! bandmate Andrew Ridgeley, when they were just 17 years old. Listen to this song for the immortal words, “Guilty feet have got no rhythm…”
5. All Too Well by Taylor Swift
No breakup playlist would be complete without songs by singer/songwriter Taylor Swift. ‘All Too Well’ is about a celebrity Swift dated who kept a scarf of hers after their relationship dissolved. This lyrical masterpiece is rated on Rolling Stone as Taylor’s #1 song of her entire discography up to the Reputation album.
In a 2019 Elle interview, Taylor Swift shared some of the songs that helped her heal after bad breakups.
6. Save Me by Queen
OMG, there will never be another Freddie Mercury. I was sixteen when I got Queen’s “Greatest Hits” album. It was only several years later that I really listened to and fell in love with the beautiful tune, lyrics, and vocals of this very powerful song about a relationship that has ended.
Sulistiya from Arema, Indonesia, says:
“This song is awesome. I've listened to it a thousand times it seems…and it always gets me back to look at my own life and gets me in tears. Brian was brilliant and Freddie performed it in an amazing way. It really depicted a breakup to be.”
7. If It’s Over by Mariah Carey
‘If It's Over’ is written by American singers and songwriters Mariah Carey and Carole King. Mariah has a five-octave vocal range. This song is about someone pleading to be “let go” if the relationship is (really) over this time.
Rich Juzwiak has a Very Specific Playlist on Mariah Carey breakup songs organized by the five stages of grief. It’s a specific and worthy playlist to check out, for sure.
8. Love Hurts by Nazareth
Performed as a power ballad, the Nazareth version is the most popular version of the song. It’s the only rendition of ‘Love Hurts’ to become a hit single in the United States.
Steven from Universal City, TX says:
“My first REAL heartbreak in 2010, I played this CD track maybe 14 times all the way through. It really spoke to me.”
9. All I Could Do was Cry by Etta James
Etta James's powerful, earthy voice is an effortless blend of rhythm and blues and rock and roll. She won six Grammy Awards and Rolling Stone magazine ranked James number 22 on its list of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. (Source: Wikipedia).
This song is dripping with pain through Etta recalls being a guest at a certain wedding. 💔
10. Wrecking Ball AND Slide Away by Miley Cyrus
‘Slide Away' was released in 2019. It is a reflection on Miley’s relationship with Liam Hemsworth (they met when she was seventeen and divorced later after a rocky ten-year relationship). She writes about how they’re no longer the same now that they’re “not seventeen” anymore.
‘Wrecking Ball' is another beautiful song, written several years before ‘Slide Away.'
For the days where you’re frustrated for wasting a whole lot of time and energy on the wrong person!
Listen on Spotify
11. From the Inside by Linkin Park
Linkin Park has a unique sound due to the rap and metal that features in their songs. This is a great one to listen to when things are over and you realize that you don’t want to waste your time on your ex anymore.
“Cause I swear for the last time, I won't trust myself with you
I won't waste myself on you”
12. You Oughta Know by Alanis Morisette
This song was the lead single from her Alanis’s third studio album, Jagged Little Pill (1995). The aggressive tone of the song was a shift from her teen dance popstar image. Alanis has said that she “writes these songs for [herself], not other people.”
Celebrities rumored to be the ex-lover in the song include actor-comedian Dave Coulier, hockey player Mike Peluso, actor Matt LeBlanc (who appeared in the video for Alanis’s single “Walk Away,” and musician-producer Leslie Howe who worked on Alanis’s first two albums.
13. That’s What I Get by Nine Inch Nails
None of the songs on the 1989 ‘Pretty Hate Machine' debut album by NIN sound dated, even though it’s been thirty years since it was first released.
“Just when everything was making sense
You took away all my self confidence”
14. Ex-Girlfriend by No Doubt
In the official video for this song, Gwen Stefani rocks her iconic hot pink locks and pink contouring The lyrics commiserate about being “another ex-girlfriend” on the list, and that she should’ve thought of that before the first kiss.
15. We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together by Taylor Swift
Here’s another famous tune from Taylor Swift. The song is reportedly about Jake Gyllenhaal. There’s a section where she’s speaking over a phone and briefly imitating her ex’s voice, and you can clearly hear how she feels when she says, “This is exhausting.”
16. Shame by Stabbing Westward
Stabbing Westward has been described by fans as one of the most underrated bands of the nineties. When I was fifteen, I was introduced to SW by an older online friend. It was a random friendship that lasted for a year or two, but I’m eternally grateful for being introduced to the heavy, dark, and aggressive/moody rock music of SW that envelopes you like a warm glove during your “darkest days.”
17. These Boots Are Made for Walkin' by Nancy Sinatra
Nancy Sinatra was born in 1940, and is the eldest of three children born to Frank Sinatra and his wife, Nancy Barbato Sinatra.
If you’re casually listening to this song, you may be more focused on the catchy beat than the lyrics. Listen carefully to fully appreciate its viciousness.
18. Without Me AND Love Yourself by Halsey
‘Without Me' is partially about Halsey's ex-boyfriend, American rapper G-Eazy.
The second song is Halsey’s cover version of ‘Love Yourself' by Justin Bieber. Both versions are heartfelt, but Halsey’s has more angst if you’re finding your breakup a bitter pill to swallow.
19. I Hate Myself for Loving You by Joan Jett & the Blackhearts
This is a very catchy tune sung by one of the Queens of Rock, Joan Jett.
It’s a perfect song to listen to when you know you’ve got to move on, but are not totally over your ex yet.
“You took my heart then you took my pride away. . .”
20. Before He Cheats by Carrie Underwood
In the song, Carrie uses a key to scratch the side of her boyfriend's car and “carves her name” into the leather seats because he has been cheating on her.
Check out this list for more great country break-up hits!
For the days where you feel like a new person now that you’re free and single…and wiser.
Listen on Spotify
1. I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor
This is the ultimate empowerment song to listen to when you’re afraid or uncertain about your life and future after leaving relationship.
2. I Will Survive by Cake
As a teen, this was actually the first version of ‘I Will Survive' that I listened to.
As clueless anonymous says:
I love it when bands do covers of popular or famous songs in their own style. The original song [by Gloria Gaynor] is more of a victory theme of someone breaking free of a bad relationship, while Cake's version is more of a bitter “F— you and everything you stand for” kind of song.
3. It's Not Right but It's Okay by Whitney Houston
When you listen to this song, you’ll definitely notice the way Whitney Houston emphasizes the word “receipt!”
When something bad happens, it isn’t right. But Whitney reminds you that you’re “gonna make it anyway.”
4. Express Yourself by Madonna
After one particularly bad breakup, one song that stood out to me was ‘Express Yourself' by Madonna. To me, the lyrics to this classic tune have always been about having self-respect.
5. Respect by Aretha Franklin
As writer S. Atkinson says:
“Self-care is all about feeling comfortable taking up space in the world. Sometimes, you can't ask for respect; you've got to demand it.”
6. Stronger by Britney Spears
This song will boost your self-esteem in no time. It’ll remind you that tomorrow can always be better than today, and that you’re “stronger” than who you were before.
7. Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You) by Kelly Clarkson
A similar song in terms of its message to Britney’s ‘Stronger,' for a new generation of music fans to relate to.
8. A-Yo by Lady Gaga
Lady Gaga explained the meaning behind ‘A-Yo’ in a tweet to a fan’s question.
"A-YO, A-YO were smokin 'em all" is like "hey you, let's celebrate. Were leavin our haters in the dust." 💃
— Lady Gaga (@ladygaga) October 16, 2016
This song and the album it’s from is a marked shift from some of Lady Gaga’s earlier dance-pop hits. A-Yo’s full of powerful vocals with a beat that’ll make you remember you’re free to have fun.
9. Send My Love (To Your New Lover) by Adele
This is a mature song about moving on, forgiveness, letting go of bad feelings, and positive growth.
10. Solo by Jennie
Jennie is the lead singer of the wildly popular K-Pop girl group, Black Pink. Jennie was raised in New Zealand and is fluent in three languages.
This is a nice one to listen to when you’re “goin' solo” and you’re happy to do things on your own now.
11. So What by Pink
As recommended by my sister, here’s a modern rendition of an empowering-happy type of post-breakup anthem.
Feel free to share some of your favorite breakup playlist songs in the comments!