ACRN: Favorite Breakup Songs

Night Shift by Lucy Dacus

One of my favorite breakup songs is “Night Shift,” the leading track on Historian by indie musician Lucy Dacus. “You got a 9 to 5, so I’ll take the night shift / And I’ll never see you again if I can help it”, is the gut-wrenching feeling of uprooting every single aspect of your life and daily routine just to avoid someone who once meant everything to you. It’s the feeling of sacrificing yourself entirely so that the other person can continue with their life as if nothing changed. Dacus is widely known for her powerful lyricism and emotional songs both in her solo work and as a member of the boygenius trio. With lines like, “I feel no need to forgive, but I might as well / But let me kiss your lips, so I know how it felt” and, “Am I a masochist, resisting urges to punch you in the teeth? / Call you a bitch and leave?” Dacus simultaneously encapsulates both the apathy and the rage that accompany breakups. While Dacus has no shortage of songs that could make you cry, “Night Shift” particularly stands out for the breadth of emotions and the slow but steady build up to a cathartic ending.

– Julia Weber, Features Editor

Song for the Dumped by Ben Folds Five

In the music world, there is a gross lack of representation for dumpees. There are plenty of songs detailing the pains of an unrequited love or a summer teenage fling, but where is the sound for those of us who can’t catch a break? For those of us who have been dumped? Well, have no fear because Ben Fold Five delivered our anthem! Guided by Folds’ bright and striking piano melodies, “Song for the Dumped” is a tune for when you’ve cried your last tear and are ready to be pissed. The bridge exemplifies that familiar feeling of being dumped with talks of “taking a break” or “needing some space” while Folds chorus blasts an empowering “Fuck you too” and “Give me my money back you bitch.” It’s basically a purge of everything you wished you had said to your ex rolled up into a badass melody. The ultimate breakup catharsis and a reminder that you were indeed not the problem.

– Sophia Hoffman, Promotions Director

Perfect Illusion by Lady Gaga

One of my favorite break-up songs by far is “Perfect Illusion” by Lady Gaga. Despite the upbeat and high-energy nature of the song, its lyrics are striking and cunning, just as Gaga intended after, at the time, ending a years-long engagement. I love the build-up to the chorus in the song – it’s almost as if you can feel the pain she’s singing about. “I don’t need eyes to see / I felt you touching me / High like amphetamine / Maybe you’re just a dream” is one of the best lines, and the music video for the song is even better. Compared to most Lady Gaga videos and songs, this track is not as flamboyant or outlandish, but witnessing the singer throw herself down onto the hot desert sand, obviously reeling in regret and anger, “Perfect Illusion” becomes the epitome of what it means to be blind sided by the person you thought you loved.

– Grace Koennecke, Columns Editor

All I Wanted by Paramore

Gotta be this one. I have a friend who shotguns a beer every time, with no fail, at the final chorus break when Hayley Williams cuts through with that vicious cry of ,“ALL I WANTED WAS YOU.”  Oh, you don’t believe me?  You gotta hear me out.

The emotion of the part I’m describing could probably even reach the cold, dark heart of legendary New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick.  If you don’t do sports, then replace Bill Belichick with, I don’t know, Lord Voldemort in that last sentence. If you didn’t get any of those references, it’s time to look inward, that’s not my fault anymore. Moving on from that, “All I Wanted” is a supremely catchy song that grips you from start to finish and builds up to an ultimate finale of grief.  It can hit pretty hard and yeah, my friend really does shotgun that beer.  She’ll be okay eventually, but until then she has this song.

– Paul Nern, News Editor

The Gun Song by Car Seat Headrest

Car Seat Headrest has a lot of noteworthy breakup songs, but “The Gun Song” is undoubtedly their best. It’s simply epic. The depiction of the relationship is so grand that it’s almost biblical. The totality that accompanies the lyrics makes for one of the most painful images of the destruction of love ever. The song is split into three parts, “What Joe Said,” “What Joe’s Baby Said,” and finally a conclusion. The section “What Joe Said” begins with “I’m not hung up on you anymore, but here’s why I hung up,” an intro to what is to follow. “What Joe Said” is comprised of a whopping 11 verses (oh yeah, this is the longest Car Seat Headrest song, a band known for their long songs). “What Joe Said” builds the entire time, exploding towards the end in an epic climax that begins at the end of verse nine and sustains itself and increases in intensity until the end of the section after verse 11. “What Joe’s Baby Said” also builds to an epic climax and contains an amazing guitar part.

The first verse of “What Joe Said” starts with an attention-grabbing hook: “Behind every great love story lies a great suicide / you can’t give yourself completely and keep the man inside.” Frontman and lyricist Will Toledo is saying rather bluntly that to, “Give yourself completely” you are to an extent going to destroy yourself. This echoes lines in later songs like “Cosmic Hero” where he says the inverse of this, “If you really wanna know yourself / it will come at the price of knowing no one else.” These outlooks are a pretty toxic viewing of relationships, but if Toledo’s other work didn’t already make it abundantly clear, “good stories are bad lives.” The relationship in this song is time and time again made out to be toxic, and that’s what makes the song so interesting. Toledo is right about bad lives, they’re fascinating. 

Most of the significant verses of the first half of the song come near the end. Verse eight contains the poignant line, “If I’m not getting fucked over, I’m not getting fucked at all.” Verse 10 is where things truly start to make me feel a little crazy. The verse depicts “Joe” outside at a party on the phone with “Joe’s baby.” “Joe” says, “At least we’ve both got the moon” and “Joe’s baby” replies “I’m inside.” The attempt to connect met with immediate rejection by someone who is supposed to love you is brutal. The minor cruelty in this exchange is insane. Verse 11 proves “The Gun Song” is one of the greatest breakup songs of all time. “I’ll try loving again / you’ll try living alone” is perhaps the greatest breakup line ever. The concept of “Joe” deciding to keep trying for love, but knowing that “Joe’s baby” just isn’t fit for love, that “Joe” was their best shot, and that they couldn’t even make that work, and now they’re just going to give up, is incredibly harsh, but incredibly beautiful when followed up with, “We’ll meet at the end of this lifetime and compare notes.” “What Joe Said” ends in an explosion of music, but deep in the mix you can make out Will singing, “If bitterness is all that I have left / I’ll be better at being bitter than anybody else,” the perfect note to leave a toxic relationship on.

In “What Joe’s Baby Said,” again the later verses stand out as truly amazing examples of Will’s songwriting. “All I know is, one of us was supposed to kill the other / isn’t that what they mean when they say lovers?” references the very beginning of the song, and beautifully depicts attitudes towards toxic relationships that those within them may hold. “Joe’s Baby” believes, similar to Joe himself, that love is destructive to the self. The attitude wavers however, as the following lines make clear: “But murder is dirty, and peace comes cheap / here’s my new number, tell me when you’re free.” This is a cute testimony to love, an offer to make a new beginning, to try again. However, in the conclusion “The Gun Song” lives up to its name and concludes the metaphor of toxic relationships causing death. The conclusion is an interpolation of “Down by the River” by Neil Young. Will sings on repeat, “Down by the river / I shot my baby.” Their love has come to its inevitable violent end.

– Venus Rittenberg, Editorial Director

I Felt Your Shape by The Microphones

I Felt Your Shape” by The Microphones is another intense breakup song of an entirely different vein. It’s a fleeting one minute and 54 seconds, but it perfectly encapsulates the mourning and sense of loss surrounding failed relationships. “I hung around your neck independently / And my loss was overwhelmed / By this new depth I don’t think I’ve ever felt / But I don’t know / The nights are cold / And I remember warmth / I could have sworn I wasn’t alone.” The lyrics are simple and straightforward, but strikingly vulnerable, cutting deep emotionally. “I Felt Your Shape” is a gem of a song on an overall fantastic album. It’s the perfect song for the post-tears numbness.

– Julia Weber, Features Editor

Figure Eight by Trophy Eyes

I think it’s such a good song. First of all, I love the song and it’s an interesting genre change for Trophy Eyes when they released it back in 2020. The song itself is about a couple who are falling out of love and are about to break up, so you see the desperation. You can hear it in John Floreani’s vocals, the emotions he has. It’s not as sad as other breakup songs, I just really enjoy the song and can’t stop listening to it. There’s also a sick saxophone breakdown.

– Amy Szmik, Copy Editor

50 Ways to Leave Your Lover by Paul Simon

Led by the sharp rum pum pum of Steve Gadd’s drum, Paul Simon describes a mistress who states the many ways (50, in fact) to leave your lover. An early form of ghosting, “Slip out the back, Jack” is a reminder to us that men will never change. Simon’s playful melody takes a unique stance on the “break up” as it celebrates the excitement of ending a relationship rather than the melancholy. The song’s quick pace marches past and swoops up listeners. Instead of dwelling on the past, the triumphant nature of this song is like the quick rip off a bandaid. It pushes the listener past the pain and into a whirlwind of bright and dazzling noise. It functions as a distraction from the situation’s reality. There’s nothing a mistress’s words and a little sublime oblivion can’t do!

– Sophia Hoffman, Promotions Director

Capturing Moods by Rilo Kiley

“Capturing Moods” by Rilo Kiley is a pretty simple song. It begins with a catchy melody with playful jumps. The first couple of verses see the narrator consoling their partner, offering to them that, Moods don’t command [them]” and that there’s love and friendly people in the world. Even though the lyrics of these verses appear very simple, they are already quite significant. The line, “Moods don’t command you” hits incredibly close to home for me, as someone with a mood disorder who has dated other people with mood disorders. Mood disorders are discussed on other songs on the album as well. It is very easy to feel as if moods do command me, so it’s comforting to hear a reminder that they don’t have to. After these first two verses we get a tease of the hook. Jenny Lewis sings, “And I don’t mind waiting,” a harbinger of things to come, as this line is repeated in the future choruses.

Verse three gets a little more pointed. Lewis sings, “I’m always one step ahead of you / if you don’t know what you’re going through.” Lewis’ lyrics are a little more aggressive, implying a superiority over their partner that alters the interpretation of earlier lines. The aforementioned “moods don’t command you” line also starts to feel pointed at this point as well. The following choruses are brutal, and contain some of the greatest breakup lines of all time. My favorite is, “I don’t mind wasting the best years of our lives.” This line hits hard when you’ve had a relationship that feels like it is sucking away your life force, but you just don’t care to leave. I’ve never heard a song capture that type of heartbreak before. The final line of the song is also devastating. “I don’t mind racing through our goodbyes.” When your limit breaks for what you’re willing to put up with, you just want it to be over as fast as possible. There’s no sense wasting time on heartfelt goodbyes when your feelings towards the other person have already turned to disdain.

Ultimately, this song captures what it’s like to be stuck in a failing relationship, just drowning alongside the other person; knowing that you’re better than this, but also knowing that you won’t do anything about it, no matter how badly you want to.

– Venus Rittenberg, Editorial Director

A Long December by Counting Crows

Best described as feeling like an airport breakup, “A Long December” channels visions of a final heart wrenching goodbye as young lovers part ways. It tells the story of missed chances and serenely paints the fleeting moments of love’s end. Counting Crows’ acoustic/pop rock roots may feel cheesy at times, but if you can look past it, the smooth, sad melody recalls with haunting accuracy the nostalgia of a first true love and a first true love’s failure. Like a warm bed in a cold damp room, this song will leave your heart with a comforting chill.

– Sophia Hoffman, Promotions Director

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