Why Are Songs About Breakups So Successful?

Songs that talk about heartbreak, like those by Shakira, Miley Cyrus, and Taylor Swift, tend to attract a great deal of attention and are downloaded by the million. Why does this happen?
Why Are Songs About Breakups So Successful?
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 18 December, 2023

One of the most iconic songs about the end of a relationship is “I Will Always Love You”. It was sung by Whitney Houston and popularized in the movie, The Bodyguard. The song was a runaway success and managed to stay at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 for 14 weeks in 1992. Interestingly, this song was written in 1973 by Dolly Parton.

The queen of American country, a genius when it comes to writing songs on this particular theme, also took the song to number one on the music charts. Now, it’s her goddaughter, singer-songwriter Miley Cyrus, who’s breaking streaming records with her latest single, “Flowers”.

It seems that we’ve reached an era in which breakups, at least in the musical area, are no longer experienced with despair and melancholy. In fact, today, the end of love gives way to empowerment. Sometimes, romantic love is even deconstructed and the idea that you don’t need a partner to be happy is promoted.

Indeed, times have changed, but our fascination for songs that talk about the end of love persists. So, what’s the reason for this phenomenon so deeply rooted in our collective unconscious?

“I can buy myself flowers.
Write my name in the sand.
Talk to myself for hours.
Say things you don’t understand.
I can take myself dancing.
And I can hold my own hand.
Yeah, I can love me better than you can.”

-Miley Cyrus, “Flowers”, 2023-

Miley Cyrus depicting the effect of breakup songs
The break with Liam Hemsworth inspired Miley Cyrus to write the song, “Flowers”.

The appeal of breakup songs

Songs about breakups get under your skin. They give you goosebumps and awaken the most intense feelings in you. It doesn’t matter if the lyrics make you shed a few tears or invite you to dance after slamming the door on that someone you used to want so badly. Beyond the circumstances that cause heartbreak in the songs, lie the emotions, the kinds with which you identify so much.

A few weeks ago, half the world commented on the latest song by Shakira and Bizarrap, whose explicit lyrics completely demolished their past partners. However, this phenomenon isn’t new.

Talking about toxic relationships and converting the lyrics into catharsis mechanisms is a classic action. Only today, it generates likes and provokes infinite social media debates in which everyone wants to get involved.

Yet, beyond sensationalism, why do songs about breakups attract us in this way?

Broken hearts aren’t healed by antiseptics. But, songs about breakups do often turn out to be rather healing.

1. Empathy: we’ve all experienced similar situations

Sometimes, love fades, without explanation. In others, there are cruel deceptions and betrayals. For every kind of break up there’s a song, and listening to lyrics that remind you of your own ignites your empathy.

Not only that. It makes you feel less alone. That’s because it’s comforting to know that other people have gone through similar emotional abysses.

Suddenly, there’s someone who’s putting into words exactly how you feel. This is both amazing and pleasurable at the same time.

2. Listening to songs about heartbreak is healing

“Someone Like You” by Adele, “Lose You To Love Me” by Selena Gomez, “Back to Black” by Amy Winehouse, and “Alone Again (Naturally)” by Gilbert O’Sullivan.

Songs about breakups are the very essence of sadness but, to the human mind, they’re comforting. What’s more, our brains like them, to the extent that they’re really healing.

Research conducted by King’s College, London (UK) highlights that songs can mediate certain physiological processes that improve physical and psychological well-being. In effect, they allow you to reflect on your own story, vent your emotions, and compose yourself while you listen to their sad lyrics for hours on end.

3. They allow you to deal with emotional turmoil.

Leaving those behind who meant the world to you not only hurts you and makes you feel lost. It also creates emotional turmoil. Moreover, it’s hard to grieve when your memories weigh so heavily, yet you have to return to your own life.

Listening to songs about breakups allows you to refocus your feelings and better understand them. They might allow you to understand the reasons for your anger and help you manage it. Or, they might make you relieve the experience.

They also help you tolerate sadness, as you realize that others have gone through the same thing. Emotions are condensed into lyrics that you can sing along with. Consequently, you’re able to release your own feelings and move forward.

4. They teach you that, despite everything, you’ll survive

Today, songs about breakups are empowering. They teach you that, despite the pain you’re feeling right now, you won’t die of heartbreak, you’ll survive. What’s more, you can learn from your experiences and see yourself in a brighter, stronger, and more independent way.

Indeed, breakups, far from destroying you, can even serve as valuable inspiration.

5. The real stories behind the songs

As human beings, we’re moved by curiosity. We want to know what lies behind what we can’t see. The song by Shakira and Bizarrap generated such an impact because, all of a sudden, what the Colombian felt about her breakup with Gerard Piqué was revealed to the world.

And, if many of us analyze Taylor Swift’s “All Too Well” video clip in detail, it’s to decipher what her relationship with Jake Gyllenhaal was like.

Indeed, reading between the lines to understand and glimpse personal facts about singers’ own love stories is one of our favorite hobbies.

Letters and emotions

Some of you may remember the album, Biophilia, by the Icelandic singer Björk. She sang about science, cells, viruses, and celestial bodies. This work received great recognition, but hardly anyone remembers a single one of those songs. Perhaps because, although science is beautiful and fascinating, it doesn’t excite us as much as the complex universe of love.

Finally, lyrics that speak of sad love stories or the need to rebuild yourself after a breakup will always move you. After all, you’re an emotional being who craves, above all else, to be loved.

Editorial credit: Frederic Legrand – COMEO and Featureflash Photo Agency / Shutterstock.com

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Mitchell, L. A., & MacDonald, R. A. (2006). An experimental investigation of the effects of preferred and relaxing music listening on pain perception. Journal of Music Therapy, 43(4), 295-316.
  • Salimpoor, V. N., Benovoy, M., Larcher, K., Dagher, A., & Zatorre, R. J. (2011). Anatomically distinct dopamine release during anticipation and experience of peak emotion to music. Nature Neuroscience, 14, 257-262. doi:10.1038/nn.2726

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.