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What are the best songs for the break-up process?

What are the best songs for the break-up process?

Written by

James Picken


February 13, 2023



Break-ups are always hard, and you’ll go through the stages of grief. But what are some of the best anthems to get you through?

We all know that love is a huge theme in music. A study on the “psychology of music” determined about 67% of lyrics in every song, every decade since the ‘60s, were somehow about love. 

So, at Startle, it was our instinct this Valentine’s Day to talk about the most romantic songs. But then we thought we’d switch it up. 

It’s not an easy day for some, and a lot of us just need an empowering pick-me-up tune to get us through heartbreak. We know the impact music can have on our mood - let’s take a look at what makes a good break-up song, and some of our favourites to make you feel empowered. 

I’m so lonely, I’m Mr. Lonely…

Let’s be honest - sometimes, when you’re going through heartbreak, all you want to do is cry to your favourite sad song. And that’s okay. 

It’s a way to initiate catharsis, and to trigger nostalgic emotions that comfort us. If you’re new to break-ups or struggle to articulate how you feel, listening to someone else vocalise your emotions can allow you to feel seen and relate to them. 

Crystalle Sese, PsyD, said:

“A breakup is a loss, so it evokes everything that comes with loss: confusion, denial, longing, anger, depression, despair. Through all this chaos, heartbreak can magnify our needs for comfort, support, and understanding. One way we can meet those needs is through music.”

Listening to sad music when you’re feeling down can trigger many different psychological processes that themselves are pleasurable, such as letting go of pent-up emotions and releasing hormones that we generally associate with pleasure and reward. The music can act as a companion to our sadness, even if it doesn’t necessarily dig us out of the break-up blues. 

In a study conducted by Freie Universität Berlin, 772 participants from around the globe were surveyed to find out why people seek out sad music, particularly during break-ups. Of the 470 participants who gave specific instances of when sad music is appealing, 108 reported lost relationships. When the participants listened to sad music, they experienced positive emotions. A researcher on the study stated “the most frequent emotion evoked was nostalgia, which is a bittersweet emotion - it’s more complex and it’s partly positive. This helps explain why sad music is appealing and pleasurable for people.”

And with so many songs being about love and heartbreak, it’s highly likely that you’ll be able to find relatability pretty quick.

Our account manager, James, has an affinity for Bleeding Love by Leona Lewis. The perfect hairbrush-karaoke-whilst-crying song. 

We gotta take the power back!

One of the most common emotions after a break-up, and one of the stages of grief, is anger. Even if it was an amicable situation, it’s a normal human reaction and masking effect. 

This emotion is a great one to tackle with music. Studies have actually shown that listening to ‘extreme’ music, perhaps genres like heavy metal, can calm you down. A study by the University of Queensland revealed that rather than proving the hypothesis that “extreme music causes anger”, the theory that “extreme music matches and helps to process anger” was proven instead. 

If you’ve ever looked at a break-up playlist, or searched the internet for the best songs to listen to when you’re going through heartbreak, you’re pretty much guaranteed to see the music split into two categories - wallowing in your sadness and using anger as a coping mechanism. 

So if sitting in your sadness isn’t working, or they really did you dirty, listening to a song with themes of anger can help. 

Our Software Developer Ben is a fan of The End of Heartache by Killswitch Engage, a metalcore song. 

And it doesn’t have to be a heavy metal song - Cee Lo Green’s Forget You is an iconic tune for when you’re feeling bitter and want to feel something other than sorrow (according to our Chief Customer Officer, Mel).

I can buy myself flowers…

So you’ve gone through the first 4 stages of grief; the sadness and anger have subsided, and you’ve reached acceptance. Phew.

You’ve realised that you can move past this, you just need a bit of motivation. And the right tunes can help that. Studies have shown that music can cause the brain to release dopamine, a chemical which can work to regulate motivation and goal-oriented behaviour.

Our Chief Operating Officer, Jodie, loves Flowers by Miley Cyrus - the empowering lyrics, catchy chorus and obvious contrast to the artist’s older songs like Wrecking Ball make it a must-listen for your healing. 

“I can hold my own hand. Yeah, I can love me better than you can.”

- Miley Cyrus 

For these types of songs, the girls have it covered. Some other great recommendations are Break my Soul by Beyoncè, thank u next by Ariana Grande, and of course, I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor. 

So if you’re struggling this Valentine’s Day, or going through heartache at any point of the year, your new companion can be the right music. Accept the tears and listen to the sad music, embrace the anger and headbang to your favourite heavy metal tune, and then walk with your head held high to some empowering lyrics. And then repeat the next time. 

At Startle, we work with multi site businesses to design music profiles that help to achieve their objectives by encouraging their desired emotions and behaviour, whatever that might be. Want to hear how that sounds in practice? Get in touch...
What are the best songs for the break-up process?

James Picken

Creative Director at Startle. It's my job to produce and execute our music output, making sure everything is sounding, feeling and performing just right for our customers. When I'm not doing this, you can find me either walking my dog, remixing 90s divas on Logic Pro X, returning overdue library books or throwing weights about in the gym.

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