Exploring the profundity of breakups through music

Written by Michelle Zhu

When you go through a break up and your heart is aching, it can be so isolating that you find it hard to believe that anybody is hurting as much as you are.

But there often is a clear moment where you will step out of your own mindset and realise that there is something universal about love and loss, just like there is something universal about music.

I cannot figure out breakups by myself, so I have taken to record stores, Youtube and Spotify to seek the answers from musicians who, like me, are trying to make sense of pain. They put their answers into songs; three-minute melodic odes to a reaction to a breakup, bars with rhymes that turn heartbreak into punchlines, or an entire album dissecting a painful separation.

There is a profundity in breakups that I have been trying to understand since my very first heartbreak. I had moved overseas at 15 and had to part with my boyfriend. I remember aching so deeply that there were nights the foetal position was the only position I could withstand. I listened to Drake’s “Marvin room” until the words all mushed into a memorised language. Drake, or his ghostwriter, was helping me make sense of a reality that I felt like I didn’t have the strength to. The vulnerability and pettiness were feelings I was afraid to admit, but now I could sing it at the top of my voice. And that was just my first.

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When I was 21 I had gone through another devastating blow. This time it had gone from almost filing a missing person’s report to being tragically dumped by their mother in 24 hours. The shock was overwhelming and I could barely eat or sleep for the next two weeks. I then got into a car accident where, thank goodness, nobody was hurt and I came out of it unscratched.

It did feel like the end of the world. As I sang Skeeter Davis’ words over and over again I found a power in the repetition, and that perhaps I would continue to live. While I sang melancholic lines that hinted at complete destruction, I felt myself becoming stronger with each replay. It was not the end of the world, just the end of a world. Davis didn’t want me to ignore my own emotional apocalypse, she just wanted me to acknowledge it so I could rebuild something inside myself.

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Now I am 23 and again I am hurting. This time it has been different because no matter what I can not go back to this person. Through dealing with the feelings of anger and betrayal, I was unable to feel the overwhelming sadness of it all. Only now have I allowed myself to feel sad, and with Beach House’s dreamy whispering prose about a love that just wasn’t right, I am finally able to cry. Songs can encourage that, and convince you to dig deep into places you never wanted to. They are not trying to hurt you, but are in fact stopping those feelings that (not allowing your pain to) eat you up alive.

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Love and loss comes in movements, and there is a pool of unwavering energy that bounces around, like the static that you can find in music. People will sing about it, people will dance to it. People will time the beat of their drums to the rhythm of their own pulses and draw out their voices to show their yearning.

These songs had no intentions of dulling my pain, instead they allowed me to feel it all without fear. Realising there is a deep humanity behind heartbreak means you can feel human again. The hollow gap you feel in a separation can be momentarily filled by the ironic solidarity in solitude that is explored in music. You are alone with the accompaniment of a lyric, a note, a sound and that can sometimes be enough.

Just as there are songs that help us make sense of loss, there are also songs about love that get us excited about finding love all over again.


Listen to Michelle's curated playlist of her top 20 favourite breakup songs here.