It’s “love and hate” week at RIFF. We’ve taken on the theme of Valentine’s Day to talk about both sides of love. Today. we asked our writers, photographers and editors about their favorite breakup songs.
Additionally, we’ve partnered with talented artist Vivian Shih, who has illustrated some of the concepts with her original illustrations. Shih is a Los Angeles artist, illustrator and surface designer who pulls inspiration from surreal self-reflection, nature and current events. Shih is also a traveler and enjoys discovering new breakfast spots, immersing herself in nature and finding peace in yoga. Today’s piece is called “Silence It.”
Brandi Smith, reporter — “Romeo and Juliet,” Dire Straits
The child of parents who came of age in the early ‘80s, I was raised on rock of that era, including Dire Straits. I couldn’t tell you when I first heard “Romeo and Juliet,” but I’ve loved it for as long as I can remember. As a kid, that admiration was based solely on melody as I was too young to fully grasp the tone of Mark Knopfler’s lovelorn lyrics. The song grew on me as I aged and began to comprehend the modern take on Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers. In this case, it was fame, not family, that separated the two. Many-a-time, I’ve used the line “When you gonna realize, it was just that the time was wrong?” as rationalization for a failed relationship.
Ian Firstenberg, columnist— “Your Name Here,” Atmosphere
Breakups are inherently a mix of emotions. An appreciation for the experience is fairly common, regardless of how bitter the ending may have been. The song is written from Slug’s (the lyricist) perspective, describing an encounter with a previous lover. When he raps, “So what you doing now a days?/You living here again or just visiting for the holidays?” he outlines the appreciation that most of us have for our exes regardless of the ending. The conclusion gives listeners a biting sense of closure: “My phone number?/ Nah I don’t think so/ I only gave it to a handful of close people/ Let’s not make this into an issue/ But the truth is…/ I don’t miss you.” Slug captures the moment that many of us have had in which we stare upon the face of a former lover not with appreciation but strong separation, knowing she or he is not the person you once loved, and neither are you.
Mike Massaro, columinist— “Sofisticated Fuck Princess Please Leave Me Alone,” Carissa’s Wierd
Carissa’s Wierd’s album Songs About Leaving is basically an album filled with breakup songs, but “Sofisticated Fuck Princess Please Leave Me Alone” stands out to me because it really captures the essence of a bad breakup. The song explores multiple stereotypes and addresses them with brutal honesty. In particular, my favorite lyric from this song has to do with feigning sadness to just be controlling. “You try to cry, but it’s just for show and you know I know you know/ Saying sad things that don’t make sense can just make you look like a liar.” Normally, breakup songs consist of how sad the breakup was, missing somebody, or a tongue-in-cheek message of good riddance. But Carissa’s Wierd’s approach and eloquent articulation provide an interesting and relatable execution.
Hector Aguilar, reporter — “Skinny Love,” Bon Iver
Listening to depressing music after a breakup sounds counterproductive, but sometimes it’s nice to know you’re not the only one feeling terrible. The somber, yet reflective tone of Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love” is perfect for this. The subject matter, a failed relationship, is relatable and the raw acoustic chords provide a quality backdrop as you reflect on your own failed relationship.
Lea Blevins, columnist — “So What,” Pink
During a breakup, after you’re done with the initial feeling sad, it’s time to get mad. And no one does it quite so well as Pink with “So What.” This breakup anthem channels all those feelings into anger, but the lyrics leave some room for humor with lines like “You’re a tool.” They say laughter is the best medicine. This song is a reminder that you should be “having more fun” when that loser walks out of your life. Get your dancing in and your rage out with this one.
Julie Parker, reporter — “Love Love Kiss Kiss,” Alkaline Trio
Valentine’s Day isn’t all roses and sugary candy hearts for everyone, and if you’re sick of happy couples with their saccharine romances and are looking for an anthem to get you through this heinous Hallmark holiday, look no further than Alkaline Trio’s “Love Love Kiss Kiss.” Matt Skiba catches the spirit of the terminally single in just under four minutes, “You can’t escape this fatal case of melancholia/ It’s in your face, in every place you go/ It’s stalking you.” He goes on to describe the feeling of surviving a cold and lonely winter only to emerge into a nauseating spring, filled with smitten lovers. “Love love, kiss kiss, blah blah blah/ You’re making me sick, I wish you’d just stop showing off for the rest of us that no one wants to love/ It’s hard enough trying to drink another winter all alone.” So if you need a song to play to block out the joy of the happy couples around you, Alkaline Trio’s got you covered.
Ruby Virchow, columnist — “Sea of Love,” Cat Power
This is a classic breakup song. The soft ukulele draws attention to the deep feelings of love that could bring anyone to tears. The lyrics continuously reinforce the idea of how much love is felt for this one person. The title alone, “Sea of Love,” captures the unmeasurable amount of love someone can have for another person. It’s the sad, deep voice being sung and ukulele that mends the heart after a breakup.
Roman Gokhman, editor – “So Cruel,” U2
On an album full of breakup songs (Achtung Baby), “So Cruel” is the anchor that holds the ship in place. “I disappeared from you/ You disappeared from me/ I gave you everything you wanted/ Wasn’t what you wanted.” That’s just two lines from a song where the bile and sadness keep on building. In high school, I gave this—on cassette—to a girl who rejected me.
Matt De Mello, Editor — “That’s All,” Genesis
I know, I know. Phil Collins is hated, but Genesis, both pre- and post-Collins, were a phenomenal band. This song in particular was on the first mixtape I ever made. When I was a kid we used to have to take songs from the radio and tape them, this was slightly before CDs became a thing. This song of a bickering couple on the verge of breaking up is emblematic of so many past relationships of which we’ve all been a part.