Breakup songs are a dime a dozen, but the great heartbreak anthems are one in a million. From the likes of Kelly Clarkson to Justin Timberlake and Kanye West, pop music has treated jilted lovers to some satisfying revenge with tunes that either call out the no-good cheater or free us from the bonds of a relationship. The pain still might hurt beyond belief, but life is a little bit better through the healing power of music. Even Toni Braxton and Sinead O'Connor have been there in our time of need, letting us know it's OK to hurt and share it with the world.
Read on for our picks of the best breakup songs in pop music.
"Don't Speak," No Doubt
This punk-inspired jam defined many millennials' first bout of heartache. It's a timeless pop masterpiece that cuts right to the heart. Experiencing a broken heart for the first time can be frightening, but the coo of Gwen Stefani's quaking lead vocal somehow is soothing.
"Heartless," Kanye West
There's a reason Kanye rose as one of the leaders of pop music. He's unafraid to tell the truth, no matter how brutal it might be. "He lost his soul to a woman so heartless," he sings.
"Everybody Hurts," R.E.M.
Not everyone has the resilience to weather the brunt end of a breakup. Sometimes, you just need to sit in your dark room and cry your heart out. And that's A-OK. Pain is a necessary part of life.
"Cry Me a River," Justin Timberlake
Reportedly written about his ex-girlfriend Britney Spears, Timberlake's barbed kiss-off even features a Spears doppelgänger in it's official video, so there's really no mistaking his intent here. He's hurt and he wants her to know; he goes even as far as recording a make out session with a brunette version of her. Ice cold.
"Since U Been Gone," Kelly Clarkson
The original "American Idol" built her entire career on self-empowering anthems such as this. In the midst of heartache, she's certainly not losing any sleep over the guy. "Thanks to you, now I get what I want," she wails.
"Someone Like You," Adele
The lonesome trickle of piano chords is enough to send chills down your spine. As the singer reflects on a former lover, she only wishes him well, as she sojourns the earth to find someone that'll make her truly happy. But she's stuck in her emotions, and even finders herself on his doorstep, with the hope that her face will ignite his passion again.
"I Will Always Love You," Whitney Houston
For the Bodyguard soundtrack, Houston flipped this Dolly Parton original into a completely new song. Both versions have become staples, in their own right, with Houston's version covered countless times by numerous aspiring vocalists. The sweeping orchestral arrangement would be enough on its own, but then, Houston whips out one of her best power notes of all time. No one can say no to that.
"Nothing Compares 2 U," Sinead O'Connor
Nothing compares to the emotion O'Connor packs into this song, as she looks transfixed and broken at the camera. "Where did I go wrong?" she laments. The rawness portrayed in the lyric is simple but grounded and powerful.
"You Oughta Know," Alanis Morissette
When Morissette sings, you pay attention. Her signature tone is like sending a thousand punches to the stomach, especially when she's crying out in agony as she does on this go-to '90s alt-rock hit. Lifted from her standout album Jagged Little Pill, a defining record for many music fans on the outside looking in, the song doesn't fool around about calling out the mess that the lover left in the wake of heartbreak. She's a mess, and she wants you to know 'cause you outta know, right?
"Un-break My Heart," Toni Braxton
"Don't leave me in all this pain," Braxton pleads on this simmering R&B ballad. She's at her most vulnerable and frank, and lets him know exactly how devastated she feels. "Say you'll love me again," she later cries.