A Breakup Playlist for Broken-Hearted Starlets
ZANESSA, HOW COULD YOU?
It would have been considerate of Ryan Reynolds and Scarlett Johansson to coordinate the announcement of their separation with Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens, who in turn should have scheduled their breakup after the holidays. Some of us care about these things and spend many hours wondering what songs we’d put on the breakup mix CD we’d give to Zac Efron if we met him. (Though, to be fair, if we met Zac Efron, a mix CD might not be the first thing we’d want to give him. Hey-o!)
The breakup song genre involves a delicate, feelings-based alchemy. Great songs have come from bad breakups, and great songs have come from the ends of relationships that have not even left a dent—if this was all actually based on a system of cosmic meritocracy, “You Oughta Know” would not have been written about Uncle Joey from Full House. The songs move on before their subjects do, becoming incubators of things worth keeping alive even when love isn’t. Because love sometimes just isn’t, and sometimes that is not a tragedy at all.
1. Lily Allen, “Fuck You”
This song is about Lily finding racists and homophobes (and, it has been argued, George W. Bush) morally reprehensible, but we can decontextualize it for the purpose of singing the chorus and its rather polite, very British qualification of “fuck you very, very much.”
2. Cee-Lo Green, “Fuck You”
This song’s brilliance lies in the hostile exuberance of its delivery. Censored versions sung by macrobiotic devotees on television shows about high school singing clubs may be endearingly bizarre, but they do not jugulate.
3. Dr. Dre, “Fuck You”
We understand why one may not feel inclined to take relationship advice from Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. But Dre only spends three minutes describing the full extent of his carnal impulses (see song title) to build up to a conclusion that betrays a deeply-held Judeo-Christian sensibility on the subject of sex with exes. “We can’t be kissing and hugging, girl, you got a husband who loves you. You need to give him your quality time.” Although it is fundamentally a very dirty song, we urge you to reconsider it as an imploration to respect the seventh commandment.
4. Alanis Morissette, “You Oughta Know”
The Internet, in all its divine wisdom, has allowed us two versions of this classic song. The first: young, long-haired Alanis screams threats to scratch her nails down someone’s back (so her former paramour could feel it) while she hyperkinetically moves across a stage. The second: older, blonder Alanis makes the same threat with a deflation that did not seem there before. The musical equivalent of meeting an ex for coffee and realizing you are not over them while you’re halfway through your latte, Alanis’ voice breaks at the line she’d once sung in anger: “Are you thinking of me when you fuck her?”
Note: The Johansson-Reynolds household may want to skip this song.
5. Radiohead, “True Love Waits”
Thom Yorke supplies a tune to the negotiation stage in the Kübler-Ross model of grief by promising to drown his beliefs just to have his lover’s babies—biologically impossible, anatomically improbable, unerringly romantic.
6. Leonard Cohen, “Famous Blue Raincoat”
Cohen’s whiskey-coated voice draws blood at the level of the exhale in this heartbreaking song about losing a lover and a friend. But years later, he—hilariously, depressingly, reassuringly—told an interviewer he could not remember who the song was about. “I always felt that there was an invisible male seducing the woman I was with; now, whether this one was incarnate or merely imaginary I don’t remember.” He has also admitted the eponymous blue raincoat didn’t belong to a woman at all—it was his. “I had a good raincoat then, a Burberry I got in London in 1959,” he said, non-tragically.
7. Sufjan Stevens, “I Walked”
Cohen may be over his breakup, but Sufjan is not, and it is delicious to wallow with him. Lines like “For when you went away I went crazy, I was wild with the breast of a dog, I ran through the night with the knife in my chest” make us grateful that this song, unlike many in the Stevens catalog, is not about Jesus.