As long as musicians have been breaking up, they have been making breakup albums.
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As any songwriter will tell you, it’s best to write what you know. So, when a world-altering breakup rolls around, there is nothing to do but detail it across 11 or so tracks.
Particularly in the last few decades, the expanded scope of the public eye has made breakup albums all the more enticing of a listen. They have become a press statement of sorts, explaining their side of whatever story has been splashed across Twitter or Instagram.
Below are five stellar breakup albums. If you reach the end of this list and are surprised by the omission of Rumours, it’s not a mistake. The merits of that record have been well documented so, we’re looking at five other great records that were born in the aftermath of that iconic album’s influence.
Revisit these five modern vignettes of heartbreak, below.
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1. Red – Taylor Swift
While most of the albums on this list are focused accounts of a singular breakup, Taylor Swift’s Red is more so breakup coded.
Swift is the breakup song queen. Her status in the department has long been cemented. While any one of her records could be seen as a “breakup album,” Red features some of her most poignant, scathing, and crushing tracks in the vein.
The re-recorded version of the record delivered even more stunners like “Better Man,” “I Bet You Think About Me,” and (of course) the 10-minute version of “All Too Well.”
Though her fanbase is well aware of who these songs are about, the messages within are universal enough to be timeless.
Standout Tracks: “All Too Well (10 Minute Version),” “I Almost Do,” and “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”
2. star-crossed – Kacey Musgraves
Kacey Musgraves followed up her blissful honeymoon record, Golden Hour, with its direct counterpart, star-crossed.
After calling it quits with her husband, Ruston Kelly, Musgraves’ fans were watching her intently to see what material she would put out in the wake of their divorce. What they got was a 15-track blockbuster record about heartbreak, nostalgia, picking yourself up amid hard times, and living life to the fullest.
Standout Tracks: “good wife,” “breadwinner,” and “gracias a la vida”
3. 30 – Adele
When asked what her record, 30, was about, Adele responded, “Divorce babe, divorce.”
All of Adele’s records have been a reflection of where she was at that particular moment in her life, so it was only natural that she documented her divorce in acute detail as well.
When Adele is on a track, the simplest song can be heartbreaking. Her vocals bypass the ears and cut a hole straight into the heart. But, as far as the 12 tracks on 30 go, her vocals are almost too sweet to withstand the weight of her lyricism.
I mean…My little love / Tell me, do you feel the way my past aches? / When you lay on me, can you hear the way my heart breaks? / I wanted you to have everything I never had / I’m so sorry if what I’ve done makes you feel sad…those lyrics are a punch to the gut.
Standout Tracks: “My Little Love,” “All Night Parking (with Erroll Garner) Interlude,” and “I Drink Wine”
4. Lemonade – Beyoncé
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Beyoncé’s Lemonade was a mic drop. The world seemed to stand still as the pop diva got real with her audience in a way she hadn’t braved in her past releases.
Much of the album sees Beyoncé delivering onslaughts to her unfaithful husband, Jay-Z. The music-listening world was shocked to hear that Queen Bey had been cheated on after she and the rapper had long been thought of as the power couple.
The record, at the same time, made Beyoncé a mortal in the eyes of her apostles for the first time and lengthened her reign as a cultural force. If Beyoncé can come away from a breakup with such power, dignity, and forgiveness then perhaps the rest of us can follow suit.
Standout Tracks: “Pray You Catch Me,” “Love Drought,” and “All Night”
5. Stranger in the Alps – Phoebe Bridgers
Phoebe Bridgers’ Stranger in the Alps is one of the most downtrodden and depressed albums in recent memory. Though, on paper, that idea might seem like an emotional toll that one would rather not undergo, there is something comforting about sinking into that feeling – it’s like a deep breath in before you let out a racking sob.
A significant portion of that emotion stems from the singer’s breakup with Ryan Adams. Bridgers does cover other topics on the record but, many of the songs concern themselves with a heart-wrenching breakup (which fans have connected to the “Lucky Now” singer).
In “Motion Sickness” she accuses an ex of emotional duress. In “Scott Street” she begs the question, Do you feel ashamed / When you hear my name?
Though it may not be as cut-and-dry a breakup album as the previous stop-offs on this list, it will certainly help you get through any heartbreaks in your own life. Misery loves company.
Standout Tracks: “Smoke Signals,” “Georgia,” “You Missed My Heart”
(Photo by Emma McIntyre/AMA2019/Getty Images for dcp)