NPR did a segment on break-up songs. Tigerbeatdown devoted a week on the subject. And Thao Nguyen has written an article breaking-down the break-up song for Bitch. But I got to thinking about the break-up songs are good for you, the ones that are less about the blues and more about kicking-ass.
Setting aside those songs of the sad sappy variety (that nevertheless, even at their most cliché, are exactly what you need when you’re down), and those songs that are ambiguously-break-uppy that you project your own feelings on and make your own, I’m talking about those songs that are less about being blue than about celebrating being done with something bad.
Nancy Sinatra’s “These boots were made for walking,” Dusty Springfield’s “All Cried Out,” Destiny Child’s “Survivor,” Mary J. Blige’s “Enough Cryin,” Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone” and of course, the indefatigable “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gainer, all focus on women being fed up with bad relationships and recognizing that they’re better off after the fall. They don’t pretend there’s no heartache involved–they’ve been there–it’s just these songs are about being a stronger person after leaving a crummy relationship. They’re less about breaking-up and more a celebration of finally being rid of something that was dragging you down.
Take “Cry Me a River,” was written for Ella Fitzgerald in (and IMHO has not been topped since), another example of looking back at your tears with a fresh head. Although it starts with the pace and somberness of a funeral march, it moves to an almost playful exuberance of turning desperation around.
(This song is off of Clap Hands Here Comes Charlie! which has its share of super sad but excellent songs about being lonely).
In other break-up songs, it’s the very optimism of the music that’s uplifting. The tUnE-yArD’s “News” is sunshine in a glass, and both Lily Allen’s “Smile” and Erykah Badu’s “Tyrone,” use humor to tinge bad relationships.
Then there’s the angry break-up songs, which I find particularly affirming, mostly because anger is a sentiment that women aren’t “supposed” to exhibit—they’re more likely to cry than to raise their voice. So songs like Alanis Morissete’s “You Oughta Know,” and Bratmobile’s “Gimme Brains,” are all the more cathartic. Conversely, some of the more mainstream “angry” break-up songs by dudes have a scary underlying violence, like Pantera’s “This Love” (listed by AskMen.com, the go-to site for
classy gents douchebags as the #7 break-up song, casually explaining “the narrator’s if-I-can’t-have-you-nobody-can sentiment is something most people can easily relate to,”), or anything by Eminem about his ex.
The empowering break-up song can also offer up social commentary on gendered double standards. “It Wasn’t God who Made Honky Tonk Angels” was penned in 1952 as a response to Hank Williams’ “Wild Side of Life.” The lyrics counter the claim that it’s cheatin’ women that ruin relationships: “It’s a shame that all the blame is on us women/It’s not true that only you men feel the same/From the start most every heart that’s ever broken/Was because there always was a man to blame.” Sung by Kitty Wells, the song topped the Billboard Country charts for six weeks (must have resonated!), making Wells the first solo female act to do so, and paving the way for acts like Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, and Dolly Parton (who would later cover “Honky Tonk Angels”).
More recently, Beyoncé’s “If I Were a Boy” (Beyoncé is all about the empowering break up song, I haven’t even mentioned “Irreplaceable”) does something similar. Speculating what life would be like “if she were a boy,” Beyoncé would do typical “dude” stuff like drinking beer with the boys, but when it comes down to it, s/he would treat her woman better because as a woman, she knows what its like to put up with shit from guys.
So yeah, what do you think? Did I forget to mention that song by your favorite band? This post was like staring at a five-inch thick kareoke book and forgetting EVERY SONG EVER. Let me know!