Fund Our Fun Breakups
Illustration: Christa Jarrold

Without Music, I Wouldn’t Have Been Able to Navigate My Breakups

During lockdown, when there hasn’t been any other way to work through all of the hurt and confusion, songs about heartbreak have been a lifeline.
Nana Baah
London, GB
December 8, 2020, 9:00am
'Fund Our Fun': A series celebrating the UK’s music and nightlife industries, and a rallying call to protect them.

The creative industries. The arts. Events and nightlife. Call them what you want, but at the end of the day what we’re talking about is FUN. Music, film, TV, theatre, radio, galleries, big nights out – these aren’t just job sectors, they’re the reason we work in the first place. They’re how we socialise, how we express ourselves, how we make sense of the world.

COVID-19 has taken a sledgehammer to arts and culture in the UK, and while the government’s rescue package will come as a lifeline for some, things have been on the rocks for a long time. How many beloved venues have you seen bulldozed to make room for another block of luxury flats? ‘Fund Our Fun’ is a series that goes beyond the industry’s economic contributions to tell the stories of how arts and culture impact our lives in immeasurable ways.


During lockdown, I’ve been forced to get through a breakup completely alone for the first time. A frosty post-work walk has replaced getting cosy with mates, watching reruns of Keeping Up With the Kardashians in bed as they explain why they had never liked him anyway. Shuffling to the shop and back for a Pot Noodle has replaced friends coming over to cook meals and get drunk.

Before the pandemic, breakups had their own very specific timeline. I would try to do it a couple of times before I actually succeed in telling them it’s over. Then I’d get distracted by work, low stakes flirting on the Overground, putting all my focus into not being the last one to get to the pub or dinner plans with friends and, before you know it, the hurt is healed. But, with all of those distractions banned, there’s nothing left to do other than fully immerse myself in my very carefully curated heartbreak playlist.

The playlist in question is filled top to bottom with songs that bookmark breakups with my friends and boyfriends past. I started putting it together in my first year of uni, when I broke up with the same man four times before it finally stuck. I had become immune to the feeling of rib-crushing heartbreak, and needed music to remind me what it felt like. It goes all the way from reminders of tearing up an invitation to Christian’s football party in Year 6 because he didn’t sit next to me in assembly with “I Swear” by N-Dubz; to “All Around Me” by Flyleaf, the soundtrack of my first “real relationship” aged 14, when I did that thing where you purposefully slide down your bedroom door, crying. Although it’s technically a song about having a really great relationship with God, it also kind of works for a heartbroken teenager. When I found out my ex was sleeping with an old friend of mine, while trying to get back with me, “He Wasn’t Man Enough” by Toni Braxton was added too.


Of course, there’s a perfect song for every stage of said breakup. Straight afterwards, when you can’t help but cry on public transport, it’s perfectly OK to listen to Drake while sat on the top deck of the 21 bus with fat, wet, silent tears falling down your face until you get back to the safety of your own bed. Or you listen to SZA’s Ctrl – in its entirety, not even skipping over the phone calls between her and her grandma – on repeat for a few days until you’re ready to climb back out of it. Then, when you move onto taking long showers, there’s Summer Walker’s “Session 32”. You let the water run until it turns cold and your fingers start to prune because you’ve spent so long singing the same two lines (“And I need you to know / You don't know what love is”) over and over again.

Over the last few months, I’ve had to come face to face with the fact that, at 25, I can’t really put my finger on my emotions. After my breakup, I knew that I felt “bad”, but with the constant whiplash of emotions – going from relief to disappointment, to straight up sadness – it’s difficult to keep a hold of it all. During lockdown, I’ve found myself referencing specific songs when I journal and using them to break down my feelings into more digestible chunks (“I listened to “Smack a Bitch” 12 times today, so I’m probably still pretty angry about this”). 

Breakup songs have always been better than songs about being in love, you only have to compare “thank u, next” and “Positions” to see that. While it’s nice to listen to songs about having a good time, they’re not particularly difficult emotions to come to terms with. Breakup songs allow you to fully feel what you’re feeling, rather than trying to reassure you like a friend, – and, without sounding too sincere, they’re a gentle reminder that something good can come out of what, right now, feels terrible and never-ending. 

Processing your emotions through music isn’t anything new, but during lockdown, when there hasn’t been any other outlet or way to work through all of the hurt, confusion and forced self evaluation that comes with a breakup, songs about heartbreak have been a lifeline.

So, while it might still be months until I can curl up with friends, music – specifically breakup songs – have filled the void. They’ve stopped me from doing something drastic like cutting all my hair off or fully taking on the personality of someone from the only other thing I consume, The Real Housewives. No offence to my therapist, but if it weren’t for listening to songs about heartbreak, I’d probably never be able to get over my own.