Hey, we’ve all been there. Forever fell apart, or maybe forever never even started, but regardless, now we’re sad, wallowing in our bedrooms, wondering what the point of it all was. Well, the good news is that a variety of great musical artists are queer. This may be one of those articles I regret writing later in life because this article may or may be getting written when I’m too close to the content. Nevertheless, here are some songs that will have a disturbing number of listens on my Spotify wrapped.
Read on to find out the top 10 LGBTQ breakup songs.
1. “It’s My Party” by Leslie Gore
Although this song has a happy beat, it crushes me more than almost any other. I think the saddest part of this song is that people still don’t know that Gore was a lesbian. Although the actress, a Jewish woman from NYC, never tried to hide it, her record company did. Therefore, all of her songs were about men. With this context and the continued lack of widespread knowledge, this song becomes so much sadder, especially the lyrics: “Judy and Johnny just walked through the door… like a queen with her king… oh, what a birthday surprise… Judy’s wearing his ring… It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to… you would cry too if it happened to you.”
Knowing that she’s more upset about Judy being taken than Johnny adds another layer to the song. Not only is Gore sad about Judy rather than Johnny, but she can’t tell anyone at the party, and the notion that she likely is lost to history. It’s even more sad because she’s attempting to justify her tears to the party and the listener, blaming it on Judy and Johnny, and only briefly specifying: “Nobody knows where my Johnny has gone, but Judy left at the same time, why was he holding her hand, when he’s supposed to be mine?” This occurs earlier in the song, and I can feel her anxiety as she sings it. I wish there were a version where she sang “when she’s supposed to be mine.” So, while ‘You Don’t Own Me’ becomes more empowering, ‘It’s My Party’ becomes too real.
2. “October Passed Me By” by Girl in Red
The saddest part of this song is that it’s a reflection and callback to an earlier song, ‘We Fell in Love in October’ by the same band. Although already well-known, this song was made especially popular by TikTok for the lyric, “My girl, my girl, my girl, you will be my girl…” That said, this is probably the least emotional part of either song. The first song, released in 2018, details falling in love in October. The second song, released in 2022, details the first October alone. The first song, ‘We Fell in Love in October,’ has an album cover of a girl lying in a field; the second shows the same field and leaves but without the girl.
“I just like her voice and also I think there’s something very compelling about the idea of a breakup that’s less a dramatic end and more a slow and painful growing apart where you kind of still love them but it’s just different,” University of Michigan junior Alexa King said.
Sometimes, slow heartbreak is the most devastating, as this song proves. In the first song she sings, “That’s why I love fall, looking at the stars, admiring from afar.” In the second song, she sings, “I met you at the wrong time, didn’t wanna see. I was busy with the stars. You were looking at me.” It’s the callbacks to the first song, as well as striking lyrics, that makes this song so devastating.
3. “That’s Our Lamp” by Mitski
The beauty of this song lies in its subtle, sad brilliance. Mitski details a decaying relationship. The narrator runs out into the street, only to be struck with the image of the lamp, and that’s Mitski and her partner’s lamp, sending Mitski into a spiral. It’s the motif of the lamp that defines the song. The different lens through which Mitski viewed the lamp throughout the relationship parallels her emotional state at different points.
“The idea of something that was once shared being so far away makes me SOB… and the outro where she just repeats ‘that’s where you loved me’ is heartbreaking,” University of Iowa Junior Lila Robbins said.
With so few words Mitski is able to convey a dynamic emotional evolution through the usage of the lamp. Mitski claims a motif and describes the decay in a way that mirrors a relationship; the result is effective and devastating. While the beat can almost sound happy at points, the increase in tension through the lyrics and pacing undermines that. It’s a great song, poetically and musically. The lyrics and the outro are powerful.
4. “Heather” by Conan Gray
This song became popular on TikTok, and rightfully so. Lines like, “Why would you ever kiss me? I’m not even half as pretty, you gave her your sweater, it’s just polyester, but you like her better, wish I were Heather” became iconic. This song demonstrates the evolution of an unrequited crush. Specifically, the envy Gray has for the girl that becomes the subject of his crush’s affection, Heather.
“Conan Gray is singing about wearing someone’s sweater. Assuming the person who gave him the sweater is a guy, then that’s obviously queer but on the off chance the person is a woman, then it’s queer by proxy. I’m of the opinion that the narrator is queer either way and pushing against heteronormative standards, due to the lines, ‘Why would you ever kiss me? / I’m not even half as pretty.’ The desire to be pretty so that he can get a kiss goes directly against patriarchal standards of how to win romance or affection if you are a man. Going beyond that, he not only desires to be pretty like Heather; he desires to BE Heather.” University of Iowa Senior Devin Terpstra said.
While most TikToks focused on Heather, not that much of the song actually has to do with Heather. Not much of the song is spent describing Heather. Even when Grey does detail Heather, it’s usually his beloved’s reaction to Heather, the sweater, or his reaction to his beloved’s reaction. Therefore, the song, despite being titled Heather, has very little to do with Heather. Instead, it’s about queer heartbreak.
5. “Kissing Lessons” by Lucy Dacus
While not technically a breakup song, the fact it isn’t a breakup is part of what’s sad about it. It details the story and emotional impact that ‘kissing lessons’ with a cool older girl has on a young, gay Dacus. Dacus is in second grade, while the older girl, Rachel, is in third. While Rachel calls Dacus the name of a crush, “I couldn’t decide if she was Cole or Justin. I think I called her baby or darling.” The saddest part of this song is the conclusion. “Rachel’s family moved out of town; I don’t remember when we stopped hanging out. But I still wear a letter R charm on my bracelet and wonder if she thinks of me as her first kiss.”
This hurts because Rachel probably doesn’t consider Dacus her first kiss. Also because girls practicing kissing with each other is common and not usually considered a ‘real first kiss,’ and because there’s a chance Rachel doesn’t remember Dacus at all. While this song could be interpreted as happy, there is something heartbreaking about it for me.
6. “Drift Away Omnichord” by Trillian
Don’t be deceived by how straightforward this song is, that’s what makes it so devastating. The chorus of this song cuts me to my core: “Happily listen… happy to stay… happily watching her drift away.” This song details the unrequited love of a close female friend and the feeling of watching her move on after she’s done with you. That’s why the conclusion is even more heart-wrenching: “Finally something, finally news, about how the story ends: She doesn’t exist now, survived by her son and all of her brand new friends. Isn’t that lovely? Isn’t that cool? And isn’t it cruel? And aren’t I a fool to have happily listened, happily stayed, happily watching her drift, drift, drift away.” This horrifying yet borderline universal queer experience of slowly watching someone you love grow apart from you. I think it’s implied by the line “and isn’t that cruel” that the narrator, rightfully or not, felt let on, if not used. This is another underutilized real-life LGBTQ+ trope in the media.
7. “All The Things She Said” by t.A.T.u.
Embarrassingly enough, this is another queer classic that I only discovered after it was made popular on TikTok. While there’s something fun and quick-paced about this song, its lyrics are fundamentally devastating. Most of the song is electro, sounding relatively repetitive; the verses go hard. My favorite verse describes the song perfectly, “I’m all mixed up, feeling cornered and rushed, they say it’s my fault, but I want her so much…I can try to pretend, I can try to forget, but it’s driving me mad, going out of my head.” Then it cuts to a repeat of the line “all the things she said… running through my head…” which is a very real feeling when you’re trying to figure out if a girl is straight and flirting with you for attention or actually interested.
8. “Stone Cold” by Demi Lovato
This song has been with me before and after I came out, the same way I’ve known of Lovato both before and after she came out. Regardless of the gender of my crush, I’ve always been crushed by the lyrics, “God knows I try to feel happy for you, know that I am, even if I can’t understand, I’ll take the pain, give me the truth, me and my heart, we’ll make it through, if happy is her, I’m happy for you.” Their vocals during this part of the song give me goosebumps as well. However, I always thought the lyric ‘If happy is her, I’m happy for you’ was as if ‘if happy is hurt’, and I’m somewhat upset that it isn’t. Still, this song is devastating, nonetheless.
9. “Memories” by Conan Gray
Once again, Gray makes me cry. While Tiktok was my introduction to Gray, that was only the beginning. For me, every song of his is an emotional journey. The dark places Gray guides me through are unprecedented. This song is about attempting to move on after a breakup and finally beginning to heal, only to be intruded upon by a drunk ex time and time again. The thesis of the song lies in the verse, “I wanna put you in the past ’cause I’m traumatized, but you’re not letting me do that, ’cause tonight, you’re all drunk in my kitchen, curled in the fetal position, too busy playing the victim to be listening to me when I say ‘I wish that you would stay in my memories.’” His vocals in this song are spectacular, guiding me through a variety of emotions and giving me chills akin to listening to Adele for the first time. My favorite thing about Gray’s music is the vulnerability with which he sings. I feel as though I can trust him as a narrator by the end of every song.
10. “Butch 4 Butch” by Rio Romeo
As the song implies, this is a love story between two butch girls. However, this song details the closeted experience. Still, the journey is treacherous and, at points, toxic. Lines like “I sing her songs in my garage” and descriptions of the sunset remind me of growing up in the suburbs. That setting and lines like, “But we just laugh cause what was that we can’t take ourselves seriously,” help this song resonate with me.
“I like this song because it was one I started listening to when I started to come to terms with myself and it also details this wlw relationship in a sort of creepy and unromantic way especially in the very first verses,” University of Iowa sophomore Amber Taggart said.
The first verse, “My sweetheart’s piano is rat filled, and mine is infested with bugs. The music we make is unnatural, but it sounds just like falling in love,” certainly begins the song on an eerie note. However, my favorite lyric has to be, “But I can’t let her see me swoon, or else she will think I am weak.” Still, unlike other songs on this list, there is a concluding implication that things might work out. The concluding line, “But I can’t let her see me swoon, or else she will think I am sweet,” shows the growth in their relationship. It implies something mutual.