Charting Celesbian Breakup Albums: “Cheap Queen” and “Valentine”

Feature images by Jason Kempin / Frazer Harrison via Getty Images

On the heels of a new MUNA song and this article about sapphic pop, I am thinking about one thing: celesbian breakup songs.

Specifically, isn’t it wild that, as more and more famous people come out (do not fact check me on this, thank you in advance), we now have more knowledge than ever about their breakups? Back in my day, we had Hayley Kiyoko writing about competing with men for the attention of anonymous and (presumably) straight girls.

But famous people writing about other famous people — one extra benefit of more public celesbianism (or celebisexuality!) (if you can think of a punny portmeantau for “celebrity” and “queerness” please hit me up ASAP)! Formerly the realm of (still hetero… I guess!) Taylor Swift albums, now we can read too much into breakup albums by and about our queer icons too, the next phase of evolution from reading into Lindsay Lohan and Sam Ronson’s tweets post-breakup (or Bella Thorne/Tana Mongeau’s, or Miley Cyrus/Stella Maxwell’s, or, or or). Because after all, what is a breakup album if not just a really long subtweet?

This line of thinking has brought me back to two recent(ish) albums, Cheap Queen by King Princess and Valentine by Snail Mail, both of which were written in the aftermath of the artists’ breakups with Hunger Games and Hate U Give star Amandla Stenberg. First of all, incredible of Amandla to be at the center of two breakup albums specifically for the indie white girlies.

Or as King Princess called it:

Iconic lesbian album or not (look, I’ll be frank, some of these songs hit, and some of them…simply don’t), it’s interesting to me that both albums reckon with a lot of the same themes. Cheap Queen feels like an album about situationships that you yearn to make “real,” while Valentine mourns the loss of a person you built your world around. But aren’t those, at their heart, the same desire: to claim something as yours forever that wasn’t even yours to begin with? Both albums insist that they are the heartbroken party, while putting the object of their affection on such a high pedestal as to strip them entirely of their humanity.

Of course that humanity might already be stripped, by nature of all of these people being famous. When Amandla and Snail Mail broke up (in Washington Square Park, of all places), photos ran of Snail Mail in tears with captions calling her just “a tearful friend” of Amandla’s. Cameras, fame and the artifice of a public persona are all running themes too—maybe less relatable to the average listener, but there’s something universal to the experience of feeling like you know your lover more than anyone else in the world. It’s just that in the world of famous people, “anyone else” expands to include, well, more of the entire world.

Maybe I’m just looking at this from a perspective of (almost!) a queer elder: both of these albums were written at the ripe age of 21. If all of my subtweets about my ex at age 21 (or hell, even 25) were strung end to end, I’m sure they’d make an album just as angsty as either of these. But with age also comes (I think?) wisdom, that there are two sides to most stories, that often the person most to blame for your own heartache is you.

Singing about trying to tame someone with an independent streak, mistaking a fiery chemistry for lasting substance, dating someone in the aftermath just to get over your ex, all these themes on both albums scream “queer adolescence” to me, even though they’re behaviors that can easily follow us into adulthood without a lot of growth and self-reflection. Miley Cyrus’s “She’s Not Him” takes that last one even deeper into the celebrity realm, writing about how she can’t love Stella Maxwell because Stella is, ultimately, not Liam Hemsworth.

I used to throw myself at people who from the start indicated they didn’t want a relationship with me, believing I could convince them, with my charm and with the love they obviously already felt for me, to change their mind. I just had to make them see it. Babe, no one asked you to do all that! Sometimes we have to just take people at their word!

It also doesn’t escape my notice how many of the songs on these albums have to do with drinking, drugs, or sobriety. Anecdotally, I feel like many queer artists explore this theme in music, maybe because of the industry’s pressure to party, or because of the growing conversation around how harmful that pressure can be (especially to young artists). Another famous celesbian breakup song in this genre: “Young Lover” by St. Vincent (rumored to be about Cara Delevingne, who is also the inspiration for the song “New York” from the same album).

Look, I get that these are albums from a niche corner of queer women making music right now, in a hyperspecific genre (sad white girl music, I’ll say it!). They aren’t universal, and the parts that are relatable are maybe even cliche. There’s an interesting thread of whiteness that runs through all of this music, too: who gets to write about being sad, and who is allowed public heartbreak? I’m sure that there are more of these stories out there, other celesbian heartbreaks hidden from sight simply because they haven’t been immortalized into albums.

And who gets to be the hero in the story? I’d really love to hear Amandla Stenberg’s double response album (a la an Olivia Rodrigo/Joshua Basset situation, which was really just two album long therapy sessions), and not just because I’m a gossip! As I get older and these breakup albums begin to cause me more pause than unbridled recognition, I recognize that as a young famous person, your breakup being publicized even more at the hands of your ex must cause complicated feelings.

So better yet, where’s my SIX-esque musical starring all the exes being written into albums?


We keep Autostraddle majority free-to-read, but it isn't free to create! We need YOU to sign up for A+ to help keep this indie queer media site funded. A+ membership starts at just $4/month or $30/year. If you can, will you join?

Join A+

Analyssa

Analyssa is a co-host of the To L and Back podcast: Gen Q edition. She lives in LA, works at a TV studio, and can often be found binge-watching an ABC drama from 2008. You can follow her on Twitter, Instagram, or her social media of choice, Letterboxd.

Analyssa has written 31 articles for us.

10 Comments

  1. okay so after reading this article I listened to the entirety of Cheap Queen and omg it is GLORIOUS. It’s the perfect break-up album. Heartbroken and dramatic, but fun and comforting. I would have absolutely needed this album after my first tragically unfulfilled queer love, and will definitely listen to it after my next break-up, thank you very much King Princess.

  2. This also makes me think of Amber Bain (The Japanese House) and Marina Hackman who essentially recorded separate breakup albums about their breakup at around the same time. They’re even in a devastatingly sad video of Amber’s together about their breakup, which was filmed not too long after they broke up I believe.

    Also, I had NO idea Snail Mail and Amandla had been a couple!

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!