Why Is It So Damn Hard to Build a Good Lesbian Breakup Playlist?

Once in a creative writing class, my professor said that every feeling ever has been written down; it’s why it’s so hard to write something unique when you’re going through a very normal human feeling, like grief or heartbreak. It’s extremely difficult to not come across as cliché at best, cheesy at worst. Writing about heartbreak makes me feel obnoxious and annoying, but I also don’t necessarily think that professor was right. While every feeling in its most general sense has of course been documented, not every experience that led to those feelings has been documented in the same way. Marginalized people have less opportunity to document their experiences in this archival way that gives other similarly marginalized people access to their words. If it had been documented, if music was dominated by queer people of color and bisexuals and lesbians it wouldn’t be so hard for me to find a song — or even songs, imagine that! — about how I’m feeling. Reading books about and listening to songs about straight people’s relationship sadness just doesn’t connect for me, because I’m not straight, and the whole “love is love” thing doesn’t jam with me. Queer love is so different; I need media from people that deeply know and understand that.

It was something that I always knew, but wasn’t as aware of until I went through a pretty shitty breakup and suddenly realized there were so, so, so few songs that actually captured my experience. I tried to google my feelings in hopes that a song or an artist or something relevant that would help me feel less overwhelmed and pained and drained would turn up. My results? Porn. Because god knows that you can’t google the word “lesbian,” even when it’s real and it’s the context of what you need. When you’re crying on your couch at 4 am and you haven’t eaten in a week and you’re trying to find a song that makes you feel less alone and all that comes up as porn, it sucks. It just does.

There’s extra complexity around lesbian breakup songs for two reasons: first, that there just aren’t many songs specifically about lesbian relationships, and second, that lesbian breakups just are not the same as straight breakups. The lack of music created by queer women for queer women means that, often, it feels like artists are doing a lot with a single song—the song is rarely just about one thing, and instead covers a lot of ground—and, too, at least in my experience and those of my friends, lesbian breakups don’t always have a super clear timeline. In a similar way that my first gay dates went completely over my head (the stereotypical “Wait, that was a DATE?” experience was very much mine in my first lesbian relationship), my breakups with women have had this specifically queer messiness to them. When it’s not clear when your relationship began, how are you supposed to have any more clarity around its ending?

When I thought I was straight and exclusively dated men, it took nothing for me to find music that fit my experiences. I didn’t even have to try. The songs were perfect, too, not just vaguely related. Straight people have songs on songs on songs about love, and about breakups, and about how you survive when someone cheats on you or how you survive when you’re going through a divorce or how you survive when your ex-girlfriend walks into the bar in her cutoff jean shorts and your new girlfriend is hanging on your arm and laughing and totally, blissfully unaware. You’re a straight dude and your wife left you for a friend of yours and they had a baby and now you’re sitting there staring at pictures of them while you down a beer and wonder what went wrong? Congrats, there’s a song for that. Straight listeners are afforded this level of specificity that, now, as a queer person with a broken heart, I haven’t been able to find.

We know that queer relationships have their own unique experiences that aren’t just variations on straight relationships—they’re literally different things. And they’re not just two different things. Queer relationships exist in endless forms that differ from each other and are bound from the simple fact that they aren’t straight; beyond that, though, the nuance and difference is endless. My straight relationships followed rules, but my favorite thing about being queer has always been that there really are no rules beyond decency, respect, and consent. We don’t have these specific building blocks we’re supposed to do to legitimize our relationship. And in some ways, my relationship, especially since I’m not a white queer person, was never going to follow rules or be legitimized to begin with; I can’t get gay married and be a part of two white bodies standing at the altar and holding hands while their rich white families watch and cheer, so why bother trying to assimilate in a way that just doesn’t feel natural to me or serve my personal goals or interests or the way I love?

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It’s also difficult because so many lesbian songs are doing double work. I didn’t realize until the breakup that so many songs I listened to when I was happy and head-over-heels in love also function as breakup songs. When it came out in 2018, Hayley Kiyoko’s “Sleepover” was a song filled with longing that reminded me of how I felt early on in most of my relationships—that overwhelming, dreamy feeling. After a breakup, “Sleepover” and its longing just makes me miss things. She sings about touch and not wanting to think about it and feeling alone, and even though I’m not sitting here crying about a straight girl who doesn’t love me (not now, anyway), the song still hits.

The Internet’s “Girl” is a song I used to think was just beautiful and slow and sensual and hot. I’ve fucked to this song. Now, it makes me almost throw up because of that same slow sensuality. Now, the thought of passion and wanting to give everything to someone makes me want to die! (Kind of—I am, ultimately, fine).

Somme’s “Broken Hearted Lovers” does similar work. Even though it’s always been a song about broken hearts (obviously) and the strange and needy relationships we build with random, other equally-sad women to try to heal ourselves, it was a song I have definitely danced to with girls I loved; now, it’s actually a song about broken hearts, and it hurts to listen to.

I used to clean my house or make out or pluck my eyebrows to “Everything” by MUNA and think about how deeply in love I was and how lucky I was to only be able to feel the song to an extent; it wasn’t a song for me, it was just beautiful, and wasn’t it so lovely that I didn’t have to wonder where she was or if she was thinking about me or what was happening in her world—I knew it, I had the answers to those questions. But now that I do feel this deep and nagging ache in my chest and my feet and my gums and my wrists, I can’t listen to it without falling in and out of love on a loop, and crying. Literally everything from girl in red now makes me want to burst into flames.

The duality of so much queer music, and the overall lack of it, has also called into question all of my playlist-building abilities for one very simple reason: I don’t want to put any songs on my breakup playlist that any of my exes have used, or are using, to woo their new girlfriends. Like, wow, what a thing to have to worry about when you’re out here just trying to eat enough and go to therapy enough and breathe deeply enough.

When I was with guys, I was legitimately never concerned about this. Maybe it was because I didn’t like them that much (a conversation for another time) but mostly it was because there is such an expansive catalog of straight people music by straight people for straight people about the experiences built into straight relationships that the likelihood of you building an entire playlist that matches the entirety of your ex’s playlist is like, extremely unlikely. And this was in the time before Spotify, and the extreme ease by which people with internet access and the ability to pay for streaming services can build playlists. It was easier for me to find a love song at random on the radio in 2011 that I could 100%, undoubtedly relate to than it is for me to find such a song in 2019! In the time of Spotify! It horrifies me. It hurts.

But I feel similarly about other media. If anything, music has come further than books or film or television in terms of showcasing a variety of romantic queer experiences. Pretty much everyone broke up this summer for some reason—I truly blame climate change, we’re all too hot, we are all too stressed—and we have been blessed by new music from King Princess and Sizzy Rocket and Fletcher and Megan Thee Stallion, whose Hot Girl Summer check-ins across social media have really propelled me forward in search of sluttiness and sexuality on my own, newly-loosened terms. I tried to watch Blue Is the Warmest Color and Below Her Mouth and The L Word and the Callie/Arizona episodes of Grey’s Anatomy and it just… is not working. The closest onscreen experiences I’ve come to relate to in this trying time are the three queer episodes of Easy, with Chase (Kiersey Clemons) and Jo (Jacqueline Toboni) very messily broken up in the most recent installment. It works for me because they’re not both white and they’re not just assholes—they’re fully humanized, complicated people, and they’re going through it. They also don’t just have sex the entire time with a weird male gaze situation, which is not what I need when I’m crying, thank you.

What I want are more songs. What I want is an endless catalog of sad gay songs, not a heartbreaking dearth of relatable, comforting music in a time where I am heartbroken enough to begin with. What I want is to not have a list of, at best, a few dozen songs by queer women for queer women that I can find without spending a million years on the internet. I want this music to be easy to find when we need it so we can focus on crying instead.

Rachel Charlene Lewis is a QPOC, writer, and editor. She is on Instagram Instagram and Twitter as @RachelCharleneL. She lives in North Carolina with a badly behaved tortie kitten and many almost-dead plants.

Rachel has written 3 articles for us.

25 Comments

  1. Totally agree. Just ended an intense situationship (I know, I know) and my super-sad relatable queer feelsy songs have been limited to “Molecules” and “Let It Be”, both from Hayley Kiyoko’s album Expectations. We should be able to cry to more songs!

    • And it occurred to me after I pressed send that you’re right: There’s so little in the Lesbian Music Catalog in general that a lot of the songs we love often work both as happy falling-in-love songs and sad why-gods-why songs. We read both into everything because when we try to split it all up by mood, the piles are tiny.

  2. Queer breakup songs are hard to come by. Still Tegan and Sara have a few heartbreak songs out of the top of my head (lied, I had to look for more songs and realized that Heartthrob has several heartbreak songs like “All messed up”), “Where does the good go”, “Nightwatch”, “Fool for Love” and “Dying to know” are my recommendations for a heartbreak playlist.

  3. Talia by King Princess is a heartbreaker that I listened to a lot during my last breakup – “if I drink enough I can taste your lipstick, I can lay down next to you at the foot of my bed, if I drink enough I swear that I will wake up next to you” like omg. It hits. I wish there were more queer breakups songs in general too though, I used a lot of straight songs in the playlist for that breakup and I wish I hadn’t had to

    • Talia was #1 of my most listened to songs in Spotify last year because I played it on repeat for 3 months after my breakup. But yeah, not a lot of other queer breakup songs in that list. The number 2, All too well by Taylor Swift, certainly doesn’t fit that category.

  4. Great article! I also really recommend a few songs from Chely Wright’s album Lifted Off The Ground (which I discovered via her autobiography about coming out…) – damn liar, wish me away and object of your rejection are all varying degrees of specific.

  5. Also – Touch by SHURA for the later stages of ‘we’ve broken up but there’s something still there but it’d be a terrible idea’.

    “There’s a love between us still
    But something’s changed and I don’t know why
    And all I wanna do is go home with you
    But I know I’m out of my mind”

  6. Try “Good at Falling” by the Japanese House

    The whole album is incredible and beautifully specific to a lesbian relationship ending.
    “We talk all the time” is my favourite track

    Also Marika Hackman (the other half of that breakup) has just dropped a new album, I haven’t listened yet but assume it will be relevant

  7. I went through a breakup earlier this year and can absolutely relate. Here are some breakup songs by queer female artists that haven’t already been mentioned:

    Over – Syd
    New York – St. Vincent (the way she sings ‘you’re the only motherfucker in the city who can handle me / stand me / who’d forgive me’ gets me every time)
    Both Hands – Ani DiFranco
    Miss You – Alabama Shakes

    Marika Hackman is a lesbian artist I adore who has some quite specific breakup songs – ‘Eastbound Train’ is about your partner falling in love with someone else, and trying to leave with dignity and without blaming them; ‘I’d Rather Be With Them’ is about the sort of head-spinning processing and arguing you sometimes do whilst breaking up, about the pain you cause one another and the hatred and resentment and anger that can ensue, the way it leaves you empty (‘So make me throw up / I know that you will / and call up my mother and tell her I’m ill’, ‘I’m so fucking heartless / I can’t even cry / I’ve opened my body it’s hollow inside’, and the final ‘And I just hate your head / and the clothes you wear / And I just love your head / and the clothes you wear’ are some of my favourite lines); ‘Send My Love’ is about having sex one last time when you know it’s ending, and ‘Hand Solo’ is about masturbating after a breakup! She also has a lot of songs about the disintegration of relationships before the breakup, and life after breaking up, so I’d definitely recommend her albums.

    Lilo / We Talk all the Time (‘we don’t fuck anymore, but we talk all the time, so it’s fine’ gets me) – The Japanese House (who is also Marika Hackman’s ex)
    Matinee – REYNA
    Three Futures – TORRES

  8. I have a Spotify playlist I’ve affectionately titled “Not Over It – Lovesick Lesbian” after my divorce. I’ll be adding from the recommendations here but I wanted to share what I have. It’s a little more optimistic as I want her back but yeah…

    Enjoy.

    • great article inn the films becks lena hall, whonplays a musician mourns over her /cheating) ex (played by hayley kiyoko) and plays pretty good break up/heartbreak songs in theere. the film also starrs mena suvari as her new love interest-lovely to see her in another queer role after six feet under. lovely film . as miss hackman was mentioned before, i can add: in an german/berlin queer mag (siegessaeule) she mentioned the songs from her current album one songs she specificaly wrote about her ex from ” japanese house” she said the song “send my love” is about the week they split up, she also mentioned “im not where you are” but told the interviewer the “send song” is much more specfic about her . also said that ist was very strange and masosistic and emotional for her, to perform at her ex`s video “lilo”. and said that her own songs was written right after the break up while her ex had more time between break up and album release

  9. great article;thanks for introducing “somme” to me! when it comes to lesbian heartbreak songs: in the films becks starring lena hall, whoplays a musician, mourns over her /cheating) ex (played by hayley kiyoko) and plays pretty good break up/heartbreak songs in theere. the film also starrs mena suvari as her new love interest-lovely to see her in another queer role after six feet under. lovely film . as miss hackman was mentioned before, i can add: in an german/berlin queer mag (siegessaeule) she mentioned the songs from her current album one songs she specificaly wrote about her ex from ” japanese house” she said the song “send my love” is about the week they split up, she also mentioned “im not where you are” but told the interviewer the “send song” is much more specfic about her . also said that ist was very strange and masosistic and emotional for her, to perform at her ex`s video “lilo”. and said that her own songs was written right after the break up while her ex had more time between break up and album release

  10. Great article. I recently went through a breakup and found myself searching to the ends of the earth for songs that ~felt~ right. My playlist is called ‘heart////break’ and honestly most of it still straight (maybe, except for Everywhere by Michelle Branch hahaha).

    Hayley’s recent ‘I Wish’ really hits home for my queer breakup.
    ‘Over You’ by Lily Moore is pretty great too (although I’m not sure she is queer).
    ‘Leaving You’ by Marina Mena (^same, but both feel queer to me)
    ‘Sick of Losing Soulmates’ by dodie

    Thank you for writing!

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