The year is 2000, I’m seven-years-old and, in the throes of my first ever heartbreak. I look out of the window dramatically, crying, while listening to S Club 7′s Never Had A Dream Come True. And something about the music making me want to cry even more feels inexplicably amazing.
Fast forward to teenage heartbreak and you’ll have found many of us blasting out Destiny Child’s Survivor, after kissing goodbye to a Lynx Africa scented summer holiday romance.
Now, in 2023, there’s nothing like whacking on a bit of Self Esteem over a bottle of white wine and flip-flopping between “oh my god, my heart is breaking” and “oh my god, I AM INVINCIBLE!’
Yup – there’s just something about breakup songs, whether they make you want to kick a hole through your ex’s door or burst into tears, that just really make us feel all the feels.
On Thursday, they reached new heights when Colombian superstar Shakira released her own breakup track, taking down her ex, footballer Gerard Piqué, and his new 23-year-old girlfriend, Clara Chía Marti, and the lyrics are SPICY.
Ahem, for example:
“I wish you luck with my supposed replacement
I don’t even know what happened to you
I’m worth two of 22 (year-old)
You traded a Ferrari for a Twingo
You traded a Rolex for a Casio
You’re going fast, slow down
Lots of time at the gym, but your brain needs a little work too.”
In the chorus, Shakira repeatedly declares, “I’m too good for you, and that’s why you’re with someone just like you.”
Woof. Well, that’s her feelings known and, for us, a new middle-finger-to-your-ex heartbreak anthem is born.
But why do breakup songs feel so damn good to listen to – whether we want to wallow in misery or pick ourselves back up off the ground?
Well, the answer could be rooted in science.
Enter Alice Gray, neuroscientist and science presenter. She explains to HuffPost UK that to get why breakup songs give us an emotional kick, we need to first understand what goes on in the brain when we are in love.
“In romantic love, a part of the brain called the caudate nucleus is activated – this is part of our dopamine reward pathway in our brain. It feels rewarding to be in love and our brain drives us to continue that relationship,” Gray tells us.
“These feel-good pathways are also activated by things like nicotine, drugs, sex and food – which is why love feels addictive. This is also why breakups are so hard, it’s like a withdrawal. Where there was once a steady supply of feel-good, addictive chemicals, it suddenly dries up.”
And it’s not just that sudden loss of feel good that makes breakup sucks, Gray shares – we’ve also got the rejection aspect of a breakup impacting our brains too.
“Humans are social animals, by design we are meant to avoid rejection to prevent exclusion from communities. Our brain has built-in mechanisms to find rejection painful to make us avoid it.”
And there’s the key to why breakup music has the effect it does – it brings us together, even when we’re listening to sad songs on our lonesome, as paradoxical as that sounds.
“Music, including sad music or break up songs, activate the empathy and compassion pathways in our brain, driving a desire to connect with other people,” says Gray.
“Connecting with people, seeking out our friends or establishing new friendships is an important part of getting over a breakup. So, music can help us give us a jump-start into becoming more social again when getting over an ex.”
Yep, music can actually help you get out of that post-breakup slump by making you want to go and see people, who woulda thought?
Not just that, Gray explains, but sad songs can resonate with our feelings during heartbreak, building a sense of compassion, and further activating those empathy brain centres.
“The harmonies between the emotions in the song and our own experiences amplify feeling connected with someone else’s experience. That validation and the empathetic links can stimulate us to start moving through and processing the complex feelings of a breakup,” says Gray.
“The commonalities with breakup songs, combined with feeling connected with someone else, is very healing for the negative emotions of heartbreak, and can put you on the path for recovery.”
Now, where did I put that S Club 7 tape....?