Love Will Tear Us Apart—Demo’s Best Tearjerkers

Sometimes a song is powerful enough to elicit a strong physical and emotional reaction from us. Maybe you know the feeling: shivers go down your spine, a lump gets in your throat, and before you know it, your eyes start welling up. Everybody has that one song that does it for them, and our contributors share those songs. There may be a conspicuous lack of Drake here, but these tracks should open the floodgates anyways.

Dan Mangan – “Basket”

Written about his grandfather dying of Alzheimer’s, this was a devastating song to find while I was watching my own grandfather slowly die of dementia. Each verse progresses through the life and frustrations of losing your memory as you age, and will give just about any listener a crisis about their own unavoidable mortality. This song will never fail to make me sob like a newborn infant, and it’s a song I will always go back to when I need to just curl up under a blanket and have a good cry. — Hazel Sands

Charlene Kaye – “Human”

I feel like everyone out there has a a secret sad song. You know, that song where when you put it on, you just want to have a good cathartic cry? The song whose lyric still make you a little misty eyed? Well, this song is definitely mine. Charlene Kaye is a hidden gem, this track coming from her debut album Things I Will Need In The Past released in 2008. It speaks of a beautiful, painful kind of heartbreak, and has the power to induce tears anytime I put it on. So if you need to have a good cry, here is my gift to you. Just press play and let Charlene whisk you away. — Savana James

Emmy the Great – “24”

As someone who dismisses The Smiths as being too happy-sounding, choosing just one tearjerker is no easy task for me. But the one song that always seems to break me is “24” by Emmy the Great. Discovered while I was deep in the British anti-folk phase of my adolescence, “24” is the perfect song to cry to; it’s depressing, somber and incredibly relatable. Beautiful in a charmingly straightforward manner, Emmy perfectly captures the heartbreak of realizing when it is time to walk away from something that is not good for you. — Carey Roach

Sharon Van Etten – “Afraid of Nothing”

Whether you’re disappointed in a lover and there’s no other way, or just lost within the sea of life, Sharon Van Etten has perfected  your soundtrack of sadness. “Afraid of Nothing”, though not the saddest song of her repertoire (shout outs to “Give Out” and “I Love You But I’m Lost”), is the perfect song to cry to. The song begins with a contrasting parting melody, with its sparse arrangement and whimsical instrumentality implying reflection. Eventually, the song builds towards sentiments of “what could be.”

Though Sharon can’t wait until we’re afraid of nothing, it seems as though fear is inevitable in halting potential. Singing, “you throw me a lame ‘wait shit out,’ you’re a little late,” it’s clear that fear has overcome the prospect of this working out – whatever this may be. I’ve caught myself singing this to myself and towards a disappointing break-up – and in both regards, I really do wish I was afraid of nothing. It’s with this thought that begins one of the most gut-wrenchingly depressing albums of 2014, and if that isn’t something to cry about, I don’t know what is. — Ayla Shiblaq

Joni Mitchell – “Both Sides Now”

This rerecorded version on a 2000 album with the same name features Mitchell with a more melancholy voice and a more heart-aching beauty than her original version. She openly speaks about the ups and downs of life and reflects upon the idea that after years of living, she doesn’t know much more than when she began. The song touches on the inevitability of growing up and growing out of our childish imaginations. It is the bitterness attached to this kind of loss – losing what was once magical and replacing it with reality that seems almost too hard to bear, as well as the loss of friendships, loves and even the loss of your own self throughout life that makes this track a real tearjerker. There is an evident longing to go back to how things used to be, but the acknowledgement of that impossibility. Keep strong and carry your tissues for this one. — Emi Hunt

Frightened Rabbit – “Poke”

The breakup song is a tirelessly overused trope in popular music, but, just like your typical falling-in-love song, the falling out will always resonate equally as well. Provided that the lyrics are crafted accordingly, just as Scott Hutchinson does, a good break up song can easily reopen those flesh wounds you originally thought were so well sown shut. The album in which this song comes from – The Midnight Organ Fight – draws from anatomy, and so it’s only appropriate that this song pull a bit at your heartstrings. If this song happens to poke at your own irises, celebrate the fact that you’re able to feel something human after all. — Jennifer Hyc

Keaton Henson – “You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are”

In this epic plea, Keaton Henson sings haunting, quavering questions desperately and repeatedly to prove the intimacy with which he knew a person now out of his grasp. The rhythmic guitar converges with an urgent and sweeping vocal crescendo of lyrics that tug at our whimsical nostalgia for lost love. You can’t help but use a few tissues. — Gwen Reid

Jason Isbell – “Elephant”

Country isn’t usually my cup of tea and it might not be yours either. But people who categorically brush off the genre are missing some great music, including this song, which blindsided me the first time I heard it. Isbell sings from the perspective of someone who has to be a caregiver to a terminally ill friend. The titular “elephant” is cancer – both friends involved drink, smoke, and sing to avoid confronting the reality of the disease. So the devil’s in the details in Isbell’s lyrics: how he sweeps up his friend’s hair on the floor or how his friend drinks Seagram’s from a coffee cup. But what really hits me is when he sees his friend surrounded by her family, and all he can think is how she must be dying alone. — James Li

Sufjan Stevens – “Fourth of July”

Ah, the Fourth of July… load up the grills, open up the coolers and sit back for it’s America’s glorious birthday. The night sky explodes with life and light — unless, of course, you’re Sufjan Stevens. In this heartbreaking track on his latest release Carrie and Lowell, he creates a thin atmosphere surrounding a soft conversation between himself and his estranged mother on her deathbed. A young Sufjan directs his blame inward and desperately asks what he could’ve done better when she was there. His mother gives him bittersweet comfort in the repeated reassurance: “we’re all going to die.” — Daven Boparai

Sonu Nigam – “Kal Ho Na Ho”

“Kal Ho Na Ho” is the title song from a movie with the same name. Although the song is in Hindi, the English translations to this song will have you shed both tears of joy and tears of sorrow, especially if you have seen the entire film (which I recommend you should). This song isn’t just any ordinary Bollywood number; it’s a unifying motif that adapts to scenes accordingly, and lingers on to scenes like a shadow, a shadow that reminds the audience about seizing the day. In fact, Kal Ho Na Ho literally means “tomorrow may or may not be.” The delicate melody is played on an innocent piano, with lush yet soft strings in the background, overlaid every so often with a haunting, and melancholic flute. In fact, there are three versions of the song, happy, sad, and an instrumental one that kicks you right in the gut, to reflect its multidimensional and bittersweet quality. And let’s face it: things that are bittersweet are somewhat harder to swallow. — Dilpreet Moti


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