20 Saddest Songs
As you’ll see on this sad songs list, love is a universal subject in popular music. Most of the songs on this list have to do with the loss of love, from dealing with heartache or the pain of accepting what you cannot change to the too late realization that you could and should have done something differently.
The best thing about these tracks is that they often provide comfort to the listener. It’s as though the person or artist singing the song “gets” what we’re going through and has gone through something similar. It’s the connective tissue that highlights a shared experience, reminding us we’re not alone.
These songs show that music is the great connector and the language through which we all communicate. There are the 20 Saddest Pop Songs, both sonically and lyrically.
Adele, ‘Someone Like You’
Letting go is never easy, and Adele isn’t quite cutting the apron strings in the sad song ‘Someone Like You.’ She’s one step below psycho ex-girlfriend when she sings about showing up uninvited and hoping he’d feel the same pang. When she wishes her ex-lover the best, she doesn’t quite mean it. Who hasn’t been there? People say that truly loving someone is being happy for them if they are with someone other than you. Screw that!
Saddest Lyrics: “You know how the time flies / Only yesterday was the time of our lives / We were born and raised / In a summer haze / Bound by the surprise of our glory days” and “Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead.”
With its spare piano melody and harmonizing with Mikky Ekko, Rihanna‘s ‘Stay’ is one of the saddest songs because of the tension between the two voices. They can’t quite figure out how they feel about “it” or each other, but the pull is there. While Rihanna is often criticized as a figurehead singing the songs of others, she imbues ‘Stay’ with palpable heartache and heartbreak.
Saddest Lyrics: “Funny you’re the broken one, but I’m the only one who needed saving / ‘Cause when you never see the light / It’s hard to know which one of us is caving.”
Sinead O’ Connor, ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’
‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ was penned by Prince, but Sinead O’Connor’s delivery — not to mention the video, which showed only her face and her emotions, highlighted by her shaved head — took this sad song to the depths of despair. She laments over love lost and suffers from classic depression: counting the minutes since they split, sleeping too much and possibly boozing in late night hours. She isn’t afraid to ask him to come back, as she floods him with memories. It reminds us that we often realize things when it’s too late.
Saddest Lyrics: “I go out every night and sleep all day / Since u took your love away.”
Miley Cyrus, ‘Wrecking Ball’
The heft of Miley Cyrus‘ ‘Wrecking Ball’ is sometimes overshadowed by the naked and sacred video. The track makes our sad songs list because it is a painful ode to love gone wrong. After coming on too strong, attempting to break down walls and then running away, the narrator and her loved one just can’t get on the same page — and the song is a planet of regret.
Saddest Lyrics: “Don’t you ever say I just walked away / I will always want you.”
Lady Gaga, ‘Dope’
Lady Gaga‘s powerful piano ballad references giving up one addiction (drugs and/or alcohol) for another (love). We all want so desperately to connect, and it’s painful to extricate ourselves from an addiction situation, so much so that it might kill us. Yes, we can love someone so much they infect our blood. Letting go is like suffering through withdrawal. But the true sadness in this song comes not in how we literally or figuratively interpret her words, but from the struggle in Ma Monster’s voice as her piano gently weeps.
Saddest Lyrics: “My heart would break without you / Might not awake without you / Been hurting low from living high for so long.”
A Great Big World, ‘Say Something’
Sometimes it’s what we don’t or can’t say that is the most devastating. Christina Aguilera and A Great Big World trade lyrics and harmonize about giving up and being so snakebitten by a relationship gone wrong that they can’t even speak to try and rectify things. Silence kills, and so does the emotion of this aching piano ballad that makes our list of sad songs.
Saddest Lyrics: “You’re the one that I love / And I’m saying goodbye.”
Pink, ‘Just Give Me a Reason’
Sometimes even the best relationships get a little off the track, like the one that Pink and Nate Ruess sing about in the sad song ‘Just Give Me a Reason.’ Things aren’t the same and that’s a tough realization to come to, but they valiantly try and work it out. It’s like falling out of love, all the while still loving someone. That’s a unique brand of heartbreak.
Saddest Lyrics: “It’s been written in the scars on our hearts / We’re not broken, just bent / And we can learn to love again.”
Katy Perry, ‘I’m Still Breathing’
This sad song is written like a suicide note, but it’s really the relationship that’s dying. It’s devastatingly sad as Katy Perry‘s narrator says goodbye. It was a rough bout, but she’s still alive, although things got dicey there for a few. A relationship is a living, breathing, fluid thing, and ending it is like a death. Perry’s words effectively capture that spirit, and the song is a comfort to anyone who is breaking up.
Saddest Lyrics: “‘Cause I’m still breathing / But we’ve been dead for awhile / This sickness has no cure / We’re going down for sure / Already lost our grip / Best abandon ship.”
Maroon 5, ‘She Will Be Loved’
One of Maroon 5‘s earliest hits, ‘She Will Be Loved,’ is bolstered by Adam Levine‘s falsetto as he sings to a damaged girl, letting her know she is worth more and deserves better than how she has been treated in the past. It’s sad, though, because it points to the fact that we often ignore what’s best for us even when it’s right before our jaundiced eyes. We accept the love we think we deserve.
Saddest Lyrics: “I don’t mind spending every day / Out on your corner in the pouring rain / Look for the girl with the broken smile / Ask her if she wants to stay a while / And she will be loved.”
Kelly Clarkson, ‘Because of You’
Kelly Clarkson‘s ‘Because of You’ is one of the most brutally sad songs because her narrator has been so damaged and scarred by someone in her life that she won’t venture out into the world and experience all that it has to offer. That’s a true tragedy in life. We have to learn to open our hearts, but it’s not easy when they’ve been slammed shut without a key being made, much less lost.
Saddest Lyrics: “Because of you / I never stray too far from the sidewalk / Because of you / I learned to play on the safe side so I don’t get hurt / Because of you / I find it hard to trust not only me, but everyone around me / Because of you / I am afraid.”
Ed Sheeran, ‘The A Team’
Oh, where to begin with Ed Sheeran‘s ‘The A Team’? It’s such a powerful and beautiful song from start to finish, and it’s left open to multiple interpretations about what is wrong with and what happened to this damaged creature he sings about. Drugs? Life? General hard knocks? It’s sad songs like these that have established E. Sheeran as the poet laureate of his generation.
Saddest Lyrics: “It’s too cold outside / For angels to fly.”
Lana Del Rey, ‘Young and Beautiful’
Most Lana Del Rey songs are sad. Her voice is melancholic, and her lyrics often explore the dark side. ‘Young and Beautiful,’ her track from ‘The Great Gatsby,’ reminds us of the things we have no control over in life. It’s easy to love someone when they are young and beautiful, but what about after? It’s a romanticization of the idea of survival of the fittest, and something we have to come to terms with.
Saddest Lyrics: “Will you still love me / When I’m no longer young and beautiful? / Will you still love me / When I got nothing but my aching soul?”
Tom Odell, ‘Another Love’
British singer Tom Odell captures the notion of letting go with ‘Another Love.’ He and his lover have moved on, and while there are lingering, residual feelings — which are to be expected — he knows he can’t defend her honor, despite his instinct. That’s a tough bridge to cross for anyone who is closing the door on a relationship; it signifies that the roles have indeed changed and the one you would have killed or died for is now no longer worth the thought.
Saddest Lyrics: “And if somebody hurts you, I wanna fight / But my hands been broken, one too many times.”
Britney Spears, ‘Everytime’
Even a sexpot like Britney Spears has a vulnerable heart. In the sad song ‘Everytime,’ she knows she needs the one she loves, but they are no longer a “thing” and she is like a bird stripped of its wings. It’s a bit co-dependent, but then again, what romantic or platonic relationship isn’t a little bit co-dependent?
Saddest Lyrics: “Everytime I try to fly / I fall without my wings / I feel so small / I guess I need you baby / And everytime I see you in my dreams / I see your face, it’s haunting me.”
Drake, ‘Marvin’s Room’
Normally, we don’t think of rap songs as sad, but they can be in many situations. With Drake‘s ‘Marvin’s Room,’ he’s trying to drown his sorrows but they’ve learned to swim, Michael Phelps-style. The pursuit of love ain’t easy, either. It’s the subject and the sonics of this song that just sound so, well, blue.
Saddest Lyrics: “I’ve been in this club too long / The woman that I would try / Is happy with a good guy.”
Justin Timberlake, ‘Cry Me a River’
‘Cry Me a River’ isn’t a traditional sad song. Justin Timberlake‘s solo smash is about finding out you’ve been cuckolded and cheated on. He found out from the other guy, and rather than wallow in sorrow, he confronts the girl who has gone astray. And while there is a steely distance and his guard is up, the song is still laced with pain due to the realization that there is nothing you can do but go.
Saddest Lyrics: “The damage is done / So I guess I be… leaving.”
‘N Sync, ‘Gone’
One of the worst romantic situations in life is pouring over the “what ifs.” How could I have prevented this or what could I have done to stop this? Sadly, there is nothing one can do, since the loss of love and the end of a relationship is something we often cannot prevent or alter the course of. With ‘N Sync’s sad song ‘Gone,’ the narrator is not above asking, even though he already knows the answer.
Saddest Lyrics: “I don’t wanna make excuses, baby / Won’t change the fact that you’re gone / But if there’s something that I could do / Won’t you please let me know?”
Justin Bieber, ‘Yellow Raincoat’
Justin Bieber‘s acoustic love lament, penned for his acoustic EP and after his split with Selena Gomez, is about as sad as a song gets. The rain could be tears and an overall metaphor about weathering the storm in life. It’s the Biebs being raw and real, stripped away of all the, well, “Bieberness.” He lays his emotional cards face up on the table, and it’s likely the first time that we saw the real heart of Justin Bieber.
Saddest Lyrics: “‘Cause I put on my raincoat, my yellow raincoat / Baby, it’s keeping me dry /
I put on my raincoat, my yellow raincoat / You know exactly why.”
Christina Aguilera, ‘Hurt’
‘Hurt’ makes our list of sad songs as Xtina looks back at a relationship that has ended, and not in amicable fashion. It’s doubly painful for her, since she realizes that she may have hurt the one she loved but she also hurt herself by letting things play out as they did. There’s a lot of rumination in the words and ache in her voice, due to the fact that sometimes you just don’t get do-overs in life.
Saddest Lyrics: “And I’ve hurt myself by hurting you.”
Backstreet Boys, ‘Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely’
The Backstreet Boys harmonize beautifully and flawlessly in this tropically-tinged sad song, but it’s the words that are soaked in sadness. Sometimes we just don’t understand or have a concrete reason why we can’t be with the one we love. And that, friends, in one of the suckiest situations you can endure.
Saddest Lyrics: “Tell me why I can’t be there where you are / There’s something missing in my heart.”