So Bad They’re Good: The Breakup Songs Of The 80’s vs. Today


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As a child of the 80’s, my knowledge of the decade’s music comes from childhood memories and last-call singalongs at bars around Boston. As cheesy as it is iconic, the music of the 80’s will always have a distinct sound and feel. Paired with the big hair, acid-washed jeans, and dudes with earrings, the breakup songs of the 80’s were so bad, they’re good.

I was just talking with a friend in his 40’s about the breakup songs of today and how they compare with decades past. While I am on board with today’s love songs lacking some luster when compared to those our parents and grandparents listened to, I think our breakup songs trump the hair and cheesy outfits of the 80’s.

Take a gander at these selections below, and let us know in the comments where you would turn to mend your broken heart…

The Human League – Don’t You Want Me

Aside from the guyliner and trenchcoats, the lyrics of this song are about as diverse as a bowl of Cheerios.

Don’t you want me, baby?
Don’t you want me, oh?
Don’t you want me, baby?
Don’t you want me, oh?
Don’t you want me, baby?

While this makes for pretty easy karaoke, I’m not really sure about the existential reflection that could be triggered by lyrics that are about as deep as a puddle. Even though the beat is immediately recognizable, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be hard for our modern breakup songs to overshadow.

Naked Eyes – Always Something There To Remind Me

The second this song starts, you know what you’re listening to. That’s one of the great things about the 80’s, the immediate recognition of the music (for better or worse). But, what’s a 1982 breakup song without a guy sashaying around stage in a white blazer with 3/4 length sleeves? Nothing, that’s what.

The moves though, the moves…

In case you were wondering, precisely one half of the lines in the entire song are: “Always something there to remind me.”

John Waite – Missing You

Yes! This may be one of the most recognizable songs of the 80’s…Not only that, but while it boasts similar lack of variety in its lyrics, at least there are some creative metaphors along the way:

“And there’s a message that I’m sending out, like a telegraph to your soul
And if I can’t bridge this distance, stop this heartbreak overload.”

Plus, which one of us hasn’t belted out the chorus to this song at a dive bar as the lights have come on? I know I have…

Journey – Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)

I don’t think anyone reading this is going to deny the cultural mega-influence that is Journey. One of the few 80’s bands that hasn’t lost much steam in modern times – Separate Ways features a slew of ridiculously over-acted lip syncing solos that we are probably all guilty of singing to our mirrors.

Do yourself a favor and skip this video to the :56 second mark, but don’t miss the wall-mounted keyboard at 1:28.

Poison – Every Rose Has Its Thorn

You can’t make it through the 80’s without the undeniable epicness of hair-metal bands. One of which, of course, being Poison. Maybe the most iconic breakup song on the list, with undeniably the most in-depth lyrics, Every Rose Has Its Thorn is one of those sit back, close your eyes and enjoy kind of songs. It’s relate-able, a little less cheesy, and full of guitar riffs. Overall, a solid 9 out of 10 and definitely holds the title for the best 80’s breakup song.

Gotye – Somebody That I Used To Know

It’s difficult to recall a catchier breakup song in recent memory, particularly one that boasts over 635 million YouTube views and has been covered repeatedly by other artists.

Before the song even starts playing, we can relate to the title. Each of us has someone in our lives that we used to know, which we no longer do. The lyrics in this song pull at our heartstrings and discuss an ex who literally cuts you off and acts as though the entire relationship didn’t even happen. “But you treat me like a stranger and that feels so rough.”

While the video is a little strange, it creates an interesting dynamic being a duet, illustrating two different people, a man and a woman, who are feeling similar emotions, acknowledging that everyone has felt heartbreak at one time or another.

Taylor Swift – We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together

Next up with 239 million YouTube views is maybe the most popular breakup song artist of our generation, Taylor Swift. While I am not her biggest fan, there are a lot of her songs that I do like.

One of them which has made a splash in pop-culture, regardless of my opinion of it, is this song. Maybe it’s because of the fun, upbeat nature of a song which would normally be depressing, it can be seen as empowering and optimistic. The same lyrics sang in a monotone voice while sitting in a dark room would send a much different message.

Adele – Someone Like You

No list of breakup songs would be complete without this one. Maybe one of the most heartfelt, deeply emotional breakup songs of our time, Adele links our emotions to hers and tells us a story of heartbreak but, maybe, also hope. And what better medium to do it through, than by using her record-breaking voice.

Usher – Burn

Besides the temptation to get up and dance to this song, which Usher wouldn’t have any other way, I think much of the value lies in the perspective the story is being told from. In this song, the heartbreak is being caused by the singer, rather than being inflicted onto him. He knows parting ways is best but doesn’t want to see his ex with someone else and doubts his decisions as he is making them.

Deep down you know it’s best for yourself but you
Hate the thought of her being with someone else
But you know that it’s over
You know that it was through
Let it burn
Let it burn
Gotta let it burn

Try to swim in an ocean that deep, 80’s songs.

What do you consider the most iconic breakup songs, of any generation? The good ones will live on forever, as will some of the bad ones. Because sometimes, they’re just so bad that they’re good.

Nothing but love for ya, 80’s. Without you, I wouldn’t be here.



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  1. Gaylene on May 4, 2015 at 9:48 pm

    Personally I’d rather listen to the 80’s ballads than those of today 🙂

    What can I say, I’m an 80’s teen at heart

  2. Kate's Bookshelf on May 5, 2015 at 5:40 am

    Oh gosh, you have this down so well! (Child of the 80’s here so I totally get it) The 80’s songs you picked are really really bad, but oh so good, and totally cheesy, but I think that’s what we need when we have a breakup. Something that totally hits you whether funny or not. I love Air Supply’s “All Out Of Love” and Art Garfunkel’s “99 Miles From LA”. Both late-ish 70’s early 80’s.

    Gotye’s song is one of the best, I will have to admit. I know there are others I like, but you have a very good list. Made me smile and laugh.

  3. Satin Sheet Diva on May 5, 2015 at 7:34 am

    Let’s talk of the stalker tone in “Don’t You Want Me” for a minute eh? I never did consider this a break-up song, lol. It was more of a warning – “Better change it (her mind) back or we will both be sorry”…WHAT?

    I love 80’s music as I was in my late teens / early 20’s so that music will always be my go-to when it’s time to par-tay. And yes, there were some ‘light-in-the-lyrics’ tunes for sure, but the 90’s and 00’s saw more than their share of repeated lines….I dare you to do a drinking game where you toss a shot back every time some 90’s – 00’s singer said the word ‘baby’. You’d be drunk before the first Bieber song ended ;-).

  4. Dawn on May 5, 2015 at 9:09 am

    An 80’s child here. You nailed it. I lived and loved the 80’s. I should of purchased stock in AquaNet hairspray. My 12 year old daughter even likes the music from the 80 better than today’s. It’s funny hearing 80’s music coming from her iPod. 🙂

  5. Maria Kinsey on May 6, 2015 at 8:56 am

    Love your selection – the modern songs seem to be more sophisticated than the 80’s – but I love them all – in the end it’s what speaks to you…..

  6. Nye on May 17, 2015 at 3:58 am

    I felt in LOVE last week, I’m so excited I found your blog! Keep up your good work!

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