It’s hard to live in this world without knowing popular songs about love. “Love Me Do”, “My Heart Will Go On”, “I Will Always Love You”, and so forth. However, in recent years, a dominance in breakup and heartbreak related songs have crept their way into the modern psyche of today’s culture. Yes, it’s a cruel reality that not all relationships are meant to last. Sometimes people are not meant for each other. When these ties are broken and two people go their separate ways, the ordeal can create stirring emotions deep within those who are affected. Of the more creative expressions resulting from a breakup, songs or albums become the blank canvas for musicians to spread their feelings all over in a colourful manner.
Since the discography of heartbreak songs and albums is too extensive to cover in one article, the case studies that will be examined are three albums that have been released since October 2014.
Let’s skim the surface by starting with an album I’m sure most people are familiar with. Taylor Swift’s 1989 was not only the sole platinum-certified album released in 2014 but it was also another teeth-baring, devoted-to-character collection of pop explosions that target “long lists of ex-lovers” (or “Starbucks lovers”, whatever you find more amusing). Taylor’s shtick has remained constant since her countrified beginning and has only grown into an absurdly irresistible stardom. 1989 is the insurgence of Taylor’s original look, changing from a ditsy pop star singing about Romeo & Juliet to a thoughtful, independent woman.[youtube_advanced url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e-ORhEE9VVg” rel=”no”]
Taylor is human, we can all agree on that, and she wants love just as all of us do in some way or another. However, what makes her stand out among her rival pop star conglomerates is her lack of sexual focus. Let’s try to think of a few recent pop songs that don’t completely sexualize their lyrics. “Bang Bang”? Nope. “All About That Bass”? Don’t think so. “Take Me To Church”? Lord almighty! While the Billboard 100’s sum total of tracks narrows its subjectivity to one aspect of love, Taylor Swift darts in the opposite direction. She’s not looking to be objectified for pleasure. She knows that “haters are gonna hate”, so why should she limit herself to be a mindless entity of our over-sexed society? Taylor’s bold examples on 1989 prove to be a shout of independence. They sprout the concept of not needing a man to be truly happy. “Blank Space” demonstrates that in order to date Taylor Swift, you better be prepared for a wild ride. She’s not about to let herself be used as a casual playmate, she wants to be in charge of her own actions. “Shake It Off” continues this trend of individuality, explaining Taylor’s motive to stay positive despite unfortunate past experiences. She shows her cunning as a pop artist and teaches that love is something that does not come easily to everyone. But love shouldn’t be something to get you down and out either. With a superlative prowess, Taylor Swift has successfully figured out how to top the charts while remaining true to herself.
Moving onto an album that operates in a slightly different manner, Natalie Prass’ self-titled debut album narrates the tale of a heartbroken woman dealing with a cheating partner. Natalie’s theatrical approach to a breakup album is something unique. Her delicate situation is transcribed into a 9-song set of much-needed ventilation. The sweeping orchestral score gives this album a sort of Broadway musical feeling to it. The lyrics collaborate with each other, fusing into one sad memorial of a failed relationship.[youtube_advanced url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h50Q47W80ao” rel=”no”]
As Natalie swoons on the opening track “My Baby Don’t Understand Me”, “Our love is a long goodbye / Waiting on the train…”. This visual image projects the idea that Natalie’s journey is in constant motion. It’s an ever-changing experience that results in the separation of two people. Her disappointment is revealed throughout the album, cleverly making remarks about her relationship and how she is moving on. Closure is the most important thing that needs to happen in vicious situations such as a breakup. In the form of a self-titled album, Natalie Prass appropriately acknowledges the events that have taken place and confidently expresses her emotions in song form. This bump in the road is a learning experience for Natalie, as she reaches tremendous heights in the album closer “It Is You”. Her Disney Princess-like singing mannerisms detect a care-free nature in her being and the lyrics demonstrate a physical burden being lifted. She sings, “Do my best on my own / To see the beauty abound” in order to remind herself that live has lots of merit.
The final album being discussed is a truly haunting conceptual piece. Not only does it contain some of the greatest songs of 2015 so far, but it has become the finest example of human sadness displayed in recorded music. Björk’s Vulnicura is a volcanic eruption of emotions, spewing molten sorrow all around. A few years ago, Björk separated from her long-time partner Matthew Barney. Devastated, she began to work on what has become her more vulnerable release. Vulnicura is a collection of heartbreak experienced by a confused, lowly Björk.
The album’s lyrical content are potent, acting as sharp daggers piercing the hearts of listeners. Why has love upset Björk so? Just as we have examined with Taylor Swift, Björk needs love too. It’s in our human nature to desire human connection. To Björk, she was content with her love life. When that portion of her life was ripped out, she felt as if a part of her was missing. On “Black Lake”, she expresses this visual as a violent action when she proclaims, “My soul torn apart / My spirit is broken / Into the fabric of all / He is woven”. Her visual aesthetic aids her listeners to see what she is suffering from. Her physical and mental anguish can’t be fixed with a simple hug of support. Lyrics such as “Is there a place / Where I can pay respects / For the death of my family?” on “Family” further support the painful disaster of Björk’s current state. Fortunately, as the album moves towards its final minutes, Bjork begins to pick up the broken pieces and gives her attention to what is truly important. Her family is something she looks to for help and by keeping close to her mother and her daughter, she has made the realization that love can be found in other ways. Intimate relationships between two people are one thing, but the love of a family member cannot be reciprocated.[youtube_advanced url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MWHpoJT3qK4&t=254″ rel=”no”]
This very personal piece of art is a permanent fixture that results in a progression towards the healing of a broken singer. The word “vulnicura” translates into “the healing of wounds”, so in a way, the album itself is a big band-aid that is protecting the severe trauma that has been endured.
To conclude, the past few months have given us several shining examples of heartbreak and desolation contained within the spectrum of music. The most important thing to recognize in all of these releases is that there is a happy ending. These three women have all concluded that their failed relationships will not bring them down and that their independence as free-willed creatures has been with them all along. Often times, the best music deals with unfortunate subjects. These subjects result in the most “human” music, cut directly from the broken heart of a musician.