Shakira and Miley: Writing a perfect break-up song

Shakira and Miley: Writing a perfect break-up song

Shakira and Miley: Writing a perfect break-up song

You’ve been through a break-up. You’re experiencing all the emotions – rage, grief, sadness and tears.

Coping strategies? You might binge a show, binge fast food, or unload your emotions into your private diary.

Or, if you’re a world-famous musician, you might decide to record a scorching diss track taking aim at your ex.

Then, upload it to the internet, stand back and watch the sparks fly.

At least, that’s what Shakira did with Out of Your League, her song about footballer ex Gerard Piqué which has broken YouTube records.

And she’s not alone. Fans are convinced Flowers, by Miley Cyrus, is about her ex Liam Hemsworth.

Not that pop superstars turning their raw emotions into songs is a new thing. Just ask Adele or Taylor Swift – both queens of the break-up ballad.

Or Ariana Grande, The Weeknd and Justin Bieber – just some of the big names thought to have released heartbreak-inspired hits.

But what’s the trick to recording the perfect break-up song? And why are they so satisfying to listen to?

A (lost) love story

The main reason for the genre’s popularity is probably obvious: most of us get dumped (or do the dumping) at some point in our life.

It hurts. We can relate.

That’s according to music school principal Martin Wright, who works at the British and Irish Modern Music (BIMM) Institute in Brighton.

He says the best break-up songs are all about the narrative.

So what’s the story?

“If it’s me breaking up with you, it’s about empowerment, liberation and freedom,” says Martin.

“But if it’s you breaking up with me, it might be about sadness, bitterness and even sometimes revenge.”

In Out of Your League, Shakira impressively manages to combine most of these elements into a single line:

“I won’t get back with you, not if you cry, not even if you beg.”

Why, why, why?

Image caption,

Fans think Miley was throwing shade at Liam Hemsworth in Flowers

Then there’s the next ingredient – why the breakup is happening.

“Is it lovers scorned, or could it be something along the lines of life moving on and falling out of love?” asks Martin.

“And then we look at what’s happening now in a break-up song. So how does a person feel about their breakup?”

There are a few options here. A popular approach is the “I’m so over this”, as demonstrated by Ariana Grande:

“I’ve learned from the pain/I turned out amazing.”

Or you could take a leaf out of Olivia Rodrigo’s songbook and her more reflective take:

“And I just can’t imagine how you could be so okay now that I’m gone.”

Ending things

And for the finishing touch, no good story is complete without an ending – what happens next?

Martin says the chorus and looking to the future is the key here.

You could strike a hopeful note, like Adele:

“Never mind, I’ll find someone like you”.

Or take the Beyoncé route:

“Baby I won’t shed a tear for you/I won’t lose a wink of sleep/’Cause the truth of the matter/Is replacing you is so easy.”

Or follow Taylor Swift’s decisiveness:

“But we are never, ever, ever, ever getting back together. Like, ever.”

Taylor Swift singing
Image caption,

“I remember when we broke up the first time” – Taylor Swift has built a career on songs about past relationships

‘Tears dripping down the page’

As well as being good to listen to, a break-up song can be helpful for the people writing them.

Singer-songwriter Nahli, from London, says she starts writing “in the raw state” straight after a break-up.

“It’s like you just have this lump in your throat, a heavy, horrible feeling and you feel sick,” she says.

Nahli, who has performed with the likes of Sigma, says she used to write her emotions down in her diary. Now she turns those journal entries into songs.

“When you’ve written them down in the moment, when you’re crying into the page, and the tears are dripping down and smudging the ink…

“That’s when all of my deepest emotions are coming out.”

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Nahli’s song Mama’s Boy, on her album Therapy [Side A] is about a “really tricky breakup”.

“This was more of a revenge [track]. I was irritated when I was writing the song,” she says.

“I say some stuff in there that’s so rude. Because in the moment, that’s how I felt, I was so angry.

“And the only way that I could get those angry emotions out is because I wanted him to hear it.”

Another song called Relapse on the same album is about “knowing that person was not very good for me”.

“Sometimes, when they creep back into your life, I was so scared to relapse if I said yes.”

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