Losing a person we once cared for often feels like losing a part of ourselves. The concept of loss itself is unique, because it invites an onslaught of varying emotions. Sadness might be the emotion most associated with loss, but the feeling of missing someone can evoke intense anger, confusion, and in some instances, maybe even relief.
Of course, people have the tendency to listen to music that represents this diversity of emotion, and songs about losing a friend are some of the most compassionate, meaningful songs we can listen to when we’re besieged by grief.
In this article, I’ll provide you with some of my favorite songs on this very tough subject. And hopefully, you’ll find one or two that will help you through this difficult time.
Together Again by Janet Jackson
It’s a bit ironic that one of Janet Jackson’s most inspirational songs is also, strangely, about the topic of losing someone you care about. Given the subject matter, it’s a testament to the great musical arrangement and heartwarming lyrics that allows for this song to be so beautiful.
If you’ve ever lost someone that you love, this is the song to put on when you need to hear an artist both relate to your pain and, at the same time, motivate you to keep pushing forward.
On this track, Janet sings of knowing she’ll one day she her loved one again. But, until that day, Ms. Jackson finds a way to see her loved one in the stars, smiling down at her from above.
Everywhere I go, every smile I see
I know you are there, smilin’ back at me
Dancin’ in moonlight, I know you are free
‘Cause I can see your star, shinin’ down on me
Life Goes on by 2Pac
“How many brothas fell victim to the streets,” raps 2Pac to kick off this emotional song dedicated to friends who have died. In this case, 2Pac is rapping about friends he’s know that have died on the streets, victims to violence and a society that doesn’t particularly care about black men living in tough inner cities.
But that’s what made 2Pac so special–he spoke to this pain and called out society for being complicit. And yet, at the same time, he was never afraid to point the finger back at himself. The beauty of 2Pac is in, strangely, his hypocritical nature.
But we are all hypocrites—that’s what makes us human.
And yet, what makes this song so sad is not just the fact that ‘Pac raps of hearing the news that his friend died, but in how he has internalized the concept of “that’s just the way it is.” Because, we ‘Pac gets the news that his good friend has died, all he can think to do is take a stiff drink for his homie and declare “life goes on.”
But now that you’re gone, I’m in the zone
Thinking I don’t wanna die all alone, but now ya gone
And all I got left are stinkin’ memories
I love them ******* to death, I’m drinkin’ Hennessy
While trying to make it last
I drank a fifth for that when you passed
‘Cause life goes on
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Bye Bye by Mariah Carey
If you thought Boyz II Men and Mariah Carey’s “One Sweet Day” was sad, well, Mariah’s “Bye Bye” proudly declares “Hold My Beer.”
This song starts off with Mariah setting the stage for who this deeply emotional song is aimed at:
This is for my people who just lost somebody
Your best friend, your baby, your man or your lady
Put your hand way up high
We won’t never say bye (no no no)
Mamas, daddies, sisters, brothers, friends and cousins
This is for my people who lost their grandmothers
Lift your head to the sky
‘Cause we won’t never say bye
This is a song about being unable to say goodbye to a friend or family member that has passed, even though you know you have to. It’s a song about knowing that life goes on for the living, but understanding that it’s hard to move forward if you’re emotionally stuck in the pain of yesterday.
But most of all, this is a song about sitting in your grief and not running away from it. It’s about being sad and heartbroken that you’ll never hear your friend’s voice again, or they’ll never get to see your future accomplishments or you’ll never get to visit their house during a birthday or holiday.
Bye Bye is all about missing the small things that made you love your best friend. But it’s also about recognizing that just because you say “bye bye,” it’s not necessarily goodbye.
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How To Save a Life by The Fray
We’re starting off this list with a song about losing a good friend in the most heartbreaking, earth-shattering way. Losing a friend to death is abrupt, unfair, and changes a person to the core. The Fray’s “How To Save a Life” depicts these gut-wrenching emotions perfectly through the use of heartfelt diction and instrumental crescendos.
The beginning of the song features a lone piano melody accompanied by the soft voice of the lead singer, drums kick in during the bridge, and guitar and other instruments join during the chorus. The buildup of sound is symbolic of the overflow of emotion the song conveys.
Where did I go wrong? I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness
And I would have stayed up with you all night
Had I known how to save a life
Low Pain Tolerance by Abby Holliday
Abby Holliday’s “Low Pain Tolerance” might technically be about a romantic relationship, but the generalizability of the lyrics and message of the song perfectly encapsulate what it means to be afraid of forming any sort of relationship.
Holliday sings about having a “low pain tolerance” when it comes to being vulnerable with someone. Whether this apprehension is brought on by previous trauma or just fear of intimacy is for the listener to decide, but as an artist, Holliday sure knows how to send a message. The chorus of the song has a faster tempo than the verses, and her words are accentuated by heavy drumbeats, emphasizing the weight of her words.
My low pain tolerance is bringing you down
Only a matter of time before you figure it out
You’re looking at me like you want me to stay
I’d rather run away, run away
Cool Again by Shoffy
Songs about losing a friend are not always framed in sadness, and “Cool Again” by Shoffy is a great, catchy example of that. The song is about a friendship that has fallen apart due to some sort of treachery committed by the other person; Shoffy sings about how he might have wanted reconciliation, but the truth is that he isn’t quite ready to forgive yet.
As an upbeat song in the electronic-pop and house genres, “Cool Again” still contains lyrics that speak what many of us might want to say to someone who hurt us. Check out this interview with 97.1 AMP Radio in which Shoffy discusses this song and his background in music.
It might take a little longer for us to be cool again
It might take a little longer for us to be cool again
I know I said that we’ll be fine
But that was then, I guess I lied
It might take a little longer for us to be cool, cool again
Freedom Love by Rexx Life Raj Ft. Goapele
“Freedom Love” is another song with lyrics that allude to romance but can be applied to any kind of meaningful relationship. Rexx Life Raj and Goapele sing to each other from two different perspectives in a relationship that is falling apart.
He sings from the point of view of someone who is going through changes and experiencing darkness in his life; she sings from the point of view of someone who loves him but does not want to be dragged down with him anymore.
They sing passionate lyrics to each other that tug at the heartstrings, and the emotion in their voices convey the pain in desperately wanting to maintain a relationship they both know cannot survive for the time being.
She say she miss the old me, who’s the new me?
She think about it all night and lose sleep
She don’t want to waste her time on something she can never change
And she don’t want to cry no more, think it’s best we go our separate ways
Panama by Quinn XCII
“Panama” by Quinn XCII is a beautiful song about the loss of a loved one, but it is unique in that the singer does not get lost in dwelling on the sadness of it all. Instead, he focuses on reliving the memories he has of having that person in his life.
The song was initially released on SoundCloud; while you listen, read the description of the song to learn about the heartfelt true meaning behind the song. It commemorates the late grandparents of the artist, but it is for anyone who has lost someone special to them.
‘Cause you were me and I was you
Tears rushing once our time was through
It’s not often I see your coffin
Just know I’m lost in the pain from you
RIP by Olivia O’Brien
Olivia O’Brien perfectly captures rage and disappointment in “RIP” in which she analogizes the changing of someone’s character to the death of the person they used to be. Her voice carries raw emotion, especially when singing about desperately clinging on to something that does not exist anymore: “R-I-P to the old you, I miss the old you.”
O’Brien’s metaphoric use of death throughout the song is so effective because death itself arouses a tidal wave of emotions. Death evokes depression and longing for the dearly departed, but it can also form bittersweet rage inside someone. The loss of a person often erases the opportunity for closure, and as O’Brien conveys in this song, the same emotions flow when you don’t recognize the person who was once someone you cared for.
I swear it’s like I don’t even know you
Yeah, I miss the old you
I kinda want to fight like we used to
To make it alright like we used to
Anything, ‘cause I didn’t want to lose you
Complicated by Avril Lavigne
In only four minutes and five seconds, Avril Lavigne puts into words the frustration and disappointment we feel when we find ourselves dealing with a friend who has two-faced tendencies.
Lavigne conveys this flip-flopping and “fakeness” in a genius way. In the verses of the song, she sings about specific scenarios in which she notices her friend acting like a different person than the one she knows, and her voice is accompanied by an acoustic guitar.
Suddenly, in the pre-chorus and chorus of the song, the acoustic guitar is joined by an electric guitar which produces a very different, more edgy sound when Lavigne calls her friend out for complicating their relationship by being two-faced.
The juxtaposition of sounds represents the juxtaposition of the friend’s alternating personalities. Avril Lavigne isn’t done making iconic music though. In this interview with MTV, she discusses her new album Love Sux and reflects on the top songs of her career.
Why’d you have to go and make things so complicated?
I see the way you’re actin’ like you’re somebody else, gets me frustrated
Life’s like this you
And you fall, and you crawl, and you break, and you take what you get
And you turn it into honesty
And promise me, I’m never gonna find you fake it
No, no, no
Love Yourself by Justin Bieber
Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself” is a song about the resentment that builds when someone finally cuts off a ‘friend’ who really just used them. When you finally become free of someone who was more like a leech than a friend, all their toxic behavior suddenly becomes clear.
Hindsight is 20/20, after all. It is truly satisfying how well Justin Bieber delivers this song; his voice is unnervingly smooth and calm, and the only instrument he needs is an acoustic guitar, yet his lyrics are a slap in the face to the person they are directed toward. With this song, Bieber reminds listeners that losing a friend does not always have to be sad. Sometimes, it is for the best.
My mama don’t like you and she likes everyone
And I never like to admit that I was wrong
And I’ve been so caught up in my job, didn’t see what’s going on
But now I know, I’m better sleeping on my own
High Horse by Kacey Musgraves
We all know that one person that sees him or herself as better than everyone else. “High Horse” by Kacey Musgraves is an entertaining song to listen to because the singer puts that person in their place with her usual whimsical, country-flair style.
The drums, guitars, and string instruments combine to create a catchy beat that makes listeners want to get up and dance. Musgraves implements sarcasm in her lyrics that adds to the empowering message of the song. No one is better than anyone else, and those who choose to sit on their high horses can “ride straight out of this town.”
‘Cause everyone knows someone who kills the buzz
Every time they open up their mouth
Yeah, everyone knows someone who knows someone
Who thinks they’re cooler than everybody else
Lose You To Love Me by Selena Gomez
Bell-like piano chords, somber string instruments, and melancholic lyrics compose this beautiful self-love anthem by Selena Gomez. “Lose You To Love Me” is a song about learning to love yourself after spending so much time putting someone else first.
Losing someone you put all your time, energy, and love into can feel like the world is ending, but Gomez’s smooth, hopeful voice reminds listeners that there is always light at the end of the tunnel.
Sometimes, it is necessary to lose someone in order to start anew and become the best version of yourself. The music video, shot completely on an Apple iPhone, features Selena Gomez in black and white, singing her heart out to the camera. The emotion on her face and in her lyrics make it easy to empathize and feel everything right there with her.
I saw the signs and I ignored it
Rose-colored glasses all distorted
Set fire to my purpose
And I let it burn
You got off on the hurtin’
When it wasn’t yours
Already Gone by Kelly Clarkson
This classic song from the early 2000s is a beautifully painful ballad about caring for someone but having to leave them. Some relationships, whether they are romantic or platonic, simply are not meant to be.
The bittersweet emotions of leaving someone you love are conveyed through the passionate sounds of string instruments accompanied by the piano and drums. In the chorus of the song, Kelly Clarkson paints a picture of a lone figure walking down an empty road; this image depicts what it feels like to force yourself to move on; the road is lonely, but hopefully, it leads somewhere better.
I want you to know that it doesn’t matter
Where we take this road
Someone’s gotta go
And I want you to know you couldn’t have loved me better
But I want you to move on
So I’m already gone
Gravity by Sara Bareilles
Sometimes, after losing someone we know is bad for us, we can’t help but go back to them. If you need to cry, this song will help you do just that. Sara Bareilles and her signature piano-playing skills take a somber turn in “Gravity.”
Navigating the waters of setting boundaries yet feeling so drawn to someone is a treacherous journey brought to life through the off-putting sharps and flats of the notes she sings in the chorus. Bareilles compares the inevitable tug she feels for a certain person to gravity; no matter how bad he/she is for her, she can’t help but fall back down to this person.
Set me free
Leave me be
I don’t wanna fall another moment into your gravity
Here I am and I stand so tall
Just the way I’m supposed to be
But you’re on to me and all over me
Younger by Ruel
In the song “Younger,” Australian singer Ruel’s lyrics describe a childhood friendship that slowly fades as two people grow up and grow apart. He begins the song by detailing the childish things they used to do together and goes on to explain how they haven’t talked in a long time.
He details an instance when after all this time, he saw this person and barely even recognized them. Many songs about losing a friend detail the emotions that come from immediate loss, but “Younger” is unique because it captures the nostalgia and lasting disappointment that stays over time after losing someone.
Especially in the chorus, the rasp in Ruel’s voice conveys the raw emotion he puts into the song. In this interview with Teen Vogue, Ruel discusses his inspiration for the song in more detail and elaborates on his goals for the future.
Deep in my heart, I know that it’s over
Deleted your number, so I can’t call you
Call you my brother, the way that we used to
When we were younger, younger
Apologize by OneRepublic
“Apologize” by OneRepublic is an iconic song from the early 2000s, but its impactful lyrics and hard-hitting beats still have meaning today and will continue to do so over time. From the very first line, listeners hear the song is about a relationship about to meet its end. It is about someone hanging on by a thread, only to be cut down then apologized to as if that would make a difference.
The song begins with melodic piano-playing, but as it builds, heavy drumbeats accentuate the powerful lyrics and symbolize the punch of the people’s words to each other. Lead singer of OneRepublic and songwriter of “Apologize” Ryan Tedder put his heart and soul into these lyrics.
I loved you with a fire red
Now it’s turning blue, and you say
Sorry like the angel heaven let me think was you
But I’m afraid
It’s too late to apologize
Slow Dancing in a Burning Room by John Mayer
John Mayer is known for his emotional lyrics and guitar-playing skills, and “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room” is probably one of his most emotionally hard-hitting works to exist. The title and song lyrics paint a symbolic picture: a room being eaten away by flames represents the chaotic destruction of a relationship, and a pair slow dancing in the demolition represents their complacency with and failure to solve any problems in that failing relationship.
This bleak, depressing image is accompanied by a passionate guitar solo that is highly revered by John Mayer fans. The steady drumbeats and bass will have you swaying and empathizing with the people the song is about.
We’re going down
And you can see it, too
We’re going down
And you know that we’re doomed
My dear, we’re slow dancing in a burning room
Don’t Speak by No Doubt
“Don’t Speak” might technically be about Gwen Stefani’s breakup with bandmate Tony Kanal, but the lyrics she sings apply to the falling out of any type of relationship. The song is sung from the point of view of someone so hurt by loss that she begs the other person to not even speak because just hearing him hurts too much.
Drums, bass guitar, keyboards and even a cello combine to create the slower-paced song. Stefani sings the verses in a quieter volume to reflect on her introspection about the loss of the special person. The chorus is much louder which conveys her anger, frustration, and hurt. Check out this interview with Rolling Stone in which Gwen Stefani talks about this breakup being the inspiration for many songs on the Tragic Kingdom album.
You and me
We used to be together
Every day together, always
I really feel
That I’m losing my best friend
I can’t believe this could be the end
This is What Makes Us Girls by Lana Del Rey
In this masterpiece, the last track on Lana Del Rey’s album Born to Die, the artist details exhilarating experiences from her youth. She explains the things she did as yearning attempts to find love and euphoria—namely, putting men and elation before friendship.
Aside from the song being somewhat autobiographical, it is also a comment on the nature of girls in general. Lana Del Rey passionately sings about how women can almost love to a fault; love can intoxicate a woman and cause her to set everything else aside, including meaningful friendships.
This is what makes us girls
We all look for heaven and we put love first
Something that we’d die for, it’s a curse
Don’t cry about it, don’t cry about it
Remember Me by Miguel and Natalia Lafourcade
To end this list on a more positive and lighthearted note, we have “Remember Me” by Miguel and Natalia Lafourcade, featured in the end credits of the children’s movie “Coco.” Rather than ruminating on all the negative emotions loss entails, “Remember Me” focuses on what we do have: the positive memories of someone.
We can choose to dwell in sadness, or we can choose to remember the good times because no one can take those away from us. An acoustic guitar accompanies the mix of English and Spanish lyrics, helping to create a feel-good tune that puts listeners at ease.
Remember me, though I have to say goodbye
Remember me; don’t let it make you cry
For even if I’m far away, I hold you in my heart
I sing a secret song to you each night we are apart
As you can tell from reading this list, songs about losing a friend are special because they populate every genre, every tempo, every context, and describe every emotion that loss entails. This list compiles songs that are both upbeat and melancholic, fast and slow, empowering and depressing.
An important thing to note about experiencing loss in any form is to allow yourself to feel your emotions, whatever they may be, and a great way to do that is by channeling them through music.
So be sure to pull out your favorite vinyl record, or simply listen to one of these songs on a streaming music service, and try to remember the good times.
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