Sometimes we love the wrong people. And even if we know the relationship isn’t good for us, we might not know how to get out of it – or whether we want to get out of it. From physical emotional abuse, to jealousy and betrayal, here are fifteen songs about toxic relationships and abused partners.
Love on the Brain by Rihanna (2016)
Rihanna’s Love on the Brain is a perfect example of a toxic relationship song. The track has a sensual, R&B feel – but the lyrics are far from that. The whole song really sounds so sultry, even though the lyrics are dark. Rihanna describes a relationship falling apart—one where she’s being abused by her partner, but keeps trying to excuse the behavior and make it seem like it isn’t that bad.
Lyrics like these try to downplay the abuse, as it’s mentioned so casually:
You love when I fall apart (fall apart)
So you can put me together and throw me against the wall
It definitely sounds concerning, but Rihanna sounds so nonchalant as she sings about it. In the chorus, it gets even harsher:
Must be love on the brain
That’s got me feeling this way
It beats me black and blue but it f**** me so good
And I can’t get enough
She’s clearly talking about an abusive or toxic relationship, but you really get the feeling that she’s almost trying to cover that up. If you weren’t paying attention to the lyrics, you would hardly know that it’s such a dark song. But I think that’s sort of the point; often the most toxic relationships look beautiful on the surface.
Read Between the Lines by Aaliyah (2001)
When we think of toxic relationships, or even abused partners, I think we tend to think of explicit, physical violence. Other times, we tend to think about things on a more emotional or verbal level—hurling insults at one another, or couples screaming at the top of their lungs.
I’d argue, though, that a relationship can be toxic if you’re simply hurting someone knowingly—but just don’t care about the damage you inflict. If you’re causing anguish or pain to someone, then your behavior is problematic—even if you don’t leave physical scars or bruises.
That’s a bit of what we have going on here in Aaliyah’s “Read Between the Lines.” On this track, Aaliyah sings of being in a relationship with a man that is constantly cheating on her. But it’s not just cheating that’s the problem—it’s the lies to cover it up. It’s the gaslighting that’s going on in this relationship that’s the real problem.
In this song, Aaliyah sings of a woman being told that what she sees and believes is happening, in regards to her partner’s infidelity, isn’t really occurring. It’s so bad, in fact, that Aaliyah turns this song into a warning for other women: you better open your eyes to the reality of your relationship.
And more than that, when the truth perhaps is still a bit murky, then you need to read between the lines in order to get the heart of what your partner is (or isn’t) doing when you’re not around. The truth is out there, even if you can only sense it.
By the way, if you love Aaliyah, check out my review of Aaliyah’s self titled album on vinyl (courtesy of Vinyl Me, Please):
Paparazzi by Lady Gaga (2008)
I remember this song being played everywhere back in the day. It’s super catchy, even though the lyrics are pretty concerning. It’s definitely a classic Lady Gaga song.
This song is about a lot of things – about fame and love, about faking a relationship for the camera, and also a critique of paparazzi culture. But I think the most obvious interpretation is that it’s about a girl who’s obsessively “in love” with a boy to the point of being – essentially – a stalker.
We get lyrics that openly tell us that the girl is stalking him:
I’m your biggest fan, I’ll follow you until you love me
It gets even more unsettling when she admits that nothing will stop her from getting the boy in question:
Promise I’ll be kind
But I won’t stop until that boy is mine
Overall, an unexpectedly catchy song about an obsessive, toxic relationship – with a really cool track!
Happier Than Ever by Billie Eilish (2021)
Almost five minutes long, this one is about a failed relationship. The relationship has already ended, but we can tell from the lyrics that it was pretty toxic while it lasted.
Her partner treated her so badly that she began to hate the city she was living in:
‘Cause I’d never treat me this s*****
You made me hate this city
All the while, the partner in question tried to excuse his own behavior:
You ruined everything good
Always said you were misunderstood
What’s cool about this song is that it really sounds like two different songs. It starts off kind of chill with some guitar – it’s slow and comfortable. About halfway through, it changes almost completely. Billie Eilish’s voice becomes more powerful, accompanied by an electric sounding guitar and bass.
It’s a lot angrier – it sort of makes you want scream along with it. It’s so cathartic. You can even hear her screaming in the background at some points – you can just tell she put so much emotion into writing it.
Happier Than Ever understandably became popular on TikTok last year. It’s a great song that truly deserves all the hype that it got.
Talk About You by MIKA (2015)
Despite the happy, upbeat piano instrumentals and seemingly sweet lyrics, this song is actually about obsessive love.
Once you know that, the lyrics become less romantic and more unsettling:
Cause living like this is risking all that I know
And if it kills me, that’s the way I wanna go
And the chorus also becomes a lot more interesting (I said you’re the only one I wanna talk about). It no longer feels like innocent puppy love, but rather something much darker.
Tolerate It by Taylor Swift (2020)
Tolerate It is about having so much love to give to another person, but to them it’s just bothersome; it’s something they have to tolerate. The song is inspired by Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, as Taylor Swift states in this interview.
The lyrics are truly heartbreaking to listen to. She lists all the things that she does out of love for this person, but the person is basically just annoyed by it all:
You’re so much older and wiser, and I
I wait by the door like I’m just a kid
Use my best colors for your portrait
Lay the table with the fancy s***
And watch you tolerate it
It’s even suggested that this person is cheating on her:
I take your indiscretions all in good fun
Luckily, we do get a hopeful ending. It seems that she might be able to escape the relationship:
You assume I’m fine, but what would you do if I
Break free and leave us in ruins
The instrumentals are very simple, mostly piano focused with repetitive chords. It sounds stripped bare, like most of the evermore album is. When she sings the chorus, it actually sounds like she’s sighing, not in relief but in exasperation.
Overall, it’s one of the more beautiful songs about toxic relationships.
Out of My Mind by Day6 (2015)
This is a catchy K-rock song about a relationship in which one person is being mistreated and dragged around, but they can’t seem to leave. You can find the translation here.
They don’t even know why they can’t leave the relationship, especially knowing that the other person is hurting them:
This isn’t the first time
I don’t know what’s wrong with me
I keep getting dragged around
It gets to the point that they end up thinking that they’re crazy, because they know that there’s something wrong with the situation but for some reason decide to stay:
I think I’m crazy, this isn’t right
I think I’m out of my mind, this isn’t right
It’s a classic tale of someone loving someone else who they know is bad for them.
Runaway by G-Dragon (2013)
This song is a chaotic, rock-heavy track that’s pretty different from GD’s usual songs. It still definitely sounds like him, but the track really is something else! The lyrics talk about wanting to escape a past relationship, which really suits the chaos of the instrumentals.
The also lyrics talk about obsessive love. The relationship is like an obsession – either for him or for the girl in question (or both). He describes the obsession as “scary,” with the implication that he might be being stalked by his ex:
It’s already been a few months since I’ve been dating a new girl
But I get so nervous whenever I go outside
It feels like someone is following me
The chorus reeks of pseudo-happiness – we get a lot of sarcastic sound effects like “whee” and “yahoo,” as if he’s trying to cover up the fact that he’s actually upset. Overall, it’s very chaotic, but a really great song about a toxic ex.
High School Sweethearts by Melanie Martinez (2019)
This one is about wanting someone who truly loves you, in spite of all your flaws. But listening to the lyrics, it seems a lot more like Melanie Martinez is asking for someone to be obsessed with her.
The lyrics are really dark, and honestly unsettling at times. It’s as if she’s seeking a toxic relationship out, even though the relationship hasn’t actually started yet:
You must promise to love me
And damn it, if you f*** me over
I will rip your f****** face apart
The lyrics feel dangerous, and you definitely wouldn’t want to cross her:
If you cheat, you will die, die
The song starts off painfully slow. It’s almost like you’re actually in agony with how slow it is. It eventually speeds up though, and it really feels like a relief. The buildup and progression, along with the classic Melanie Martinez sound effects, make it a really great track.
The whole song is about desiring true love, but she has all these requirements and threats that make you feel like her partner would really be in danger if they ever did anything that upset her – and that’s definitely not a healthy relationship!
Cherry Wine by Hozier (2013)
Cherry Wine is a really raw example of a song about abuse in a relationship. It really sounds like a ballad or a love song, which makes the lyrics hit that much harder. It should be a love song, but it isn’t – not really.
This song describes a man being abused by his partner, but still trying to excuse the behavior. All of the lyrics are hard-hitting and well-crafted, such as:
Hot and fast and angry as she can be
I walk my days on a wire
In the following lyrics, the man is talking to his mom, trying to make it seem like the (presumed) bruises from the abuse are not that bad:
It looks ugly, but it’s clean
Oh mama, don’t fuss over me
In the chorus, he compares blood with cherry wine (something good and sweet), and also makes sure to consistently mention all the good sides of the abuser. He’s trying to downplay how bad it really is:
The way she tells me I’m hers and she is mine
Open hand or closed fist, oh, would be fine
The blood is rare and as sweet as cherry wine
It’s a really beautiful song that masquerades as a love song – and that’s what makes it that much more powerful.
Jar of Hearts by Christina Perri (2010)
This is the song that really launched Christina Perri’s career – and for good reason! Her voice is just beautiful in this piece, perfectly complementing the simple piano chords of the instrumentals. The focus is on the lyrics and on her lovely voice, which she puts so much emotion into as she tells this heartbreaking story.
The lyrics speak of a toxic relationship, where someone has been consistently going around and hurting people (collecting their hearts, as the lyrics suggest). This person is still looking for her – but she has finally broken away and won’t “fall back in [their] arms” again.
Who do you think you are?
Runnin’ ’round leaving scars
Collecting your jar of hearts
And tearing love apart
Another hard-hitting line is the third verse:
I wish I had missed the first time that we kissed
‘Cause you broke all your promises
It makes you think of the kind of relationship where someone keeps promising that they will change, but they never do. Overall, a great song about finally escaping the abusive or toxic relationship.
Psycho B**** by Cami Petyn (2021)
Cami Petyn’s Psycho B**** is in-your-face from the very beginning. It’s loud and powerful, with its electric guitar and strong beat. It’s very fitting, given that it’s talking about escaping a toxic relationship in which someone was always criticizing and gaslighting her.
In this song, she’s finally saying “no” and reclaiming the phrase that was once used against her – “super manic psycho b****.” In this interview, she talks more about it.
Just My Type by The Vamps (2018)
Just My Type is another song about falling in love with a girl who is no good for you. The song sounds sort of sexy and is catchy from the very beginning. It really gets stuck in your head so easily!
While the lyrics list all of her bad traits, but it seems like that doesn’t deter the man:
She lets me down
Then gets me high
Oh I don’t know why she’s just my type
He knows she’s a bad person, but he still loves her. In fact, it seems like he loves he not in spite of these things, but because of them:
Love the way she plays with my head
He also implies that he’s trapped in the relationship, which is a common theme in toxic relationships:
I’ll pack my bags and try to leave
I wish I could
The track sounds playful, like it’s all just a game in the end. The song definitely seems more light-hearted than some of the others on this list, but it’s still about a toxic relationship.
Words as Weapons by Birdy (2014)
This really sounds like a classic Birdy song, with simple guitar chords and a droning beat, along with her iconic raspy voice.
This song is about emotional abuse, about hurting someone with words:
You use your words as a weapon, dear
But she admits that she’s stronger now, and the words no longer hurt her. She knows now that this person tried to keep her small and vulnerable, but she will no longer cry over it:
You’re tryin’ to keep me suffering
If you use your words as a weapon
Then as a weapon, I’ll shed no tears
This song is about a toxic connection that has already ended (or is ending). It’s about no longer allowing yourself to be hurt by the words of others.
Narcissist by Avery Anna (2021)
Unsurprisingly given the title, this song is about being in a relationship with a narcissist. It talks about all the gaslighting and manipulation that tends to accompany these kinds of relationships:
I should hate you ’cause I love you
You should hate yourself for treating me like that
We both know you only love you
Did you know they have a name for that?
Here, we can see how she gets manipulated into thinking that she’s the crazy one:
You say that I’m crazy
You say that you’re sorry
Won’t happen again
The track uses piano and possibly a cello, with guitar added later on. This song feels quite repetitive, and yet quite calm. It’s a sort of juxtaposition, given the nature of the lyrics. Some parts get more powerful, but it mostly stays calm – eerily so.
The lyrics sound so upset and angry, but it’s like she’s still holding back from expressing that. It actually ends up being pretty effective, because people who have been in relationships like that tend to be weary of expressing anger.
There are a lot of songs about toxic relationships, as many people end up in relationships that are truly unhealthy. But sometimes, music can be the best therapy because songs like these let us know that we are never alone in our experiences.
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