Music can fill us with a wide array of emotions, but it’s the songs that tell a story that really stick with us. Whether it’s a story about love, a story about a crime, or a story about mental health, here are our favorite songs that lean heavy into great storytelling.
Best Songs That Tell a Story
Let’s begin with a song by Demi Lovato.
Dancing with the Devil by Demi Lovato
Demi Lovato is an artist who provides listeners with a story in just about every song she sings. In Dancing with the Devil, Lovato tells the story of her relapse with drugs and alcohol that took place in July 2018 – causing a near death overdose for the singer. Throughout the song, the singer provides listeners with an inside scoop on what life was like for her during this time.
Lovato starts by describing how the relapse began as she begins the song with “Just a little red wine, I’ll be fine.” The singer then goes on to explain the distorted thinking she experienced during this time as the lyrics entail the struggle of how users believe that they have everything under control while they are in active addiction. Lovato also describes the mask she put on for others during her struggle of relapsing as she sings, “I told you I was okay, but I was lying. I was dancing with the devil, out of control.”
More so, Lovato provides listeners with a raw and heartbreaking music video as she re-enacts the night of her near-death experience. Throughout the music video, listeners are able to see and hear the emotion that Lovato felt as she relives one of the darkest and most challenging experiences of her life.
Lovato has stated that in her music video, she is showing listeners the reality of addiction – and that is exactly what she did with not only the music video, but also the song lyrics in general.
Hello by Adele
On this memorable track, you can almost picture Adele sitting silently in a cold, dark room–with only her thoughts and a cell phone nearby. Suddenly, she grabs the phone to call her ex lover after a long absence of communication.
This modern day classic by Adele tells the story of two former lovers who have lost contact over the years. But, while songs about breakups usually talk about the man being a cheat or a dirty dog, this is a track in which Adele acknowledges–and wants to apologize–for being the one to mess up the relationship.
In this story, Adele wants to tell her ex that she’s very sorry for hurting him while they were together. She’s tried to call him many times since their breakup, and while she knows she hurt him badly, she also admits that she is struggling with healing herself, as well.
Ultimately, this is a song about longing and regret, but it’s also a beautiful song that shows us that there’s never a wrong time to tell someone you love (or once loved) that you’re sorry.
Dollhouse by Melanie Martinez
The title of this song might make you imagine a child having fun and playing with Barbie dolls inside of a toy dollhouse. However, this song tells a much different story of growing up in a toxic home environment. The lyrics of this song are from a daughter’s perspective on the chaos and dysfunction of events that take place inside her family home where she, her father, her mother, and her brother live.
Often times, parents place their children in extremely difficult positions as they engrave the importance of “looking perfect” into their brains – although, that may certainly be the opposite of what is actually going on inside. This type of home environment is what the lyrics of this song explore as Melanie Martinez uses the term “Dollhouse” to represent the perfect appearance that a mother forces her children to portray to those outside of their home, all while they hide secrets of what really takes place inside the walls of their home.
Miserable Man by David Kushner
This song hits home for those who experienced a difficult upbringing, perhaps maybe while living in a small town where generational trauma cycles around and around. This song describes the yearning that one may feel as they were unable to ever be surrounded in a place that truly felt like home to them.
It also describe one’s desire to move away and create a new life for themselves in order to heal and repair the damage that was done throughout their lives so far.
Because of You by Kelly Clarkson
For listeners who experienced divorced parents at an early age, grab a tissue for this one. In this song, Kelly Clarkson gives it her all as she tells her story of the emotional turmoil she experienced as a child while enduring her parents’ divorce. Throughout the song, Clarkson describes an avoidance of getting into a relationship due to her fear of making the same mistakes as her parents and feeling the hurt and pain that she had to witness her parents’ experience.
It doesn’t just stop there though. Clarkson goes on to further describe the effects of watching her parents’ marriage unfold and provides listeners with the harsh reality of how deeply children can be impacted by divorce. As Clarkson sings, “Because of you, I’m ashamed of my life because it’s empty,” listeners can feel the heartbreak and anger that Clarkson feels as a result of having to be a young bystander to the ugly divorce between her parents.
The Letter by Kehlani
If you have struggled with having a rocky relationship with your mom, get ready for this one. Kehlani pinpoints the immense pain one may feel as they yearn for the loving mother-daughter relationship that every little girl should have the opportunity of having in their life. As this song was inspired by her real-life relationship with her mother, you can feel the pain in Kehlani’s voice throughout the entire song.
During the chorus, Kehlani describes the confusing feeling of not understanding the way her mother was toward her – and even goes as far to question whether she caused her mother’s actions. But the part that will have you screaming (and probably crying) in your car alone is when you can hear not only pain, but also anger, as Kehlani sings, “And every girl needs a mother, and damn it, I needed you.”
Down That Road by Alisan Porter
The feeling of being lost can be scary, but Alisan Porter offers inspiration in Down That Road as she describes going down a dark path but pulling yourself together and finding your way back. Winning season 10 of The Voice, this song was Porter’s original song that she sang during the finale. Throughout her performance, you can just feel the raw emotion Porter displays throughout the song – which lets you know that the lyrics are coming from her heart and her own life experiences.
Who You Are by Jessie J
This is a song for anyone who has struggled with pretending to be someone they aren’t. Throughout the song, Jessie J shares her story of first moving to Los Angeles and trying to change herself to fit into her new world. She begins to feel alone in the process and quickly discovers that she no longer recognizes herself as she looks in the mirror.
The overall message throughout Who You Are is that you don’t have to change anything about yourself just to fit in – that it is okay to be true to yourself, including the parts of yourself that may be hurting, or may feel lost. This song provides listeners with the inspiration to be themselves and that it IS okay to not always be okay.
All Too Well (Taylor’s Version) by Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift is well known for telling stories and referencing real-life experiences throughout her songs – and she does just that in her 10 minute version of All Too Well. Throughout the song, Swift tells a story of a short-lived romance that begins with visiting the mystery boyfriend’s family as the lyrics describe her leaving a scarf at his sister’s home and interacting with his mother as she shares photos and stories of his childhood.
Swift goes on to describe the eagerness she felt as she waited for him to admit the seriousness of their relationship. However, she then describes his denial as she sings, “And I was thinking on the drive down, any time now, he’s gonna say it’s love. You never called it what it was.” The lyrics then begin describing how Swift herself questioned whether she was to blame for the failed relationship.
The newly added lyrics of the 10 minute version of the song go on to describe Swift’s life following the break-up as she sings about crying in the bathroom at a party and an actress talking to her, her 21st birthday party where she waited for him to come, and the overall emotional pain she felt even after time had passed. Swift provides listeners with impeccable lyrics that can make you feel as if you too have just experienced a heartbreak.
Anyone by Demi Lovato
We started and are now ending with a song by Demi Lovato. In her song Anyone, Lovato offers a high level of vulnerability and rawness to the world as she describes the loneliness that she felt in the days right before her near-fatal overdose in July 2018. Not only can listeners hear her emotions through the lyrics of this song, but they can also feel the pain that Lovato was experiencing at this time as she belts the chorus of this song and sings from a place of desperation for someone to help her.
Throughout this song, the lyrics present Lovato’s cry for help during this time – all while she felt as if no one was listening and that she was all alone. She describes turning to music, confiding in alcohol, seeking help from others through her songs, and praying to call onto God. Lovato does an exceptional job at thoroughly giving listeners a glimpse into what her lonely world was like during this time of your life.
Each of the songs mentioned above target real-life experiences and offer listeners the opportunity to feel varying emotions – loneliness, yearning, anger, fear, sadness, and inspiration to name a few. These are songs that tell a story, not only for each of the artists singing them, but also for those of us who can find that the lyrics hit home and are more relatable than we ever thought possible.