Some of the best toxic love songs are made by singers such as Rihanna, Amy Winehouse and Demi Lovato. Love is a big part of everyone’s lives (including music artists), and with that can unfortunately come toxicity, manipulation, abuse, or ol’ plain selfishness. So let’s dive into some songs that are all about dealing with, and trying to overcome, toxic love.
The Best Toxic Love Songs
Let’s start with a song by Rihanna.
Love on the Brain by Rihanna
In Love on the Brain, the pain Rihanna feels is almost palpable. It’s clear that this relationship is not good for her (“it beats me black and blue”) and she knows she’ll never feel at peace with this connection. She recognizes that her partner enjoys causing her to break down, “so you can put me together and throw me against the wall.” Hearing these words might make it seem obvious that she needs to leave for her own good, but abusive relationships are rarely that simple.
Abusive relationships have extreme lows, but occasionally extreme highs, which keep the victim roped in. Especially when you’re convinced you love someone, you can go to the ends of the earth to try to understand why they want to hurt you before you even consider leaving them. Rihanna perfectly captures this sensation in this ballad, as she has firsthand experience being a victim of domestic abuse. If you’re looking for songs about controlling relationships, then definitely give this one a listen.
Stay by The Kid Laroi ft. Justin Bieber
Anyone who listens to the radio or spends time on social media likely knows who The Kid Laroi is because of his song Stay that features Justin Bieber. It was a summer hit, and while some of the lyrics are endearing (“you’re the reason I believe in love”), the rest of the song is generally toxic. In the chorus, Laroi sings, “I do the same thing I told you that I never would, I told you I’d change, even though I never could,” pretty much admitting that he’s manipulative.
There’s a line between being willing to do anything to get someone to stay with you, and saying you’d do anything for them, as that promise alone is enough to get someone to stick around for a while. Unfortunately, Stay gives off messaging of the latter. Laroi acknowledges his own issues, such as drinking the day away, and the fact that he doesn’t deserve this person. The combination of him feeling (and acting) subpar, along with feeling like no one will ever be as good as this person, is a recipe for disaster.
Back to Black by Amy Winehouse
The incredibly talented but troubled soul that was Amy Winehouse sings about relapsing on drugs when her lover goes back to an ex in Back to Black. “I didn’t really have anything else to go back to so I guess I went back to black for a few months, you know… doing silly things, as you do when you’re 22 and you’re young and in love,” she said about the song.
During the all-too-short life that Winehouse lived, while she made music history, she also experienced toxic relationships; with other people, drugs, and herself—and this song captures all of it. Before her unfortunate death, the music video for Back to Black portrayed Amy’s own funeral with a headstone that reads: “here lies the heart of Amy Winehouse,” projecting the message that she feels like she’s dying every time her boyfriend leaves her.
With her unmistakable, soulful voice, Winehouse sings about how she dies over and over every time they leave each other and falls back into unhealthy habits that she had before. She describes her life as a pipe, and she sees herself as a “tiny penny rolling up the walls inside.” While Amy Winehouse may or may not have had a different anecdotal experience than her listeners, she did an excellent job at still having relatable music. Change is uncomfortable and breaking toxic cycles can be even more so.
Misery Business by Paramore
Upon listening to this song, you’d think it was a diary entry written by an angsty teenager after seeing her crush with someone else. And you wouldn’t be too far off. “It was quite literally a page in my diary about a singular moment I experienced as a high schooler,” said lead singer Hayley Williams, “and that’s the funny part about growing up in a band with any degree of success. People still have my diary. All the good and bad and embarrassing of it.”
Essentially, Misery Business is about Hayley waiting for months to be with someone and feeling on top of the world when he finally leaves his previous girl for her. Although she says, “I never meant to brag,” it’s glaringly obvious that she’s laughing in the other girl’s face. In fact, the song was retired from their live performances for a few years due to the misogynistic line, “once a whore, you’re nothing more, I’m sorry that will never change.”
Despite this, it’s always been one of the band’s most popular songs, and as of this year, they’re back to playing it live. “I’m just gonna say thank you for being nostalgic about this because this is one of the coolest moments of our show and it’s very nice to feel like there’s a reason to bring it back that’s positive,” said Williams, while mentioning that fans were screaming their hearts out to the lyric that fell victim to cancel culture four years prior.
The Weekend by SZA
The Weekend is about willingly sharing a man with other women and settling for having some time with him instead of a committed relationship. SZA begins the song questioning why this man is saying that he wants her while also having another girl. She knows that it’s selfish and desperate to settle for just being a side chick, but it seems that she’s hoping he’ll come to his senses and realize the two of them is how it should be.
The way SZA talks about being with this guy is similar to the way divorced parents take turns having time with their children (“you take Wednesday, Thursday, then just send him my way, think I got it covered for the weekend”). Whether intentional or not, it certainly is childish to partially commit to multiple women, leaving them all believing that the relationship will progress into something meaningful.
SZA clarified that the song is about three women being played all at the same time, referencing the line “my man is my man is your man heard that’s her man too,” letting fans know that it allegedly is not about cheating, just each woman being equally manipulated. While they know about each other and act like they’re okay with “sharing” him with each other, each woman likely feels the same way SZA does, and wants more out of the relationship but would rather have scheduled days where they get to spend time with him than nothing at all.
29 by Demi Lovato
The child star turned recovering drug addict has recently released her first album in five years, and like much of Demi’s other music—it is incredibly vulnerable. The single 29 took the internet by storm as other people shared their experiences of being manipulated into relationships with older men. In this song, Demi Lovato recalls being with a 29-year-old man at the age of 17, where she was too naïve to understand that a grown man could not possibly have good intentions being in a relationship with a teenager.
Now at the age of 29, she realizes how truly disgusting it would be for her to pursue someone twelve years younger than her. At the time, when she was much younger, she says she “thought it was a teenage dream, just a fantasy,” and now that she has gotten wiser, she realizes “it was yours, it wasn’t mine.” Relationships of young women and much older men are rampant in the entertainment industry, and Lovato doesn’t want people to think these relationships are healthy. “I think sometimes the public needs the truth, and that’s why I decided to release this single,” Lovato said about the song.
Motion Sickness by Phoebe Bridgers
Phoebe Bridgers has “emotional motion sickness” in this song as she tries to navigate the extreme ups and downs of a toxic relationship. She begins the song perfectly capturing the feeling of being betrayed but still hoping that the other person will change their behavior: “I hate you for what you did, and I miss you like a little kid.” She then recalls positive memories of her partner and compares her grief to motion sickness.
It can be difficult to wrap your head around someone who you thought loved you turning into a different person who intensely pushes you away but leaves you a trail of crumbs to keep you coming back. This cycle can make one even more attached due to the instability. Their voice might even still run through your head, and Bridgers refers to this situation by saying, “there are no words in the English language I could scream to drown you out.”
Pearl by Katy Perry
Katy Perry uses powerful imagery in Pearl to show that a man has been draining the life out of his partner who is too in love to see it. Throughout the song, Perry compares this woman to the Statue of Liberty, a hurricane, a pyramid, and even Joan of Arc. With each line that she embraces the compelling potential of this woman, she emphasizes that the man notices this too, but “he’s scared of the light that’s inside of her, so he keeps her in the dark.”
Most of the song tells the story in third person, until the bridge when Perry starts relaying to listeners that she was in the same position as the woman she’s singing about. Whether it’s about her past self, or someone else entirely, she wants listeners to know that they are strong and that their life should belong to them, not to a controlling relationship.
in my head by Ariana Grande
Sometimes we fall into toxic relationships by seeing the potential in someone, rather than the reality of who they are. When someone gives you the bare minimum (or less), the best thing to do would be to walk away from them and find better, but it can be easier to stick around and wait for them to change, especially if they’re promising you that they will change. It may very well be subconscious too, falling for who someone could be rather than who they are.
Grande expresses this feeling in in my head (stylized in all lowercase), as she realizes she’s fallen for a version of someone who she’s created. She comes to terms with the fact that she can’t fix him, and she can only fix herself. While it doesn’t make it easier, she’s accepted that “my imagination’s too creative, they see demon, I see angel,” and finally grasps that her idea of this man was due to her needing something to believe in.
Toxic by Britney Spears
It wouldn’t be a list of songs about being treated badly without the iconic Toxic by Britney Spears. In this song, Spears compares her infatuation to a drug addiction, and feels intoxicated whenever she’s near this person. She knows he’s bad news but isn’t quite at the point where she’s ready to let him go. She feels like it’s too late to go back now, similar to the way that drug addicts quickly learn it’s not as easy to give up their vices as they may have once thought.
Wrapping It Up
Most people have experienced a toxic relationship in some form. Everyone wants love, and unfortunately, the idea of receiving love from a specific person can sometimes be better than the love itself. Nonetheless, this is a pretty common sensation, so you’re sure to find a toxic love song that you relate to.