Why A Certain Song Can Make It Feel Like You Just Got Dumped

Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
I've never been very invested in music. I don't remember the lyrics, I can't sing the melodies, and I don't really have favorite artists. So, when I play background music to do the dishes, I'm not scrolling through an endless library of songs I've collected since middle school. I say, "Alexa, play me some music," and let her do the choosing.
So tell me why, at least once a week, Alexa decides to play me Ride by Twenty One Pilots? Maybe it's just a coincidence or maybe technology really is learning to read our minds. Either way, Alexa somehow always chooses to make me listen to the song my ex friend-with-benefits, a woman who told me she "never wants to see me again" when we ended things, used as her alarm clock. Every time I hear the song start up ("woahooohooohooo, I'm fallin'") I get to remember waking up in her bed, and all the hell she caused me as we crashed and burned. Thanks, Alexa.
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But I'm not the only one who associates a certain song with the person who broke their heart or, at least, was a total dick to them. As part of the now-viral "fuck your zodiac sign" meme, a woman named Callie tweeted the very important question: "fuck ur zodiac sign what’s the song that u associate with the person who broke ur heart." And the answers range from devastating to...interesting (the Rick and Morty Theme song? Really?)
"Oh boy. I have three for every boy that broke my heart," one person tweeted. "All Too Well - Taylor Swift. I'm Already Gone - A Day To Remember. December - Neck Deep." Others called out Praying by Kesha, 100 Grandkids by Mac Miller, Bleeding Out by Imagine Dragons, and He’ll Never Love You by Hayley Kiyoko. One guy had a whole playlist ready, devoted to "Twitter heartbreak."
So what's going on here? Why is the right (or wrong, depending on how you look at it) song able to make you feel like you just got dumped? Like smell, sound can trigger vivid memories and emotions, according to studies on music and memory. Some medical professionals are even using music with patients who have dementia or traumatic brain injuries, because they find that songs associated with important events in their past — like a wedding day — sometimes help them remember.
Scientists are still studying why a particular song can bring memories back so easily, but one group of researchers theorizes that music is particularly good at recalling happy memories because your brain wants preserve happy feelings more than it does negative feelings. And connecting these memories to music makes them easier to recall. Now, that doesn't exactly explain why breakup songs are so vivid. But, the brain is a complicated place, and we also know that listening to sad songs during a breakup can be pretty cathartic. So maybe the "happy" memories these songs bring back are memories of slowly getting over your ex? Or maybe your brain just likes to fuck with you.
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