Songs That Will Instantly Make You Cry

Designed by Richard Chance
A truth: There is a song for every single specific mood you could ever have. There’s an Adele song for the “I should know better than to love you” mood. And an Elliot Smith one for the “Thanks for the invitation, but I’m done socializing for the next year” mood. And there are just about a million songs for the mood that descends after you see an old photo of you and your ex.
The art of mastering Spotify, then, is a matter of navigating to the perfect song as quickly as possible. After all, there is a pot for every emotional cover. In this list, we’ve compiled sad songs that stem from a whole variety of ills: Heartsickness, grief, anger, resent, regret, and nostalgia. A playlist of sadness in every shade.
Advertisement
So tune in and get ready to feel all those feels. Many cathartic cries await.
1 of 23
"Writer in the Dark" by Lorde

Lorde's latest album Melodrama is exactly how it sounds: a melodramatic recollection of a breakup. "Writer in the Dark," one of the second act songs in the album, is Lorde's mournful vengeance song. In the song, she apologizes to her ex-lover just as she jokes that he probably "rues" the day he kissed her. The saddest part, though, is that she's never going to stop loving her ex.

"I'll love you 'til my breathing stops/I'll love you 'til you call the cops on me," Lorde declares.

This is what happens when you break the heart of a truly great writer.

Rebecca Farley
2 of 23
"Hurt" by Nine Inch Nails

At nearly 7 minutes long, "Hurt" a complicated and layered track about failure, disappointment, and regret. It really is difficult to listen to if you're in a relationship or situation where things feel down and a little hopeless. So allow yourself to be wallow in NIN's eerie downer, but then pick yourself back up, because you got this. But if you need one more good cry before you go, listen to Johnny Cash's heartbreaking 2002 version, released right before his 2003 death.

— Morgan Baila
Advertisement
3 of 23
"Joanne" by Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga wrote this song in honor of her aunt Joanne, whom she never had a chance to meet. Joanne died of lupus when she was 19, many years before Lady Gaga was born. Gaga said in an interview that Joanne was one of the most important figures in her life. "She was a painter and a poet – and I had a spiritual vision I had to finish her business," she said.
4 of 23
"I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Miserables

Can you trust anyone who doesn't shed a tear at this song?
5 of 23
"Borders" by St. Beauty

This song captures the aching, the emptiness the comes a break-up. You might've heard it during Season 2 of Insecure, when Issa (Issa Rae) cheats on her boyfriend with her ex-boyfriend (it's complicated).
6 of 23
"I Can't Make You Love Me" by Bonnie Raitt

Who hasn't been in a situation like this? Even just remembering the pain of unrequited love could make a person cry.
7 of 23
"Something to Talk About" by Badly Drawn Boy

This melodic, melancholy song was used in soundtrack for About a Boy. At the core of the song is a message about change, and growing up, but still being open to the world in a childlike way. It's a sad song that leaves room for hope.
Advertisement
8 of 23
"The Ballad Of Love & Hate" by the Avett Brothers

The Avett Brothers are storytellers and musicians, so each of their songs contains stories that are often universal in their specificity. "The Ballad of Love & Hate" is an allegory about the presence of warring impulses in any relationship, spoke-sung in their signature folksy way.
9 of 23
"Hallelujah" by Jeff Buckley

There are two ways to listen to "Hallelujah," as sung by Jeff Buckley, and both are equally admirable. First option: Analyze Leonard Cohen's lyrics and research all of his Biblical references to understand just what the song is about. Second option: Let the song's ache wash over you, and let yourself cry.
10 of 23
"The Scientist" by Coldplay

Say what you will about Coldplay, but this song speaks to the universal impulse of wanting to head back to a simpler, easier time in a relationship  — and does so in a moving way.
11 of 23
"Rivers and Roads" by the Head and the Heart

If you're ever really missing home, or ever really missing a person, "Rivers and Roads" will speak to you. It's a song about grappling with change, and trying to go back to the way things were.
12 of 23
"River" by Joni Mitchell

There's a reason why Emma Thompson cries while listening to Joni Mitchell in a dark room in Love Actually: Mitchell's crooning, emotional songs make people cry. "River" is about the longing for escape.
Advertisement
13 of 23
"Cats in the Cradle" by Harry Chapin

Three beats into "Cats in the Cradle," I start tearing up. Chapin's song revolves around a relationship between an overly busy father and his son who admires him. As time goes by, the father realizes the repercussions of his absent nature.
14 of 23
"Tears in Heaven" by Eric Clapton

"Tears in Heaven" is an intrinsically sad ballad about loss and mourning — but once you find out the context from which Clapton wrote it, you'll really weep. Clapton's four-year-old son, Conor, fell out of their apartment high-rise window and died in 1991. "Tears in Heaven" is Clapton's personal expression of grief.
15 of 23
"Back to Black" by Amy Winehouse

Everything Amy Winehouse ever sung is now tinged with an extra ring of sadness, because her tremendous talent was snuffed out when she died at the age of 27. In "Back to Black," Winehouse is abandoned by her lover and doesn't know how to pick herself back up again.
16 of 23
"Pale Blue Eyes" by the Velvet Underground

"Pale Blue Eyes" is one of the great songs about doomed love. In the last verse, the singer reveals that the song's subject is married — but he's going to keep singing about her, and loving her, regardless.
17 of 23
"Ain't No Way" by Aretha Franklin

Break-up songs are sad, but what about unrequited love songs? Those are in a separate category, because they mourn something that never happened in the first place. "Ain't No Way" by Aretha Franklin is good to turn to if you find yourself stuck in a relationship of uneven affections.
Advertisement
18 of 23
"Killing Me Softly With His Song" by Roberta Flack

Roberta Flack sings about the original callous player, who draws you in with his earnest charm and then stomps on your heart as if he didn't see it there. A warning — you'll probably meet a guy like this some time during your freshman year of college.
19 of 23
"Poison & Wine" by the Civil Wars

There's something about a break-up song duet that's particularly devastating. You hear both sides of the destruction.
20 of 23
"I Wish I Was Sober" by Frightened Rabbit

So many sad songs seem to be confined to matters of the heart. Not "I Wish I Was Sober," which is sung from the perspective of someone struggling with alcohol addiction. The song is a weird combination of catchy, uplifting, and completely devastating. You'll emerge feeling more empathetic towards anyone who's ever struggled with addiction.
21 of 23
"I'll Cover You" from Rent

"I'll Cover You" is a love duet tinged with bittersweetness, because one of the singers (Angel in Rent) is dying of AIDS. It's a declaration of love but also protection, and care, and sticking it out.
22 of 23
"The Trapeze Swinger" by Iron & Wine

"Please, remember me," Iron & Wine sings in "The Trapeze Swinger," before conjuring up other memories of his relationship with a trapeze swinger. The song captures the process of bringing up old, mundane events and putting them on a pedestal after a relationship is over. It's the act of rewriting and glorifying the past.
23 of 23
"Make You Feel My Love" by Adele

Bob Dylan originally wrote this exquisite love song, but Adele brought it to life.
Advertisement

More from Music

Watch

R29 Original Series

Watch Now
Documentary
Five love stories behind diverse, multicultural marriages.
Watch Now
Lifestyle
Life experiments, 5 days at a time.
Watch Now
Fashion
The style of subculture.
Watch Now
Beauty
Viral trends, tried and tested.
Watch Now
Documentary
From vibrators to lipstick, learn how your favorite products are made.
Watch Now
Documentary
Extraordinary, one-of-a-kind individuals
Watch Now
Documentary
The latest stories to watch.
Watch Now
Lifestyle
Inside the homes of millennial women — & what they paid for them
Watch Now
Comedy
Let's talk about sex, baby.
Watch Now
Documentary
Female artisans around the world
Watch Now
Politics
Made by and for smart, opinionated women.
Watch Now
Film
We helped 12 female directors claim their power.