Courtney Love, CupcakKe, HAIM, and more pick the love songs they just don’t love anymore
“By morning, you’ll be gone,” the faded, broken Joel Barish sighs at the core of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. There’s a steely certainty to Jim Carrey’s performance, paired with remorse, desperation, and fear. The only thing worse than living with the pain of a traumatic breakup, it turns out, is the reality of living without even a memory of the feelings that came before. But, until memory erasure becomes a realistic option for those of us not living in a Michel Gondry film, we won’t have to worry about that added layer of suffering. Instead, we’ll have to be content to pick at the scabs of lost love by flitting through all of those painful memories.
For better or worse, music tends to suture itself more fully into those cracks and crevices of the memory than anything else. Whether you’re sitting alone in a room immediately after getting dumped and trying not to pull out the vinyl copy of “your song”, rolling your eyes at the cheese coming out of the radio, or wincing in pain at the grocery store when that ballad comes over the speakers, there will always be those songs they get you. We spoke to a handful of artists to find out the tunes that they would cross the street to avoid – the love songs that they just don’t love any more.
Karen O picks Beastie Boys, “Ricky’s Theme”
Karen O: This song, to me, is the sound of summer sweat and mad love, lying together on a twin bed with fairy lights above us and sticky carpet below in a mouse-infested shithole of an NYU dorm room in Greenwich Village 97. The song playing over and over again on his DJ decks – vinyl, of course – and the aching purity of your first love, teenage love, ‘summer in the city’ love. There’s nothing like the first and it’s never built to last. The sweetness of it all now just out of reach. The song will come back into rotation when grandkids are tugging at my shins.
Key Lyric: N/A
serpentwithfeet picks Brandy, “A Capella (Something’s Missing)”
serpentwithfeet: Father James Baldwin said, ‘It takes strength to remember, it takes another kind of strength to forget, it takes a hero to do both.’ Today, as I stitch the names of old lovers onto a quilt that I intend to bury in my closet, I remind myself that this particular burial prep is a privilege. There was a time when the idea of receiving romantic attention from a man seemed like a distant noon. And I remember playing Brandy’s ‘A Capella (Something’s Missing)’ on repeat during one of those dry seasons. Today, I get to victoriously complain about ‘soured’ relationships and ‘ended-too-soon’ boo’ships. But it’s not lost on me that once upon a time, loneliness was the only lover I could find. I’m still gonna bury this quilt. But I’d like to do it while humming along to ‘A Capella’. I’d like to remember why this forgetting will be so special.
Key Lyric: “Something is missing / Can’t somebody help me?”
Courtney Love picks Foreigner, “I Want to Know What Love is”
Courtney Love: In rehab, they made us sing ‘I Want to Know What Love Is’, a song about Ann Dexter Jones by Mick Jones – both now friends – and I wanted to die. I love them, and I know it’s a well-crafted classic, but I truly hate it.
Key Lyric: “Let’s talk about love / I wanna know what love is, the love that you feel inside.”
Rina Sawayama picks Gwen Stefani, “Cool”
Rina Sawayama: An ex used to say that this would be the song that he’d listen to if we ever broke up – it was a pre-breakup breakup song. We stayed friends, but recently he started going out with my best friend, and since then I haven’t seen either of them much. Deep down, I'm really happy for them – truly. They both mean a lot to me and I’ve known them for years. Obviously it’s weird and kinda sad, but ultimately an opportunity to grow as a person. It’s literally like the music video (to ‘Cool’) has played out IRL, and the bridge lyrics are my guide. It’s a song about the grey areas of life where you’re not really supposed to know how to feel, but ultimately being ‘cool’ with it – being okay with it – is good enough.
Key lyric: “And I’ll be happy for you / If you can be happy for me / Circles and triangles / And now we’re hanging out with your new girlfriend / So far from where we’ve been / I know we’re cool.”
CupcakKe picks J. Holiday, “Bed”
CupcakKe: I love this song, but every time I hear it now it reminds me of my womaniser ex. Every time he came over we would listen to it while he rubbed my back. So now when I hear it, I just think of him.
Key lyric: “First rub my back like you do / Right there, right there / You touch me like you care.”
HAIM’s Alana Haim picks Usher, “You Make Me Wanna...”
Alana Haim: When I was in fifth grade, there was a girl at my school that had the biggest crush on my boyfriend. She did a dance to ‘You Make Me Wanna…’ at the fifth grade talent show and I had lost my boyfriend to her an hour later.
Key lyric: “You make me wanna leave the one I’m with / Start a new relationship with you / This is what you do.”
HAIM’s Danielle Haim picks The Pretenders, “Stop Your Sobbing”
Danielle Haim: Chrissie Hynde is a queen, which makes this one so hard for me. Every time my ex and I would have a fight, he would try and make me feel better by playing this song, but the lyrics are really harsh and I always thought he was a dick for it.
Key Lyric: “There's one thing you gotta do / To make me still want you / Gotta stop sobbing now.”
HAIM’s Este Haim picks Aerosmith, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”
Este Haim: In the summer of 98, I was 12 and in love with David Lowenstein, but he didn’t like me back. All summer long I would listen to this song and dream about David asking me out, and it never happened. Once the summer ended, I never listened to the song again.
Key lyric: “I don’t want to close my eyes / I don’t want to fall asleep / Cause I’d miss you baby / And I don’t wanna miss a thing.”
Yo La Tengo’s James McNew picks Ted Nugent, “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang”
James McNew: When I was ten years old, I listened to my local FM radio station because I liked to rock. My newish brain thought the wild, shirtless rock of Ted Nugent was pretty cool: loud guitar riffs, lyrics I didn’t really understand but I knew were probably dirty, obnoxious vocals, and cool album covers, like the one where his guitar is a shotgun. Later in life I discovered he is a racist, sexist, homophobic, despicable, ultra-right-wing, cowardly, loudmouth jackass. Fuck that guy.
Key Lyric: “Wang dang sweet poontang!” (10-year-old James: “Cool!”)
Dessa picks Beyoncé, “Jealous”
Dessa: Intellectually, I know that even the world’s most beautiful, talented, and powerful women suffer from insecurities and petty jealousies in love. But watching Beyoncé bow her head and lower her voice while admitting to the feelings she’s least proud of just totally undid me – I had this surge of compassion for her, of vicarious shame, and all my own hurt and moral confusion from past betrayals roared up in full color. This song kills me, but I still love it. Every so often, usually late at night, I’ll press play and let it do what it does.
Key lyric: “Oh I’m jealous / If you’re keeping your promise, I’m keeping mine.”
Eva Tolkin picks Joan Armatrading, “Love and Affection”
Eva Tolkin: This song makes me so incredibly nostalgic and weepy I can barely make it through. I reserve it for when I need a good cry. Joan’s voice is beautifully raw and her lyrics really speak to that bliss feeling of serenity in love.
Key lyric: “I am not in love, but I’m open to persuasion.”
Nilüfer Yanya picks Angie Stone, “Wish I Didn’t Miss You”
Nilüfer Yanya: I love this song. I wouldn’t ever give it up, but I feel like I’m ready to give up: missing, not eating, not sleeping, and waiting for stuff to walk through doors.
Key Lyric: “I can’t eat, I can’t sleep anymore / Waiting for love to walk through the door.”
Porches picks Etta James, “I’d Rather Go Blind”
Porches: There is something uniquely crushing about the thought of the one you’re in love with leaving you, especially when they’re leaving you for someone else. To lose the one you’re so hopelessly attached to... It’s sad. But the first time this song sunk in for me was when I was the one who had left someone for someone else. I was 20 years old and would listen to this song over and over again, almost as a punishment to remind myself of the pain I caused someone. Ouch.
Key lyric: “Something deep down in my soul said, ‘Cry, girl’ / When I saw you and that girl, walking around.”
Eleanor Friedberger picks The Cure, “A Letter to Elise”
Eleanor Friedberger: When I was 14, I had a boyfriend named Jon Newman. He was 15, a swimmer with a great body – and smart (I think he became a doctor!). I could sense he was falling for another swimmer who he spent early morning practices with, and one day my fears were confirmed with a letter sitting on the floor beneath the mail slot, which he hand-delivered. The letter basically said, ‘You’re great, but something’s missing,’ and he included a blank tape with the song ‘A Letter to Elise’ and the lyrics written out, as if listening to the song wasn't enough. Not only did it ruin the song for me, but it ruined the entire catalog of The Cure. Every time I hear Robert Smith’s voice I think of being dumped.
Key lyric: “Elise, it doesn’t matter what you say / I just can’t stay here every yesterday / Like keep on acting out the same / The way we act out / Every way to smile / Forget and make-believe we never needed / Any more than this.”
Listen to these selections on Spotify and Apple Music