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OPINION: Here are the two best pop albums to wallow to

MUNA and Olivia Rodrigo have relatable music for when you’re sad

A broken heart sits on cement steps on Feb. 22, 2024. Listening to sad music can help people process their emotions when they’re feeling down. // Photo by Cordelia Longo

The other day, I found myself crying in the C parking lot of Western Washington University to “Everything” by MUNA after discovering my ex had a new girlfriend. I realized other people might be mourning relationships and that music could help them too. My two favorite breakup albums are perfect for getting you through heartbreak — especially if you’re into pop music. 

About U,” by the band MUNA, came out in 2017, but its messages still ring true. All members, Katie Gavin, Josette Maskin and Naomi McPherson, are queer, and provide much-needed sapphic representation in music. “GUTS” by Olivia Rodrigo is pop-oriented, and has a mix of ballads and uptempo songs. 

“About U” 

The thing that I love most about this album is that it has a song for every mood. 

In the song “So Special,” Gavin reflects on the volatility of a relationship, putting forth a nostalgic vibe. In “Loudspeaker,” Gavin sings about expressing their feelings freely after being in a relationship where they suppressed their emotions. 

“I’ve always interpreted it as a bunch of different types of grief, and stages of grief,” said Leo Alexander, a third-year at Western. “Even though it’s not necessarily a concept album, the emotions change throughout it, so it's like you're following a journey.”

One song I listen to on repeat is “Everything.” It’s about seeing little things that remind you of the person you miss. This is the one that I broke down crying to every day for a week. 

Alexander found refuge in “About U” as someone who was closeted in high school. 

“I think because I knew the band was queer I probably understood the lyrics more in a queer context,” he said. 

Every song on this album hits hard because of the familiarity of the queer relationships. 

“A lot of queer relationships, even after they end, have very close friendships and I think a lot of the songs speak to that,” Alexander said. 

In the song “Around U,” Gavin sings, “I did stop to hang my head / Just for a moment at the light / ‘Cause now, the altar is a bed / And now you’re just a friend that once was mine,” referencing a friends-to-lovers romance that ended. This is a common occurrence among queer people, especially those who identify as sapphic. It’s how I got together, and then broke up, with my ex. I’ve probably listened to this song about a thousand times because of how well it exemplifies this kind of relationship. 

I appreciate how MUNA closes out the album. “Outro” combines elements of the key songs into one tidy package. Suddenly, you’re left staring at your phone because you can’t believe the masterpiece you just listened to is over. 

Critics may say “About U” is just another synth-heavy pop album, but I disagree. I think the album speaks to the familiarity of queer relationships and the creativity of the band. 


“GUTS” is one of those albums that’s great for when you’re looking back on a relationship and wondering what you were thinking. 

“Olivia Rodrigo, she’s very rage-y and I like her for that,” said Vivian Bernstein, a second-year Western student and a childhood friend of mine from ages 10 and 11.

There is definitely an element of anger in a few of her songs on “GUTS.” In an early track called “vampire,” she sings, “bloodsucker, famef*cker, bleeding me dry like a goddamn vampire.” 

I think these songs are perfect for when you need to process your anger about someone. I’ve sung “vampire” in the car too many times to count while thinking back on my past relationship. 

Bernstein remembered Rodrigo from an American Girl Doll movie she’d seen in elementary school. When she watched the first season of “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,” she heard Rodrigo’s song “All I Want” and became hooked. 

“I was like, ‘I know her. Let me tune in.’ She’s my age and I was like, ‘You’re relatable and you sing about feelings that I can empathize with,’” Bernstein said. 

While some people might see Rodrigo’s music as juvenile and emotional, listening to a singer who is full of emotions is what you want when dealing with a breakup. 

In the song “get him back!” Rodrigo can’t make her mind up between going back to her ex and plotting her revenge on him for what he put her through. Bernstein appreciates Rodrigo’s humor in this song, and likes one lyric in particular. 

“[Rodrigo’s] dad is a therapist, so ‘I am my father’s daughter, so maybe I could fix him.’ That’s funny as hell,” Bernstein said. 

Reviewing these breakup albums made me want to see what it's like for musicians creating this type of music. 

“I write a lot of sad music because it helps me process my grief,” said Raquel Norland, a singer-songwriter and second-year at Western who plans to move to Nashville in August.

In a way, artists and listeners share the experience of sadness and can sort through their feelings together. 

“I’m putting everything that I’m feeling into words and working hard to make sure everything’s on paper,” Norland said. “And then I’m like, ‘Oh, I didn’t even know I was processing this.’” 

Norland had a song come out recently called “Happier Now,” which is part of her upcoming and first EP. 

music note.heic

A music note lies on the grass on Feb. 22, 2024. Breakup music can let people know they’re not alone. // Photo by Cordelia Longo

Breakup music and the brain 

There are a few different theories about why humans like sad music, one of which is prominent in social-cultural psychology, said Doug Kowalewski, a lecturer at Skidmore College, who is pursuing his doctorate at the University of Albany. 

“Essentially, when we’re listening to sad music, many people get something positive out of it,” Kowalewski said. “The idea is that it’s non-threatening sadness.” 

Interestingly, Kowalewski said current research suggests listening to happy music will make people feel better quicker, while listening to sad music will prolong sadness – at least in short lab studies. It is unclear whether this prolonged sadness has substantial, negative, long-term effects on a person. Sad music may help people wallow during the initial breakup process. 

For me, “About U” and “GUTS” let me know that I’m not alone in what I’m feeling. 

For other people like Alexander, listening to breakup albums is about enjoying the artistry of the music. 

Alexander added, “Sometimes you just want to feel a little sad for about three minutes and a breakup song can do that.”

Cordelia Longo

Cordelia Longo (they/them) is a senior at Western majoring in political science. In their free time, you can find them listening to Taylor Swift and asking to pet strangers' dogs. 

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