The right song, at just the right moment, can make you feel like you’re no longer alone in a world that’s cold. That someone gets your pain, hope or jubilation even better than you understand it yourself – and has set those feelings to the perfect beat.
In that spirit, let’s take a tour through some Prince songs to lift you out of a breakup funk. I set out to find specific songs to get you though the five stages of grief. You know the ones: First comes denial, then anger, bargaining, depression and, finally, acceptance.
But just as Prince can’t be put into discrete boxes for race, gender or sexuality – and his work didn’t fit neatly in a single genre, either – individual songs contain far more than any one emotion or condition. Even in lyrics about the intense loneliness of losing a lover there’s a strong sense that the deeply brokenhearted will love again.
Did I miss a song? Probably. Add your favorites – to get you from crying it out to dancing it out – in the comments.
1. “Let’s Go Crazy”
The opening words to this track – “Dearly beloved / we are gathered here today / to get through this thing called life” – have been shared a lot since the pop star’s death. They’re fitting for any heartbreak, past or present. “Let’s Go Crazy” blends the sense of life being a lonely, solitary journey: “In this life / Things are much harder than in the afterworld / In this life / You’re on your own.” Depressing stuff on its own, but there’s also an emphasis on getting through life together, with friends who won’t let the elevator of life keep you stuck in the basement.
2. “When Doves Cry”
Every jilted lover has been here, asking the person who left: “How can you just leave me standing / Alone in a world that’s so cold?” Prince is self-reflective, too, taking on some of the blame for himself: “Maybe I’m just too demanding. Maybe I’m just like my father, too bold.”
But wait, let’s get back to you for a moment: “Maybe you’re just like my mother / She’s never satisfied.”
It’s not all sorrow, though. The tempo’s upbeat, and the questioning of the anger between lovers – “Why do we scream at each other / This is what it sounds like / When doves cry” – moves past the blame game to acknowledge that love is by its nature beautiful and combustible all at once.
3. “Nothing Compares 2 U,” written by Prince, performed by Sinead O’Connor
This song is perfect for the bargaining and depression stages of a breakup, mixed with glimmers of acceptance. First, let’s count how long it’s been since you took your love away (7 hours and 15 days). “Nothing Compares” acknowledges that “living with you baby was sometimes hard / But I’m willing to give it another try.” It’s not all sadness, though. O’Connor also runs through positives of life after a breakup: That moment where you realize you can do whatever you want without feeling obliged to consult or negotiate with another person. She’s doing those things – seeing whoever she chooses, eating dinner in a fancy restaurant – through a melancholic haze. Even though the despair is thick, “Nothing Compares” acknowledges that it will eventually lift.
4. “I Wanna Be Your Lover”
This song makes me think of the importance of maintaining high standards when it comes to love – and getting out when those standards aren’t being met. In addition to being your lover, Prince sings about wanting to be “your brother, your mother and your sister, too.” It might not be possible to be someone’s everything in that way, but we still want it.
5. “Purple Rain”
“Purple Rain” is a striking song about loss, be it romantic or friendship. There’s longing for a relationship that’s no longer, but the song acknowledges that it’s over; there’s sadness but no bargaining, remembrance and reverence more than depression. My colleague Gene Park remembers “Purple Rain” as “the only song my old friend would sing for karaoke. He was terrible. He was so bad, I used to leave the bar for smoke breaks whenever it was his turn at the mic. But regardless of his rendition’s quality, it was always the soundtrack to a great time with great friends. He died in his 30s several years ago, and to this day I’d give anything to hear him warbling through the first verse. For me, ‘Purple Rain’ sounds like loss, and nostalgia for friendships you thought would last forever.”
6. “Diamonds and Pearls”
This song offers a little bit of bargaining: “If I gave you diamonds and pearls / Would you be a happy boy or a girl?” But is mostly acceptance: It’s less focused on the pain of the past and more attuned to acknowledging that there’s a better love out there somewhere for you. (“There will come a time / When love will blow your mind / And everything you’ll look for you’ll find.”) Those lyrics remind me of the second piece of bread to the “s– sandwich” (as professional wingman Thomas Edwards puts it) in the classic breakup talk: where you acknowledge that the relationship isn’t working but genuinely do home that your no-longer-lover finds what they’re looking for.
7. “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man”
Here’s one for when you’re close to acceptance and (think) you’re ready to see someone new, but your prospective rebound can tell you’re not there yet. Or, as Prince puts it: “I know what’s on your mind / I may be qualified for a one night stand / But I could never take the place of your man.”
This is for the point when you’re ready to get back out there, when you’re eager and ready to kiss someone new.