Break up songs are actually excellent activism anthems. Hear us out. 

This year we’re on a mission to prove that activism actually is all around. We want to show that you don’t have to look too hard to find the inspiration to get up and continue fighting for a better world. The inspiration is in every aspect of our lives. From the people we speak to, to the food we eat, to the shows we watch, and down to the songs that make us feel something. 

Picture this: It’s the month of love, and you’ve just been ghosted by the love of your life. Or worse, you’ve suffered a horrifying break up over text, or in public. You’re distraught, you’re in tears, you're frustrated, you’re on your third slice of cheesecake, and you’ve been knocked down. 

But then you get an amazing idea to help turn things around: Music. You open your music app and scroll immediately to the musician you know will understand how you feel — and let’s be honest, it’s probably Kelly Clarkson, Adele, or Beyoncé. 

Now, think about the way you feel when the melody of “Since You’ve Been Gone” hits your ears. Or when Beyoncé sings “you must not know about me” in “Irreplaceable”. Are you feeling validated? Empowered? Determined? Ready to take on the world?

Is that not how we should all feel on our ways to fighting systems and issues that need immediate change, whether it’s the climate emergency or the systemic barriers that keep people trapped in poverty? We thought so too.

Break up songs, while designed to respond to relationships lost, are also really great for helping us get over the hurdles we face in our activism journeys, and encourage us to come back stronger. They can also be excellent for amping us up to take on new challenges. They encourage self-love, provide us with worthwhile lessons, remind us that we are our greatest assets, and get us back on our feet so we’re ready to fight the system again. 

Instead of focusing on romantic ballads this Valentine’s month, we think you should join us in listening to break up songs — it’ll be worth it for your activism journey, trust us. We’ve put together a playlist of 55 break up songs that you can use as your activism anthems — check it out, and read on to discover some of our faves and why we think they’re so perfect for activists. 

Songs to Feel Heartbroken to

When you’ve been knocked down, you need to acknowledge that you’re on the ground before you can get up again. Perhaps a petition you’ve put your name down for wasn’t well received, or you’ve been rallying behind a cause for months and it hasn’t worked out in your favor. Sometimes it’s important to sit in those feelings and acknowledge that you and your movement are not yet where you need to be before you can get back into the business of changing the world. 

‘Skinny Love’, Bon Iver

Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love” takes a look at what the plan was for the relationship, and in our case, plan to further our activism mission, and tries to identify where and how it might have failed. Reflection is necessary so that you know what not to do in your future campaigning efforts. 

‘Tears Dry On Their Own’, Amy Winehouse

At its core, this song is about moving through pain. It can hurt when things don’t work out the way they should, when laws are approved to further injustices, when you witness a systemic failure, when the consequences that come from a lack of change (despite your calls for action) are revealing themselves. However it’s important to learn how to move through the pain, and let it further drive your calls for action.

‘Shake it Out’, Florence & The Machine

Florence & The Machine sing about letting go of things that don’t work out, it could be a campaign or protest you’d planned that fell through. Whatever it is, if harboring it is slowing you down, you need to let it go and try something different. The band goes further by explaining how liberating it can be when you shake off thinking in the past, with the lyrics, “And it's hard to dance with a devil on your back, so shake him off.” 

‘Bad Blood’, Taylor Swift

Now that you’re slowly letting go of the hurt you feel, it’s time to hold people accountable for knocking you down. “Bad Blood” is a friendship breakup song that highlights why making empty promises is detrimental — it calls on wrongdoers to own up to and fix their wrongs.

It also carries the message that simply talking about the issue doesn’t mean taking action on the issue, as Swift says, “Band-Aids don’t fix bullet holes, you say sorry just for show, if you live like that, you live with ghosts.” The song shows that we too can use our voices and our outrage to hold people accountable to the empty promises they make when it comes to furthering the mission to ending extreme poverty. 

‘Rolling in the Deep’, Adele 

Putting into exact words what someone should be held accountable for is key to requesting change. Adele points out what could have happened if a little more care and consideration were put into the relationship, and then goes on to explain how things fell apart. Similarly, this level of communication is needed when reminding world leaders and corporations where it is they have failed on their promises. It’s important that they know that their empty words, on which people have built hope, have led to nothing. 

Songs for Self-Empowerment

You’ve got your feelings and reflections all out on the table, and now it’s time for some self-love — because self-love is activism. Believing in yourself is a valuable part of believing in your work as an activist. These are the songs that’ll help you get there. 

‘Thank U, Next’, Ariana Grande

One of the best self-love anthems, “Thank U, Next” reminds us to put ourselves first. The song points out that no matter what happens, one of the greatest loves in your life should be yourself. This song is all about giving yourself freedom to be grateful for your mistakes, so that you can learn from them and move forward. With this in mind, it’s essential in activism to be your own biggest supporter, so that when the chips are down and there’s little support for your movement, you can carry on knowing that you’ll always have your own back. 

‘Survivor’, Destiny’s Child

One thing activists often have to deal with is being undermined or underestimated. If you’re ever feeling that way, put this song on full blast. Destiny’s Child sing about all the ways they’ve been looked down on in their relationships, and that despite this, they’re going to get up and keep working to be the best they can be. The main message in this song is to continue the fight for justice even if you’ve been underestimated, because you’re capable of creating change. 

‘Firework’, Katy Perry

Activism really is all about dreaming, and making those dreams come true. It’s about dreaming of a world without injustice, without devastation, and without poverty. No song is better suited to help us do the work of achieving our dreams than Katy Perry’s “Firework”. The song celebrates individuality, creativity, and calls on each activist to “show 'em what you're worth.”

‘Irreplaceable’, Beyoncé

Other than showing your ex where they can find their things, “Irreplaceable” does an epic job of reminding you of the value you can bring to any space, project, or relationship, despite potentially being told otherwise. The simple words, “You must not know ‘bout me” are a reassurance of the fact that no matter what someone says, you have it in you to affect change. 

‘Stronger’, Kelly Clarkson

The need for advocacy comes from experiencing injustices or rights violations, sometimes personally, and sometimes through others. Many activists become activists because they’ve been through something that calls on them to raise their voice. This song explains that no matter what you’ve been through, you can stand up and keep fighting; and that sometimes, the difficult things you’ve experienced can help to make your voice louder and your actions stronger. Kelly Clarkson leaves us with the message that you are not the injustices you’ve faced, but having gone through them, you have it in you to rise up and face them head-on. 

Songs to Get You Back into the Fight

These are the strategy songs. The songs you listen to when you’re planning the next move for you and your mission. You know what it’s like to be knocked down, you know what it means to hold others accountable, you know what it looks like to show yourself some love, and now it’s time to get up and do the work. 

‘New Rules’, Dua Lipa

The activism space is changing every day, and how we call for justice doesn’t look the same as it did 10 years ago; or even three years ago. That’s why we encourage taking a page from Dua Lipa’s book and getting into the groove of some “New Rules”. While in this song she lists the rules she’s come up with that will help her move on from an ex, and all of the rules are based on the things she’s done before that did not work. What we can take from this song is the need to change our calls to action in order to be more impactful, given any difficulty or adversity that may come our way. 

So What’, P!nk

In “So What”, P!nk lists all the ways her life sucks and all the small personal injustices she faces as a result of her break up. She builds up to the chorus by saying, “I’m going to start a fight”, and while nobody should condone violence, starting a fight doesn’t have to mean violence. Knowing when to fight, how to fight, and then fighting for what you believe in especially in the face of injustice is key to continuing a movement in the face of adversity. 

‘Happier Than Ever’, Billie Eilish

This absolute banger by Billie Eilish is not only excellent for yelling out your frustrations, it also has a message about garnering support from organizations, companies, or people with ulterior motives. She speaks about distancing herself from someone who goes out of their way to make her feel terrible, realizing that she doesn’t need them or their support. Similarly, we need to be wary of people and places that seem as if they believe in our vision, but instead are greenwashing, or they lack diversity, or they’re using your cause to make themselves look better in the public eye. It’s important to surround yourself with the right people, who believe in your vision for the future

Global Citizen Life

Demand Equity

13 Break Up Songs That Are Actually Anthems for Activists

By Khanyi Mlaba