Letting go is one of the hardest possible things to do, especially when letting go of a loved one. For many people, music is the only thing that pushes them through a rough breakup or the death of a loved one.
Songs like “Wake Me Up When September Ends” and “There You’ll Be” are songs about losing someone close to you. Breakup songs like “Since U Been Gone” take a spiteful look at past relationships.
Different breakup songs like “Someone Like You” remind us to take breakups gently. Other songs like “Imagine” remind us to let go of unimportant things.
Many of the songs on this list are emotionally driven for a good reason. The lyrics, the instruments, and the vocals often tell of heartbreak and pain that people can only express through song. So without further ado, check out these 25 songs about letting go.
I Will Always Love You
Artist: Whitney Houston
Originally written and performed by Dolly Parton, “I Will Always Love You” was recorded by Whitney Houston for the movie The Bodyguard. Houston’s cover of “I Will Always Love You” was an instant hit and is her most memorable song today.
The song is about the grief felt when letting go of someone. While “I Will Always Love You” is usually seen as a romantic song, Parton wrote it after parting ways with a long-term friend. Houston’s soul-ballad version of the song beautifully exemplifies the pain of letting go of a loved one.
Wake Me Up When September Ends
Artist: Green Day
Arguably Green Day’s most famous song, “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” is about grief and letting go of a parent. Lead singer/songwriter Billie Joe Armstrong’s father died of cancer on the first day of September in 1982. After the funeral, Armstrong locked himself in his room and said, “Wake me up when September ends.”
“Wake Me Up When September Ends” signified both “seven years” and “twenty years” had gone by fast. Sweet Children, the band that later became Green Day, was formed seven years after the death of Armstrong’s father. “Wake Me Up When September Ends” was written twenty years after his death.
Someone Like You
“Someone Like You” is a song about coming to terms with a severed relationship. Unlike some of her earlier songs like “Rolling in the Deep,” “Someone Like You” took a softer approach to Adele’s breakup with her ex-boyfriend. Instead, this song wishes her ex the best while learning to let them go.
In an interview with MTV, Adele said that even though she and her ex-partner broke up, she felt emotionally drained after writing the song because it portrayed him in a negative light. Although she felt bitter about the breakup, she still thought fondly of him since he was a significant part of her life.
Let Her Go
“Let Her Go” is a folk song about the pains of a breakup. After a breakup, singer/songwriter Mike Rosenberg took less than an hour to write the piece. The song is about letting a partner go and remembering not to take someone for granted before then.
According to Rosenberg, the subject of “Let Her Go” knew the song was about her, and the two are supposedly friends now. However, despite releasing in 2012, “Let Her Go” did not take off until 2014.
Shake It Out
Artist: Florence + the Machine
“Shake It Out” is a gospel gothic pop song about shaking off negativity after a difficult journey. The lyrics push the listener to let go of their regrets and demons. The chorus reminds us that the devil and his problems will always come back, so celebrating right now is so important.
At the time of recording, singer/songwriter Florence Welch was dealing with a painful hangover. Welch used her hangover to emotionally drive the song, singing to herself to shake the hangover off.
I Will Remember You
Artist: Sarah McLachlan
Inspired by Séamus Egan’s “Weep Not for the Memories,” “I Will Remember You” is a song about losing a loved one. The singer struggles to let them go and to let themselves feel love again.
“I Will Remember You” reminds us to appreciate the little things. Hold onto your memories fondly, not with spite or regret. “I Will Remember You” is a powerful song that applies to breakups, deaths, moving, and almost every other form of letting a person go.
Artist: Destiny’s Child
Named after the reality T.V. series Survivor, “Survivor” is a Destiny’s Child song about being stronger after letting someone go. The song is specifically about Destiny’s Child losing three of its members in one year. The remaining members felt like they were on Survivor.
The song is about surviving everything life throws at you. Letting go of someone or something doesn’t always have to hurt you. “Survivor” reminds us that letting go also makes us stronger.
“100 Letters” is a pop ballad from Halsey’s album “Hopeless Fountain Kingdom.” The entire album is a cohesive story about a collapsing relationship.
“100 Letters,” the second song on the album, is about the overwhelming feelings immediately following a breakup. She wishes she’d never given a day of her life to her ex, yet she can’t stop finding letters from him everywhere — constant reminders of what she let go.
“Everybody Hurts” is a song both about letting go and not letting go. Everything in the world feels wrong sometimes, but that’s not an excuse to let go of everything. You can let go of the pain and focus on the positive, but don’t let go of life. Hold on instead.
R.E.M. drummer Billy Berry wrote the majority of “Everybody Hurts,” though he was not part of the final recording. Berry later left R.E.M. to become a farmer. The strings in “Everybody Hurt” were arranged by Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones.
Since U Been Gone
Artist: Kelly Clarkson
“Since U Been Gone” is an upbeat breakup song celebrating the positives of letting someone go. The singer is finally able to breathe after leaving their relationship. In the music video, a girl trashes her ex’s house, entirely leaving her past behind.
“Since U Been Gone” was originally written by Max Martin and “Dr. Luke,” who wanted Pink or Hilary Duff to record the song. When Kelly Clarkson became attached, she added intense guitar beats to make it feel like a rock song rather than a pop song.
Let Somebody Go (feat. Selena Gomez)
“Let Somebody Go” is a duet ballad between Selena Gomez and Coldplay’s Chris Martin. Notably, Coldplay has been outspoken about not collaborating with other artists. This song was a collaboration with Gomez, and the song was also co-written by Apple Martin, Chris Martin’s daughter.
“Let Somebody Go” is a heartbreaking song. Unlike some other breakup songs on this list, “Let Somebody Go” fully acknowledges the love between both singers. They conclude that their futures are best spent apart, as tricky as it will be to let each other go.
Artist: John Lennon
“Imagine” isn’t a song about letting go of someone; it’s about letting go of attachment. “Imagine” asks us to picture a world where the most significant societal divisions don’t exist, allowing humanity to thrive.
Lennon’s lyrics beg the question, will we be happier if we let go of possessions, religions, and titles? “Imagine” is a spiritual and political song Lennon used as a wartime call for peace. The song was co-written by John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
Artist: David Bowie
“Changes” is a cathartic song about letting go of the past and embracing change. The song’s first half is about Bowie’s confusing journey to reinvent his art by letting go of the critics he used to listen to. The second half urges parents to listen to their children.
When writing “Changes,” Bowie and his wife Angela were expecting their first child. “Changes” is about Bowie’s optimism and fear of parenthood in many ways. Embracing the song’s theme, “Changes” was one of Bowie’s first songs using a keyboard.
Go Your Own Way
Artist: Fleetwood Mac
Like many of the songs on the Rumors album, “Go Your Own Way” is an intense breakup song. The lyrics state that their love was always a mistake, accuse the partner of cheating, and conclude it’s time to go their separate ways.
“Go Your Own Way” was written by Lindsey Buckingham about Stevie Nicks, the band’s lead vocalists. Christine and John McVie were also divorcing when recording “Go Your Own Way,” resulting in a very emotionally-charged track.
If You Love Somebody Set Them Free
“If You Love Somebody Set Them Free” was one of the first solo songs by Sting during a break from The Police. “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free” was written as a follow-up song to “Every Breath You Take,” with Sting giving a new, healthier conclusion to his pain.
“If You Love Somebody Set Them Free” is about letting someone go after a breakup. After leaving someone, it’s very easy to want to go back to them or to even despise them. Sting’s lyrics conclude it’s easier on you both to move on entirely. Never give them another thought. You owe them nothing.
There You’ll Be
Artist: Faith Hill
Written for the Michael Bay movie Pearl Harbor, “There You’ll Be” is a power ballad about remembering friends and loved ones who have passed. But, even though they are gone, they will always remain a part of who we are.
“There You’ll Be” is a grateful song, appreciating the time spent and the lessons learned together. Despite Hill being initially skeptical of recording another movie’s love song, “There You’ll Be” went on to be Faith Hill’s biggest hit.
Everything I Wanted
Artist: Billie Eilish
“Everything I Wanted” is a haunting song about letting go of what others think of you. Co-written by Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas O’Connell, “Everything I Wanted” was inspired by a nightmare.
In the nightmare, Eilish jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge in front of almost everyone she’s ever known — all of whom ignored her death. The words “change the way you see yourself” and “they don’t deserve you” were Finneas’s words of comfort to his younger sister.
Artist: Dua Lipa
“New Rules” is an upbeat breakup song listing a set of rules to successfully move on from a relationship. Letting someone go is challenging but essential. Dua Lipa wrote “New Rules” as the breakup song she never had.
Dua Lipa’s new rules cite she can’t answer his calls, let him inside, or try to be his friend. The song says to remind ourselves that we love ourselves. In theory, the lyrics of “New Rules” are the perfect guidelines for letting someone go.
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
Artist: Elton John
“Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” is a slow-paced song about letting go of wealth and fame. In The Wizard of Oz, the yellow brick road supposedly led to what Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tinman, and the Lion thought they wanted most. Unfortunately, the end of the road was not what they expected.
Like most of Elton John’s songs, the lyrics of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” were written by Bernie Taupin. Unlike most of Elton’s songs, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” was more about Bernie than Elton. Whereas Elton thrived in fame, Bernie felt out of place and longed for a simple, rural life instead.
Artist: Kate Bush
“The Fog” is a slow, heartfelt song that reflects on Bush learning to swim as a child with the help of her father. He lets go of her after gently and lovingly helping her learn to relax in the water. According to Bush, this is a metaphor for letting someone go because you love them.
Kate featured her father, famous pianist, Dr. Robert Bush, in the song by using his voice. Nigel Kennedy, a classical violinist, was also featured in this recording.
All Too Well
Artist: Taylor Swift
“All Too Well” is a Taylor Swift-style breakup song about processing everything after letting someone go. Moments in the song ask the subject if they feel the same way as they do now.
The original recording of “All Too Well” was over 10 minutes long but was cut down to 5 minutes for release. In 2021, Swift included a newly recorded 10-minute version of the song for her album Red (Taylor’s Version). The album was co-released with All Too Well: A Short Film, starring Sadie Sink and Dylan O’Brien.
From a certain point of view, “Goodbye Stranger” is a song about someone who lets go too much. The lyrics of “Goodbye Stranger” say goodbye to various people, including women named “Jane” and “Mary.” The song makes it clear the singer has no permanent place to belong.
In essence, “Goodbye Stranger” is about a series of one-night stands. Though the singer lets just about everyone and every place he meets go, he has no intention to stop. This life makes him happy.
Artist: Noah Cyrus and PJ Harding
“Dear August” is a gentle acoustic song about letting go of anxieties and awaiting the future. This collaboration by Noah Cyrus and PJ Harding was written during the 2020 lockdowns. The fear of the pandemic left both singers terrified for their futures.
You can easily interpret the songs as letting a loved one go. The lyrics mention accumulating all the “wasted love” and turning it into wine instead. “Dear August” is about letting go of the darkness of the past and anticipating the future’s light.
Artist: Jordin Sparks
“Tattoo” is a song about letting someone go without letting go of the mark they left on you. “Tattoo” was initially criticized for being too similar to Beyoncé’s “Irreplaceable.” Nevertheless, “Tattoo” was one of the biggest hits by American Idol winner Jordin Sparks.
In an interview with Digital Spy, Sparks explained that when someone important comes into your life and really touches you, they leave behind memories that stick to you like a tattoo. She said it could be a romantic interest, as many people interpreted from the song, but it could also be a friend or family member.
Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)
Artist: Green Day
“Good Riddance” is a song about breakups that end for simple reasons. The song is based on singer/songwriter Billie Joe Armstrong’s relationship that ended because she was moving to Ecuador. The breakup left him confused. It was unpredictable, and their relationship ended for no reason other than that they couldn’t be together.
The title of “Good Riddance” is interesting. Armstrong was struggling between bitterness and gratefulness at the end of their relationship. While the lyrics are thankful and optimistic, the title is spiteful. The subtitle “Time of Your Life” matches the actual tone of the song.