Pop is no longer what it used to be. As time has passed, the genre has moved with it, subbing squeaky clean, over-produced tracks for more realistic, modern takes. Part of that evolution includes the embrace of pop’s sadder side. We’ve rounded up the best sad modern pop songs for when you’re feeling down, but still want a little sunshine.
“sex money feelings die” by Lykke Li
“sex money feelings die” is a hazy, swirling story of a turbulent, traditional rock-and-roll relationship—a daze of sex, pills, and the eventual come down. Lykke’s 2018 album So Sad So Sexy has the same somber energy of her previous projects, but with an updated sound, as she subs out some of the loftier vocals for higher production and slightly more twisted storylines.
“When the Party’s Over” by Billie Eilish
“When the party’s over” starts so softly and so stripped-back that it feels like there must be an impending drop, beat switch, or a thumping techno-bridge. Instead, Billie Eilish stays steady for all three minutes, her ethereal vocals led by nearly nothing aside from her own layered vocals, resulting in an especially chilling cut.
“Why Hide” by Mark Ronson feat. Diana Gordon
Pinned between the likes of Camilla Cabello, Alicia Keys, and Miley Cyrus, the ever-talented Diana Gordon has one of the best tracks on Mark Ronson’s female-lead album of self-described “sad bangers.” “Why Hide” is a stunning, cutting vocal performance led by the resentment of a partner not being fully upfront.
“BAGDAD” by Rosalía
While the song is sung entirely in Spanish, the introductory sample of Justin Timberlake's “Cry Me A River” should be a familiar cue to English-speaking fans. Rosalía’s “BAGDAD” finds a woman trapped and alone, as she sweetly pleads, “And she’s going to burn, if she stays there.”
“Rainbow” by Kacey Musgraves
Everyone’s favorite pop-country artist comes through for a big, warm sonic hug on “Rainbow,” a gentle reminder that eventually the “sky (will) finally open.”
“Summertime Sadness” by Lana Del Rey
It’s pretty much all in the title. With the Lana's signature aesthetic infused in her lyrics—hot rods on the highway, red lipstick, beauty queens—“Summertime Sadness” has become the cornerstone of summer sad girl (and sad boy) syndrome.
“Killer” by Kali Uchis
“Baby have you got no soul / Is your heart a gaping hole?” is Kali Uchis's cut-to-the-chase, straight-to-the-chest opening line on her debut album’s closing track. It’s a painfully upfront entry that was inspired by a toxic relationship from her teens, and her struggling relationship with her family.
“Dancing On My Own” by Robyn
Everyone copes with loss differently. “Dancing On My Own” is Robyn’s club-ready answer for the loners looking to dance it out.
“Praying” by Kesha
While it may momentarily disguise itself as nothing more than a painful punch in the gut with it’s spoken word intro, Kesha’s “Praying” is a triumphant cry of growth and power, as she opens up about her sexual assault case with former producer Dr. Luke.
“Uninvited” by Mallrat
“Uninvited” is part-introvert anthem, part-FOMO-induced inner conflict. With its dance-heavy chorus that repeats, “Get me off the list,” over booming reverberations, Mallrat struggles with everyone’s favorite weekend dilemma: To stay in and be sad, or to go out and force it?
“SLOW DANCING IN THE DARK” by Joji
“SLOW DANCING IN THE DARK” begins with Joji softly leaning into a lo-fi beat, but it swiftly transforms into a frantic and booming plea to be freed from the competitive back-and-forth with whomever he is being replaced with.
“Closer to You” by Clairo
Contorted by a heavy auto-tune filter, Clairo laments the ways of an unavailable lover, all while ultimately admitting that she can’t help but to stay. It’s a self-aware sad bop, led by Clairo’s usual sweetness under a slightly icier disposition.
“Shallow” by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper
In 2018, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga became everyone’s favorite make-believe couple as they played troubled lovers in the blockbuster remake of A Star Is Born. At the epicenter of everyone’s favorite melodrama lies the ultimate anthem, “Shallow,” which finds Gaga soaring comfortably on the theatrical ballad, with Cooper keeping up in his singing debut.
“Cool” by Gwen Stefani
There’s a melancholic fog that seems to hang over “Cool,” despite its lyrics actually celebrating the somewhat-successful, ever-elusive post-breakup friendship.
“Liability” by Lorde
Lorde’s “Liability” is a searing, social anxiety-driven track from Lorde’s sophomore album Melodrama. On the widely electro-pop record, it stands out as a painfully on-the-nose look into feeling unwanted: “The truth is I am a toy that people enjoy / 'Til all of the tricks don't work anymore.”
“Drown” by Cuco and Clairo
“Drown” is a day-dreamy duet from two of pop’s most promising voices. And while its surface-level sound is forgiving, Cuco and Clairo make it clear that whatever they had is decidedly over.
“lovely” by Khalid and Billie Eilish
“lovely” embraces all of Billie Eilish’s usual tactics—incredible vocal layering, a few twisted references, and piano-heavy instrumentals. Pair that with the unadulterated talent of Khalid, and the track ascends to otherworldly heart-hitting proportions.
“The Way Things Change” by Yellow Days
Yellow Days effortlessly floats between genres—a mix of soul, blues, funk, maybe even disco—and yet there’s an approachability that seems to anchor his sound enough to border on pop. But genre questions aside, “The Way Things Change” is decidedly a sad bop, as Yellow Days promises his “soul is dead,” but pulls it together with an encouraging “you keep goin’” mantra.
“Don’t Watch Me Cry” by Jorja Smith
“Don’t Watch Me Cry” is so sad that its inclusion nearly feels like cheating. It’s just one example in a massive pile of Jorja Smith’s heart-breaking catalogue, all captured in 2018’s stunning debut album Lost & Found.
Listen to all of the songs in the playlist below, and follow Harper's BAZAAR on Spotify. Follow
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