The Break Up: Comfort in Pop Music

A break up hurts. When we hurt, we want to feel better. Music helps many of us feel better. Whenever I hear a new song on the radio (yes, I still listen to my local radio stations in the car), I always wonder what any new song has to say about how to feel better.

Co-written with Jorgen Elofsson, the upbeat track What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger) by Kelly Clarkson seems guaranteed to become a post break up anthem for anyone between the ages of 12 and 62. Clarkson’s lyrics have much to say about dealing with a break up and healing. And this is where I get interested.

Break Up Wisdom

We still live in a world where women and girls are told they only count when they are in a relationship with someone else, that we are less than whole on our own. Clarkson’s lyrics include a strong “I’m doing great on my own” message, which is wonderful to hear.

I also love that the song doesn’t say the singer is already in a new relationship with someone else. The verses celebrate having a relationship with ourselves, feeling at peace with being alone and pursuing our dreams. Her sassy confidence isn’t based in belonging to a new guy; it’s about rediscovering herself.

This sense of self-discovery is a key part of feeling better after a break up. Too often, we are encouraged to jump into a new relationship to feel better, as soon as possible after the break up. But rushing into a new relationship means we don’t reconnect with ourselves, learn from the relationship, and re-evaluate what we want in life and in love.

Possible Problems

At the same time, I worry that the chorus might discourage someone from grieving the break up properly or seeking help if they are struggling. The chorus’s theme of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, stand a little taller” encourages us to ignore our pain and carry on with our lives.

Yes, getting stuck in post break up funk is a bad idea. However, swallowing and avoiding pain hardens us over time. In the long run, ‘staying strong’ by avoiding emotional pain is a recipe for disaster.

The lyrics to What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger) by Kelly Clarkson

You know the bed feels warmer

Sleeping here alone You know I dream in colour And do the things I want

You think you got the best of me Think you had the last laugh Bet you think that everything good is gone Think you left me broken down Think that I’d come running back Baby you don’t know me, cause you’re dead wrong

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger Stand a little taller Doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone What doesn’t kill you makes a fighter Footsteps even lighter Doesn’t mean I’m over cause you’re gone

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, stronger Just me, myself and I What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger Stand a little taller Doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone

You heard that I was starting over with someone new They told you I was moving on over you

You didn’t think that I’d come back I’d come back swinging You tried to break me, but you see

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger Stand a little taller Doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone What doesn’t kill you makes a fighter Footsteps even lighter Doesn’t mean I’m over cause you’re gone

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, stronger Just me, myself and I What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger Stand a little taller Doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone

Thanks to you I got a new thing started Thanks to you I’m not the broken hearted Thanks to you I’m finally thinking bout me You know in the end the day you left was just my beginning In the end…

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger Stand a little taller Doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone What doesn’t kill you makes a fighter Footsteps even lighter Doesn’t mean I’m over cause you’re gone

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, stronger Just me, myself and I What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger Stand a little taller Doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone