Love can be a double-edged sword, often leaving one tangled in a web of emotions. This article delves into the best unrequited love songs that express this profound emotion in all its depth, despair, and sometimes hope. From classic songs to contemporary hits, these songs about anxiety, yearning, and the courage to endure paint a vivid portrait of one-sided affection. So, whether you are grappling with unreturned love or a music aficionado with a penchant for acute themes, this compilation will surely strike a chord with you.
Best songs about unrequited love
1. Creep – Radiohead
A raw confession of self-doubt and yearning, this anthem of the misunderstood blends moody alternative rock with candid lyricism. Its stirring refrain, “But I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo. What the hell am I doing here? I don’t belong here,” encapsulates the essence of unrequited affection. Laced with desolation and longing, it’s a timeless addition to the lexicon of songs about unrequited love, providing solace to those struggling with the pain of one-sided passion.
“Creep” was inspired by a girl that lead singer Thom Yorke was infatuated with while at Exeter University. He confessed that he was too scared to approach her, hence the theme of unrequited love.
2. The Man Who Can’t Be Moved – The Script
Embodying the pain and perseverance of unrequited affection, this heartfelt song beautifully captures the endless wait for a love that may never return. “I’m not moving… I’m the man who can’t be moved,” sings the protagonist, vowing to stay put until his lost love finds him again. Drenched in melancholy yet buoyed by hope, it stands as one of the most touching unrequited love songs, resonating with anyone who’s ever had similar feelings.
Despite the story seeming quite unrealistic, the band has mentioned that the idea for the song came from the common saying “If you’ve lost something, go back to the place where you last had it.”
3. Unrequited Love – The ScripLykke Li
This haunting melody echoes the sorrows of one-sided love, painting a vivid picture of a heart entwined in unrequited feelings. Lykke Li, a Swedish singer-songwriter, is known for her ethereal sound and deeply emotional lyrics. Its spicy lyrics and the singer’s powerful delivery have led to it being used in multiple television soundtracks, including episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy” and “The Vampire Diaries”.
“And though I know it isn’t right, I see him day and night, ” confesses the singer, trapped in the agonizing cycle of longing and rejection. Its evocative lyrics and heartwarming delivery make it a sharp testament to the profound and often debilitating effects of love unreturned.
Lykke Li, a Swedish singer-songwriter, is known for her ethereal sound and deeply emotional lyrics.
4. Ain’t No Sunshine – Bill Withers
This timeless classic lays bare the torment of loving someone you can’t have. The melancholic refrain, “Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone, and she’s always gone too long, anytime she goes away,” reflects the singer’s profound sense of loss and yearning. Masterfully capturing the gloom of absence and the despair of unreturned affection, it stands as one of the most compelling narratives of longing and separation in music history.
“Ain’t No Sunshine” earned Withers his first Grammy Award for Best R&B Song in 1972. Besides, it has been covered numerous times by various artists across different genres, including Michael Jackson, Sting, Eva Cassidy, and more.
5. Grenade – Bruno Mars
This powerful track gives voice to the despair and frustration of being ignored by someone you love. The anguish is palpable in the refrain, “I’d catch a grenade for ya, throw my hand on a blade for ya,” indicating the extreme lengths one is willing to go for unreciprocated love. The wild emotion and dramatic storytelling make it a standout song for anyone experiencing the sting of one-sided affection!
By the way, the video for this song also evokes incredible emotions. In it, Bruno Mars drags a piano through Los Angeles to his lover’s house, symbolizing the hard work and effort expended on unrequited love.
6. Someone Like You – Adele
This emotive song lays bare the anguish of being rejected by a crush. The heart-wrenching lyric, “I had hoped you’d see my face and that you’d be reminded that for me, it isn’t over,” embodies the lingering hope and pain of a love that could not be. Its tough, pointed lyricism and soulful delivery make it a touchstone for anyone navigating the stormy seas of unanswered love.
“Someone Like You” is the first song featuring only piano and solo voice to ever top the Billboard Hot 100 chart. I also note that Adele said in many of her interviews that writing this song was very personal to her and helped her overcome her heartache.
7. I Can’t Make You Love Me – Bonnie Raitt
This poignant song encapsulates the emotional torment of one-sided relationships. The soul-stirring line, “Cause I can’t make you love me if you don’t,” communicates the desperation and sadness of trying to hold on to a love that isn’t reciprocated.
The song was written by Mike Reid and Allen Shamblin. Reid was inspired by a newspaper article about a man who got drunk and shot at his girlfriend’s car after she left him.
In 2000, Mojo magazine voted “I Can’t Make You Love Me” the 8th best track on its “The 100 Greatest Songs of All Time” list.
8. Teardrops on My Guitar – Taylor Swift
Capturing the anguish of loving someone who loves someone else, this heartfelt song resonates deeply with listeners. “He’s the reason for the teardrops on my guitar, the only thing that keeps me wishing on a wishing star,” reveals the singer’s secret love and her unexpressed heartache. The song’s honest lyrics and evocative melody encapsulate the bittersweet nature of unrequited love, making it an enduring favorite among fans.
Despite the heartache expressed in the song, Swift has mentioned in interviews that she’s grateful for the experience as it inspired one of her biggest early hits.
9. Love Yourself – Justin Bieber
This introspective track delves into the painful reality of not being able to be with someone. The powerful line, “If you like the way you look that much, oh baby, you should go and love yourself,” illustrates the acceptance of an unfruitful relationship. Infused with raw emotions and a catchy melody, it serves as a testament to self-love and moving forward, resonating deeply with listeners navigating their own relationship struggles.
Bieber has stated in interviews that “Love Yourself” is about self-respect and setting boundaries in a toxic relationship.
10. You Belong with Me – Taylor Swift
This catchy tune perfectly captures the longing and frustration of impossible love. The lyrics, “If you could see that I’m the one who understands you, been here all along, so why can’t you see?” express the singer’s yearning for recognition of her unrequited love. Infused with relatable emotions and a lively melody, this song is a heartfelt anthem for those who’ve ever loved from afar.
“You Belong with Me” received multiple award nominations, including Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance at the 52nd Grammy Awards in 2010.
11. Back to Black – Amy Winehouse
This soulful track is a dark exploration of heartbreak and loss. The poignant line, “We only said goodbye with words, I died a hundred times,” conveys the singer’s deep emotional turmoil following a painful breakup. Its intrusive lyrics, coupled with a rich, doleful melody, create an evocative portrait of love lost, cementing its place as a timeless song for the heartbroken.
“Back to Black” has been covered by multiple artists, including Beyoncé and André 3000 for the soundtrack of “The Great Gatsby.”
12. One Last Cry – Brian McKnight
This amazing song captures the rough emotions of heartbreak and the longing for closure. “My shattered dreams and broken heart are mending on the shelf. I saw you holding hands, standing close to someone else,” sings the protagonist, expressing the pain of witnessing a loved one move on. With its heartfelt lyrics and Brian McKnight’s soul-stirring vocals, the song becomes a soundtrack for those navigating the aftermath of a morbid breaking.
The track showcases McKnight’s impressive vocal range and emotive delivery, solidifying his reputation as a skilled R&B artist.
13. Un-break My Heart – Toni Braxton
This heart-wrenching track serves as a song of longing and desperation, pleading for a love that has been shattered. “Un-break my heart, say you’ll love me again” expresses the deep desire to mend a broken relationship. Toni Braxton’s sincere vocals evoke the pain and vulnerability of lost love, making this song an emotional powerhouse. Its universal appeal lies in its ability to capture the essence of heartbreak, resonating with listeners who have experienced the ache of a fractured romance.
The music video for the song features a cinematic narrative depicting a troubled relationship, further enhancing the emotional impact of the track.
14. Almost Lover – A Fine Frenzy
This melody delves into the realm of heartache and unrequited love. With touching lyrics like “Goodbye, my almost lover, goodbye, my hopeless dream,” the song encapsulates the pain of a love that couldn’t fully blossom. Its sad tone and evocative storytelling strike a chord, vibrant with listeners who have experienced the bittersweet yearning for a connection that couldn’t be.
The song achieved significant commercial success, reaching the top 10 in several countries, including Australia and New Zealand.
15. Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now) – Phil Collins
This eternal song is a testament to resilience and determination in the face of adversity. With its powerful line, “You coming back to me is against all odds,” the song captures the unwavering hope of rekindling a lost love. Phil Collins’ heavy delivery and soaring melody create an atmosphere of passion and vulnerability.
“Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)” is a song by Phil Collins released in 1984. It was written for the soundtrack of the film “Against All Odds.”
The song was originally titled “How Can You Just Sit There?” before being changed to “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now).”
16. All I Ask – Adele
This powerful track showcases Adele’s vocal prowess as she pleads for an unforgettable moment with a loved one. The piercing lyrics, “If this is my last night with you, hold me like I’m more than just a friend,” express the intense desire for a deep connection. With its soaring melody and impassioned performance, the song conveys the longing and vulnerability of wanting a love that transcends boundaries. It’s a captivating display of emotion that leaves a lasting impression.
The song was co-written by Adele and Bruno Mars, along with several other collaborators, including Philip Lawrence and Christopher Brody Brown.
17. Love in Vain – The Rolling Stones
This blues-infused track showcases The Rolling Stones’ mastery of storytelling and musicality. The song’s obsessive lyrics, “I’m so alone, I could cry,” captures the essence of solitude and desperation. The band’s gritty and raw performance transports listeners to a world of blues and yearning. The soulful harmonica and Keith Richards’ signature guitar work add layers of emotion to this classic blues number, making it a standout in The Rolling Stones’ discography.
“Love in Vain” is considered a classic blues standard, and The Rolling Stones’ version helped introduce the song to a wider audience, further cementing its status as an enduring blues classic.
18. Tears Dry On Their Own – Amy Winehouse
This captivating song delves into the aftermath of a shattered romance and the journey toward healing and self-empowerment. With lyrics like “As he leaves, the daylight fades, he takes his part, but I’ve evolved,” the track encapsulates the durability and personal growth that follow heartbreak. Amy Winehouse’s dynamic vocals radiate a newfound strength amidst the pain, while the vibrant rhythm pays homage to the classic Motown sound. It’s an exceptional composition that embodies the transformative power of moving on.
“Tears Dry On Their Own” features a prominent sample of the instrumental track “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and incorporates additional elements from the 1970 song “Just a Little More Love” by Dusty Springfield.
19. Chasing Pavements – Adele
This wonderful track encapsulates the uncertain journey of pursuing dreams and taking risks. With its forceful line, “Should I give up or should I just keep chasing pavements?” the song captures the struggle of deciding whether to persevere or let go. Adele’s heartwarming vocals convey a mix of determination and vulnerability, while the infectious melody adds an element of hope.
The song earned Adele two Grammy Awards in 2009 for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and Best New Artist.
“Chasing Pavements” marked Adele’s breakthrough into the music industry, establishing her as an artist with immense talent and emotional depth.
20. My All – Mariah Carey
This breathtaking song is an ode to a consuming desire and longing. With the evocative line, “I’d give my all to have, just one more night with you,” the song encapsulates the intensity of the longing for a lost heart. Mariah Carey’s stunning vocals and sensual melody create an atmosphere of tenderness and desire.
The music video for “My All” was filmed in Puerto Rico and showcased a sensual and romantic atmosphere, complementing the song’s themes.
21. Don’t – Ed Sheeran
A spellbinding track from a chart-topping British artist, underscored by engaging guitar strumming and hip-hop-infused beats. It captures the complexity of romantic misadventures through biting lyrics and catchy melodies. A key line, “I told her she knows, take aim and reload”, encapsulates the narrative’s raw honesty. Its fusion of acoustic elements and pop sensibility ensures an infectious listening experience.
The song was produced by Rick Rubin, a famous American record producer known for his work with artists like Red Hot Chili Peppers, Beastie Boys, and Johnny Cash.
22. With or Without You – U2
A mesmerizing song from an iconic Irish rock band’s 1987 album, built on a hypnotic guitar riff and underscored by a pulsating bassline. The song grapples with the complex duality of human connections, embodied in the lyrics, “Through the storm, we reach the shore”. Its notable sonic innovation, “Infinite Guitar”, and the commanding lead vocal create a captivating musical and lyrical tension that leaves a lasting impression.
The unique, continuous sound in the song was achieved using a device called “The Infinite Guitar”. This allowed the guitarist, The Edge, to hold a note indefinitely, creating the song’s distinctive, haunting sound.
23. Don’t Speak – No Doubt
This melodic track from an American rock band’s breakthrough 1995 album presents the intricate dance of separation in a raw and honest way. Swaying between passionate verses and a soaring chorus, the song’s lyrics capture the pain of a changing connection: “Don’t tell me ’cause it hurts”. Uniquely blending ska-punk roots with a pop sensibility, the song’s universal theme and arresting musicality ensured its enduring popularity.
The song’s music video won the award for Best Group Video at the MTV Video Music Awards in 1997.
24. I Will Always Love You – Whitney Houston
A stunning song from a celebrated 1992 film soundtrack, performed by a vocal powerhouse known for her extraordinary range and clarity. The song explores the depths of affection through both tranquility and powerful crescendos. The lyrics, “Bittersweet memories that is all I’m taking with me,” encapsulate the underlying sentiment of shared history and cherished remembrance. Its magnificent vocal performance, combined with a simple yet effective arrangement, solidified its place in popular music history.
Originally, “I Will Always Love You” was written and recorded by country music legend Dolly Parton in 1973.
Whitney Houston’s rendition was recorded for the soundtrack of “The Bodyguard”, a 1992 film in which Houston made her acting debut.
25. Jar of Hearts – Christina Perri
This unforgettable track from a rising American singer-songwriter’s debut album stands out with its soulful piano arrangement and stirring vocals. The song portrays the struggle of moving on from a painful past, depicted powerfully in the line, “Who do you think you are, running ’round leaving scars”. Known for its gripping storytelling and impressive vocal execution, it exemplifies strength and self-empowerment in the face of emotional distress.
“Jar of Hearts” first gained fame when it was used in a performance on the popular reality TV show “So You Think You Can Dance” in 2010. Following the performance, the song climbed the iTunes charts, despite Christina Perri being virtually unknown at the time.
26. Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd
An evocative song from a seminal 1975 album by a renowned British rock band, marked by its delicate acoustic guitar introduction and iconic lyrics. The song delves into feelings of isolation, longing, and the difficulty of genuine connection, encapsulated by the line, “We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fishbowl, year after year”. Its meditative ambiance and poignant storytelling maintain its relevance and appeal across generations.
The song was written by Roger Waters and David Gilmour, and it was a direct tribute to Syd Barrett, one of the founding members of Pink Floyd, who had left the band due to mental health issues.
27. I Will Remember You – Sarah McLachlan
This memorable track from a renowned Canadian artist’s 1995 live album, this song captivates with its lilting melody and the singer’s evocative voice. The lyrics elegantly capture the essence of cherishing memories: “Weep not for the memories.” The song’s compelling combination of gentle acoustic guitar, atmospheric instrumentation, and reflective lyricism has secured its status as a classic in the realm of pop music.
“I Will Remember You” was first released on the soundtrack for the movie “The Brothers McMullen” in 1995 before it was included in Sarah McLachlan’s live album, “Mirrorball,” in 1999.
28. Since U Been Gone – Kelly Clarkson
An energetic pop-rock song from an acclaimed American singer’s second studio album, released in 2004. It’s renowned for its infectious melody, roaring guitars, and the artist’s vocal prowess. The song masterfully depicts the newfound freedom and empowerment post-breakup, encapsulated in the lyrics, “I can breathe for the first time”. Its raw energy and uncompromising spirit make it a quintessential empowerment anthem for many.
Clarkson won a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for “Since U Been Gone” in 2006. The song’s success also contributed to “Breakaway” winning a Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Album.
29. Dancing On My Own – Robyn
This upbeat electro-pop track from a Swedish artist’s 2010 album adeptly mixes danceable beats with a narrative of solitary resilience. Its catchy synth lines underscore lyrics about finding empowerment in loneliness: “I’m just gonna dance all night.” A signature piece for its creator, the song blends energetic production with emotionally charged lyricism, offering a potent exploration of independence amidst heartbreak.
The track also found fame in TV shows, featuring in key moments of series such as “Girls” and “Glee,” which helped cement its place in pop culture.
30. Everybody Hurts – R.E.M.
A powerful song from a popular 1992 album by an iconic American alternative rock band. Its calming melody and empathetic lyrics deliver a message of universal comfort in times of hardship. The line, “When you’re sure you’ve had enough of this life, well hang on,” encapsulates the song’s message of perseverance. With its profound simplicity and compassionate message, this song has touched listeners around the world.
“Everybody Hurts” has been notably used in various charities’ campaigns due to its hopeful and supportive message. In 2010, it was covered by numerous artists as a charity single to help raise funds for the Haiti earthquake disaster.