Taylor Swift Takes Us Through Heartbreak with Apple Music’s “Stages of Grief” Playlists

Taylor Swift Takes Us Through Heartbreak with Apple Music’s “Stages of Grief” Playlists

Taylor Swift, our resident queen of capturing emotions through song, recently released a series of playlists on Apple Music that are each curated to represent one of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

This isn’t just a random collection of heartbreak anthems. Swift cleverly uses these playlists to weave a narrative, guiding listeners through the emotional rollercoaster of a breakup and giving more insight to her own grief process from her last breakup. 

Denial: “I Love You, It’s Ruining My Life”

  • Lavender Haze
  • Snow On The Beach 
  • Sweet Nothing
  • Glitch
  • betty
  • willow
  • Cruel Summer
  • Lover
  • Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince
  • False God
  • Style 
  • Wildest Dreams
  • Treacherous
  • Untouchable
  • That’s When 
  • Ours
  • Superman
  • Bejeweled

The first playlist, titled with a cryptic reference to her upcoming album “The Tortured Poets Department,” tackles denial. Taylor, herself, says in an intro to this playlist, “this is a list of songs about getting so caught up in the idea of something that you have a hard time seeing red flags.” Similarly, the denial stage of grief can act as a defense mechanism we employ to mask ourselves from the reality of getting hurt.

The “lavender haze” Swift likens this stage to can first appear harmless. In her song Treacherous, Taylor even notes that despite the path being “reckless” and “treacherous,” she still “likes it” and choses to stay on the path. This speaks to the excitement a toxic or unhealthy relationship can have. Low lows can bring back around high highs, but just like the laws of physics there is always an inevitable next drop. She again comments on this dynamic in her song Style by saying “when we go crashing down, we come back every time.” 

Denial is often characterized by justifying things we know deep down don’t serve us. The first cracks of working through this stage start to show through lyrics like “I don’t want to keep secrets just to keep you” in Cruel Summer. Here Taylor is beginning to realize that she’s giving more of herself than she’s receiving back. She points this out again in Untouchable saying she “won’t wait here all day,” even though she’s currently putting herself through the pain of waiting. This narrative turns to a plead in Bejeweled when Swift says “don’t put me in the basement when I want the penthouse of your heart,” again noting that she is being under valued and unappreciated in the relationship.

Wildest Dreams holds a peak turning point in the denial narrative when Taylor says “someday when you leave me, I hope these memories follow you around,” because she’s finally starting to admit that there is an unhappy ending to this story. However, Swift notedly says when you leave me, as in she’s still not ready to be the one to walk away first.

Anger: “You Don’t Get to Tell Me About Sad Songs”

  • Vigilante Shit
  • High Infidelity
  • Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve
  • exile
  • illicit affairs
  • mad woman
  • tolerate it
  • Bad Blood
  • Is It Over Now?
  • I Knew You Were Trouble
  • We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together
  • The Last Time
  • The Moment I Knew
  • Babe
  • I Bet You Think About Me
  • Dear John
  • Better Than Revenge
  • Tell Me Why
  • You’re Not Sorry
  • Forever & Always
  • Mr. Perfectly Fine

As we move through the stages, the playlists shift gears. While some angry anthems dominate the “anger” section, Taylor, being the master lyricist that she is, creates more of a notion of subtle rage through the songs on this list. In the playlist prologue Swift specifies that while she “wrote these songs while feeling anger,” she’s also “learned that anger can manifest itself in a lot of different ways.” The healthiest manifestation of anger, Swift notes, is writing about it; that in writing a song about her anger, it can help her push past the anger stage.

In therapy we like to say anger is a secondary emotion. That means that anger is always rooted in a bigger emotion, but for whatever reason we feel like we can’t or maybe don’t know how to express that bigger emotion so what comes out instead is anger. Because anger can be rooted in so many different emotions, it can look different depending on the day. 

Anger that is rooted in hurt and feelings of betrayal can look accusatory like when Taylor wonders “which one will be your last lie” in Vigilante Shit. Swift’s lyrics in mad woman embody the dichotomy of being a woman and expressing anger when she says “you’ll poke that bear ’til her claws come out, and you find something to wrap your noose around,” highlighting that there is a gender bias of women expressing anger and being called crazy. In the same song she highlights this vicious cycle with the words “when you say I seem angry, I get more angry,” emphasizing that anger is a normal human emotion that everyone, including women, have the right to feel and express.

Regret is a common emotion that can go hand in hand with anger. In High Infidelity Taylor sings “put on your records and regret me,” recognizing that regret is something both parties can feel in a breakup. Would’ve Could’ve Should’ve further captures the regret spiral when Swift says “I can’t let this go, I fight with you in my sleep, the wound won’t close, I keep on waiting for a sign, I regret you all the time.” Emotional wounds can leave scars just as deep as physical wounds. While scars often serve as a reminder, unhealed scars can exaggerate feelings of regret related to how we were wounded in the first place.

The blame cycle can also arise when anger is rooted in unexplained and unfinished business. In Bad Blood, Taylor remarks how “bandaids don’t fix bullet holes” likening the phrase to someone “saying sorry just for show.” The lyrics “we’re a wreck, you’re the wrecking ball” in her song Babe again reference the blame cycle and related anger of wanting the other person to take accountability for their actions.

Similarly, anger that is rooted in confusion and despair can look similar to the beginning of bargaining stage in which we are overflowing with unanswered questions. In Forever & Always Swift begs, “Baby what happened? Please tell me, Cause one second it was perfect, Now you’re halfway out the door,” wrestling with trying to find a point where everything went wrong. The unfolding question of “why do you have to make me feel small, so you can feel whole inside” in Swift’s song Tell Me Why captures the heartache that can be associated with this kind of anger. The line “you showed me colors you know I can’t see with anyone else” in illicit affairs highlights the painful reality that sometimes moving on also means leaving things behind we desperately wish we could bring with us.

Bargaining: “Am I Allowed to Cry?”

  • The Great War
  • this is me trying
  • peace
  • The Archer 
  • Cornelia Street
  • Death By A Thousand Cuts
  • Soon You’ll Get Better
  • Afterglow
  • I Wish You Would
  • Say Don’t Go
  • Come Back… Be Here
  • Better Man
  • The Story Of Us
  • Haunted
  • Come In With The Rain
  • The Other Side Of The Door
  • If This Was A Movie
  • Renegade

The “bargaining” playlist features songs laced with pleas and promises. Taylor describes the “bargaining stage” as “when you’re trying to make deals with yourself or someone that you care about.” She goes on to describe these emotions as “feeling really desperate” to “make things better.” 

The bargaining phase of grief oftentimes looks like fleeting negotiations or compromises as a last ditch effort to hold on to the thing you’re losing. This can appear dubiously promising. Swift describes this initial effort in her song, The Great War, when she says “we can plant a memory garden, say a solemn prayer, place a poppy in my hair,” attempting to bring light to the beautiful times in the relationship. Better Man comments on the way that it can be easy to cling to the good times with the line “I just wish I could forget when it was magic.” Even in The Story of Us, Taylor admits “I would lay my armor down, If you’d say you’d rather love than fight.” 

Bargaining, however, can also turn into a bargain within oneself. In Death By A Thousand Cuts Swift ponders, “if the story’s over, why am I still writing pages?” This internal thought spiral is also captured in The Archer with the line “I’ve got a hundred thrown-out speeches I almost said to you.” The line “I was playing back a thousand memories, baby” in If This Were A Movie doubles down on the internal part of this stage. Taylor even begins to question herself in The Story of Us when she asks “Is it killing you like it’s killing me?” 

This internal blame can evolve into external questioning of what one’s partner is bringing to the table in the negotiation. The song peace puts it simply, “I’d swing with you for the fences, Sit with you in the trenches, Give you my wild, Give you a child…Is it enough?” Renegade drops the bomb “Is it really your anxiety, That stops you from giving me everything?, Or do you just not want to?” Here Taylor is beginning to question if the fight and pain is worth it for a partner who is seemingly uninvested. The heartbreaking crescendo of the bridge in Death By A Thousand Cuts emphasizes the disparity of contribution in the partnership when Swift sings, “My time, my wine, my spirit, my trust, Trying to find a part of me you didn’t take up. Gave you too much but it wasn’t enough, But I’ll be all right, it’s just a thousand cuts.”

Finally we are led into the emotions this stage can bring out. In The Archer, Swift describes her own experience of “I wake in the night, I pace like a ghost, The room is on fire, invisible smoke.” The exhausting cycles of sleepless nights, burning internally and having nothing to physically show for it. Taylor also brings to light how “it’s hard to be at a party when I feel like an open wound” in this is me trying. How it’s hard to mask these feelings when the cycles of grief are circling you around the drain. 

Depression: “Old Habits Die Screaming”

  • Bigger Than The Whole Sky
  • Dear Reader
  • Maroon
  • You’re Losing Me
  • my tears ricochet
  • epiphany
  • hoax
  • champagne problems
  • coney island
  • right where you left me
  • Nothing New
  • All Too Well
  • Forever Winter
  • We Were Happy
  • Last Kiss
  • Castles Crumbling
  • Carolina
  • White Horse

For the introspective “depression” stage, we can expect a heavy dose of Swift’s most melancholic and at times soul crushing tracks. Here Taylor likens the depression stage as one where she has felt “lonely or hopeless” but how songwriting was a “way to process that intensity of an emotion.” The depression stage of grief is the point at which we truly begin to feel the depth of the loss we’re experiencing. 

Swift’s playlist takes us through the different valleys of emotion that depression can bring us. Bigger Than The Whole Sky’s “no words appear before me in the aftermath” speaks to the numb or hollow feeling within the scale of depression. In You’re Losing Me, Taylor admits how her “heart won’t start anymore,” lacking the ability to feel anything. The line “some things you just can’t speak about” in her song, epiphany, addresses the part of this stage that is incapable of feeling. 

This numb feeling can originate from the obligation of trying to act like you’re fine when you feel anything but fine, such as in All Too Well with the words “I might be okay but I’m not fine at all.” In her song, Nothing New, Swift comments on how her “cheeks are growing tired, From turning red and faking smiles,” from having to wear the mask that everything is okay. Even in You’re Losing Me Taylor saying “I know my pain is such an imposition” implies the notion that she feels like she has to hide her pain in order to prevent burdening others. This is the rabbit hole that depression stage can isolate us in; the lie it sells us that we are in our pain alone. 

Additionally, Swift gives us glimpses into the most honest and vulnerable depths that sadness can bring us. The song hoax begs “Stood on the cliffside screaming, “’Give me a reason.’” All Too Well straight up sings how the aftermath of everything “made me want to die.” You’re Losing Me even mentions how she’s wondering if this has “dealt the final blow.” Each of these instances speak to just how painful this stage can feel at times, and it is all to Taylor’s credit for sharing in this vulnerability. 

Acceptance: “I Can Do It With a Broken Heart”

  • You’re On Your Own, Kid
  • Midnight Rain
  • Labyrinth
  • the 1
  • august
  • invisible string
  • happiness
  • long story short
  • closure
  • evermore
  • it’s time to go
  • I Forgot That You Existed
  • Daylight
  • This Love
  • Clean
  • Now That We Don’t Talk
  • Begin Again
  • Innocent
  • Breathe

The final playlist showcases songs about acceptance and moving on. Taylor describes acceptance as the point where you “can start moving forward from loss or heartbreak” and make “room for more good in your life.” Acceptance is the stage of grief that everyone would prefer to happen a lot quicker than it usually does. This is because we have to allow ourselves to not only feel every part of the other four stages, but often we revisit stages multiple times.  

Taylor addresses this fact in the song Labyrinth when she sings, “You know how much I hate that everybody just expects me to bounce back, Just like that.” Grief not only is complicated, but it takes time. Daylight captures Swift’s journey of how her idea of what love is has evolved from “black and white” and “burning red” to “golden.” Although growth can be painful, it can give us perspective. Sometimes it’s only in pain and change that we can begin to see things differently.

And because she would never leave us without bestowing a bit of knowledge to her fans, Taylor speaks to some of the things she’s learned through her grief process. In the song, Labyrinth, Taylor even sings about seemingly using a breathing exercise as a coping skill with the lyrics “breathe in, breathe through, breathe deep, breathe out.” Later in evermore, Swift sings about one of my favorite coping skills as a therapist (Letters Meant To Be Unsent) with the words, “Writing letters, Addressed to the fire.”

Finally, Miss Swift validates the part of us that might never truly heal completely, despite having grieved. Her song, Clean, notes that “just because you’re clean, don’t mean you don’t miss it.” Just because there’s less of a tug from lingering feelings doesn’t mean those feelings will ever be completely gone. Labyrinth admits “I’ll be getting over you my whole life,” acknowledging that healing is a long and sometimes lifelong process. In it’s time to go,” Taylor again describes “That old familiar body ache, The snaps from the same little breaks in your soul, You know when it’s time to go.”

Taylor ends her message in this final playlist by saying “a lot of times when we lose things we gain things too.” So that begs the question, what can we gain from grief? The song, the 1, takes the stance that “if you never bleed, you’re never gonna grow” but that “it’s alright now.” You’re On Your Own Kid lets us know that “everything you lose is a step you take.” In it’s time to go, Taylor admits “Sometimes, giving up is the strong thing, Sometimes, to run is the brave thing, Sometimes, walking out is the one thing, That will find you the right thing.” Sometimes pain and saying no and standing up for ourselves is the only way we learn and grow and find what is truly meant for us. While at times it can be cheesy, invisible string’s notion of “Time, mystical time, Cuttin’ me open, then healin’ me fine” rings true. Time and space from what hurt us will eventually heal us. The journey of grief brings lessons that can be hard to learn, but like in the song, Innocent, “Today is never too late to be brand new.”

These playlists are more than just a fun listen. They offer a powerful reminder that heartbreak and grief are a process. By acknowledging each stage, Swift both helps to validate fan’s feelings and hold space for them to navigate their own emotional journeys. A lot of the time, we are more scared of experiencing our emotions alone than we are of experiencing the emotion. Taylor’s unique ability to capture her experience with complicated emotions creates room for those listening to feel less alone.

Disclaimer: Obviously listen to (Taylor’s Version) and if you’re also a Swiftie and would like to book a session with me, please feel free to reach out at [email protected]

Music therapy