Having a lousy boyfriend can wreak havoc on your time, energy, and even self-love. Unfortunately, it’s common enough that many artists have written songs about it. But fortunately, these songs help many listeners by providing a piece they can relate to, cry to, and, hopefully, learn from.
Here are our favorite songs about bad boyfriends.
“Cardigan” – Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift has written a long list of hit songs about being treated bad in a relationship, including but not limited to “I Knew You Were Trouble,” “White Horse,” “Picture to Burn,” and “Should’ve Said No.”
But what makes “Cardigan” stand out is the more mature lyrical composition, creatively painting the images of different clothing items to depict the appeal and the fallout of a relationship, then comparing herself to a cardigan that was neglected, worn, then neglected again.
The relationship started exciting and fun, but eventually, he played her, gave her little attention, and cheated by having two girls instead of one.
“Take a Bow” – Rihanna
Rihanna is another top-selling singer who isn’t a stranger to songs about being treated badly, with tracks like “Russian Roulette” and “Unfaithful.”
The song “Take a Bow” conveys a relationship in which the boyfriend was cheating. He was lying for an extended period and is not trying to get her back by saying he’s sorry. This is why she says that he’s putting on a great performance.
This song is an excellent anthem for anyone who has been cheated on because she stands up for herself and refuses to get back with him.
“Irreplaceable” – Beyoncé
Beyoncé is one of our generation’s greatest singers, artists, and performers. She’s made many songs about deserving better in a relationship, including a whole album called “Lemonade” about Jay-Z’s mistakes in their marriage.
However, “Irreplaceable” is a classic for many reasons. She sings about a bad boyfriend who is trying to prove that he is irreplaceable. However, she knows she is a queen and can get a better, less toxic relationship.
Like Rihanna’s “Take A Bow,” Beyoncé depicts a cheating relationship that she refuses to go back to.
“Rolling in the Deep” – Adele
Adele is a powerful ballad singer with a laundry list of awards and accolades for her songs, many of which speak to the complex nature of love and relationships.
She has plenty of songs about bad boyfriends and complicated relationships, including her whole most recent album, 30, about divorce.
Like Beyoncé’s Lemonade, 30 was about a husband. But as far as bad boyfriends go, “Rolling in the Deep” stands out. Adele sings loud and clear about a boyfriend who played her, even though they could have had a fantastic relationship.
“I Miss the Misery” -Halestrom
Halestrom’s “I Miss the Misery” is one of the best rock songs about toxic relationships and a true anthem.
The song is about someone who felt the pain of the abusive relationship, yet still misses being involved in it. The lyrics say, “I love the way that it hurts. I don’t miss you, I miss the misery.”
Needless to say, this powerful anthem has helped many people relate to the push and pull of an unhealthy relationship. However, the message is not one of recovering from a toxic relationship.
“Gunpowder & Lead” Miranda Lambert
When it comes to songs about toxic relationships, country artist Miranda Lambert is the queen. She made her debut to country music in 2001, and gained fame from a TV singing competition.
Lambert is well known for her songs about seeking revenge on past boyfriends. Among the most popular are “White Liar,” “Little Red Wagon,” and of course “Gun Powder & Lead.”
“Gun Powder & Lead” is about a women who is waiting with her shotgun for an abusive man in her life to return home from jail. The lyrics and tone of the song portray grit, freedom, and willpower.
“Hot N Cold” – Katy Perry
Katy Perry’s 2008 hit “Hot N Cold” depicts a frustrating relationship in which she is all in, but the guy is hot and cold, i.e., says he’s all in one day and then becomes non-committal the next.
This type of boyfriend is not ideal because people want to be with someone who wants them back fully, not just sometimes.
Perry speaks to this in the song by singing about this type of guy being no good for her. She also sings about a cycle of fighting, breaking up, and getting back together, making this one of the most relatable and popular songs about toxic relationships.
Often, a partner might purposefully act hot and cold as a form of manipulation, so some might argue that this is one of the most popular songs about abusive relationships as well.
“Say My Name” – Destiny’s Child
Destiny’s Child depicted a frustrating, suspicious boyfriend very accurately in their hit song, “Say My Name.”
The lyrics sing about how the protagonist of the story is always the one trying to contact him and wondering where he is. It seems like he’s being shady and playing with her heart, which is a stressful experience.
She can tell whether or not he is cheating if he can say her name when he’s on the phone with her. If he had another girl there, he wouldn’t be able to say her name, which would prove that something was up.
Having to do that in a relationship probably means there are problems in the relationship. The protagonist seems to be already convinced that this is a shady, lying boyfriend.
“Traitor” – Olivia Rodrigo
Olivia Rodrigo has been in the music game much less than most of the artists on this list, but her debut single “Drivers License” took the world by storm and made her an instant star in the pop, indie pop, and pop-rock world.
While the son “Driver’s License” is mostly about her missing an ex, her song “Traitor” is a song about a bad boyfriend who didn’t treat her well and moved on way too quickly — two weeks to be exact.
Since he moved on so fast, she believes he was interested in this other girl the entire time.
Rodrigo says in the song that even if a boyfriend doesn’t technically “cheat,” they can still be a traitor.
“She Gets the Flowers” – Beth McCarthy
Beth McCarthy is an up-and-coming artist with passionate lyrics and an even more passionate voice.
Her song, “She Gets the Flowers,” is about how after her ex-boyfriend moved on to a new girlfriend, he treats the new girlfriend so much better than he ever treated her.
The new girlfriend gets flowers, social media posts, and attention that she deserved but never received. He was a bad boyfriend to her, and it hurts her to see him being a good boyfriend to someone else.
“Boyfriends” – Harry Styles
Harry Styles sympathises with the women around him in this stripped-back guitar track. “Boyfriends, they think you’re so easy, they take you for granted,” he sings. Recognising that women in relationships are often treated unfairly by their partners, he lists many of the things that men don’t always recognise make their girlfriends lives harder.
Bad boyfriends aren’t something these women should have deal with, but they can’t help loving their partners anyway. ‘Boyfriends’ was originally written as Styles was finishing up his previous album, Fine Line.
Feeling like this was a song he needed to take his time on, he didn’t want to rush it out onto that album but instead save it for his next project. ‘Boyfriends’ ended up being the hardest song on Harry’s House to finish, with Styles recording many versions of it before he created something he liked.
“Norman f*cking Rockwell” – Lana Del Ray
“Goddamn, man-child,” is the opening lyric of Del Ray’s ‘Norman f*cking Rockwell’. Despite how impossible and difficult her lover is, she can’t help loving him anyway. “You’re just a man, it’s just what you do,” she laments. It’s clear that Del Ray feels bad boyfriends are just something you have to put up with for love.
Del Ray names the track after painter and illustrator Norman Rockwell, a creative who struggled with depression, just like the boyfriend she depicts in the song. She wanted to write about a man who knew he was a creative genius but also had a hugely overinflated ego.
“Motion Sickness” – Phoebe Bridgers
Moving on from a bad boyfriend can be difficult and Bridgers is struggling to find her way. Describing the emotional turmoil she’s in as “motion sickness”, Bridgers paints a picture of an older, slightly controlling man who leaves her reeling after he leaves. Ultimately, though, she’s glad that she made it out.
“Paper Bag” – Fiona Apple
Fiona Apple knows that the boy she’s with isn’t right for her. He doesn’t understand her and he doesn’t really care to try. But with not much going right in her life, she’s clinging to her bad boyfriend in hope that he can provide her with “a little hope”. “I thought he was a man, but he was just a little boy,” she ultimately realises, reluctantly letting him go.
“Ugly Heart” – G.R.L
Girl group G.R.L describe a man who looks fantastic on the outside but on the inside, he really isn’t that pretty at all. He may look like a dream, but his ugly heart makes him a pretty bad boyfriend. As they pack up their bags and leave, they wonder if this self-centred man can even comprehend that someone is daring to leave him behind.
The message behind this track, according to the group, is to have high standards when it comes to men. The girls wanted to pen something that would urge young women to prioritise dating boyfriends who would respect and value them above anything else.
“Ain’t Shit” – Doja Cat
“This happened one, two, three times too much,” cries Doja Cat at the start of ‘Ain’t Shit’. She goes on to describe all the bad boyfriends she’s had in her life – boys who move into her house, eat her food and don’t pay rent. She goes on to directly confront one of them, reminding him that she isn’t his mother and he should “find a new hobby”. The track went viral on TikTok, with users lip-syncing to this section in particular in order to vent their frustrations about the useless men in their own lives.
“7 Things” – Miley Cyrus
Cyrus sings about all the things that made her ex-partner a bad boyfriend – he’s vain, he’s insecure and he acts different around his friends to name a few. The worst thing he does? He makes her love him. The final chorus of the song sees Cyrus switching up to list the seven things she likes, and there’s a lot of overlap.
‘7 Things’ was generally assumed to be about Nick Jonas after the song’s music video showed Cyrus wearing a necklace that Jonas had given her. When Cyrus was asked if she was worried about offending the ex in question, she told Ryan Seacrest, “That was my point.”
“Same Old Love” – Selena Gomez
Gomez is tired of the same old bad behaviours being repeated over and over again by her boyfriend. She’s tired of the habits they keep falling back into and she’s ready to just call it a day. This angsty track was co-written by fellow pop star Charli XCX, who handed it over to Gomez as she felt Gomez’s high-profile relationship with Justin Bieber would help her to authentically connect to the material.
“Potential Breakup Song” – Aly & AJ
Sister duo Aly & AJ sing about a boyfriend so bad that he couldn’t even remember their birthdays. Telling the boy in question that their album needs at least one breakup song, they beg him not to be the inspiration. “This is the potential breakup song,” they sing, before asking him to give them a reason to stay. Very quickly, however, they decide that it’ll be better for everyone involved if he just sends them their stuff back.
“Complicated” – Avril Lavigne
Avril loves her boyfriend, so she doesn’t know why he has to keep throwing a spanner in the works. She likes the way he treats her when they’re alone, but when he’s around his friends he turns into someone completely different. “Why do you have go and make things so complicated?” she asks him. He’s not a bad boyfriend most of the time – she just wants him to promise he’ll stop being someone he’s not in public.
“Boyfriend” – Dove Cameron
Cameron doesn’t have a bad boyfriend – she’s encouraging another girl to get rid of hers. Convinced that the girl she likes is with someone who doesn’t appreciate her, she pulls her aside for a track. “I could be a better boyfriend than him,” she sings. Plus, she tells her, they could share clothes. What’s not to love?
Having a bad relationship can be painful and heartbreaking, but music can bring some relief. If you’re evaluating how your relationship stacks up, here are questions to ask your boyfriend — they might reveal red flags or help clarify your communication.
And, if you’re in an abusive relationship, please get out. You deserve so much better.
Caitlin Devlin is a music, entertainment and lifestyle writer based in London. When she’s not creating playlists for Repeat Replay, she’s reviewing gigs and interviewing artists for Ticketmaster UK and thinking about what her Spotify Wrapped will look like this year.