Using music to find inner peace after a breakup

Kyle Bray - Graphic by Ally Rzesa / Beacon Staff

It’s late May, and I’m sitting in the driver’s seat of my mom’s car parked in front of my now-ex-girlfriend’s apartment. I’m sobbing uncontrollably into my hands as they rest on the steering wheel. The breakup was not entirely out of the blue, but it still hit me hard. My summer hadn’t gotten off to a great start and this felt like the cherry on top of it all. 

Eventually, I collected myself and managed to drive back home. I crawled into my bed, shut the shades, turned off the lights, and put on some music. Music had always been therapeutic for me when going through rough patches in my life. Every time I found myself at a low point, I found a new album that became the soundtrack to that time. 

After splitting with my ex, IGOR by Tyler the Creator served this purpose for me. IGOR is Tyler’s fifth studio album and his first-ever No. 1 album on the Billboard charts. It’s a grandiose album with intense synth-based production. This beautiful album came into my life at the right time—it also happens to be a breakup album. 

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As I interpret from the lyrics, the album’s narrative follows Tyler as he battles for the attention of his love interest throughout their fling. He portrays himself as Igor, who comes from the story of Frankenstein and serves as the doctor’s assistant, but is often overlooked and relegated to the side. This is how Tyler feels as he pursues his love interest, one that won’t leave his current significant other for Tyler. As the album continues, Tyler grapples with the fact that he won’t be with this person and experiences the resulting emotions that come from a tumultuous time like this.

Tyler released IGOR on May 17, just three days before my own breakup. I even remember remarking to a friend after its release that I couldn’t relate to it because I was in a happy relationship—I think it’s safe to say I jinxed myself. Only a couple hours after the breakup happened, that same friend took me out driving to cheer me up, and the first thing he played was IGOR because he thought it would help. 

While the album comprises a lot of great tracks, a few stood out to me and hit a little harder given my situation. The second track on the album, “EARFQUAKE,” already topped my list of favorites prior to the breakup due to its great production and a fun guest verse from one of my favorite rappers, Playboi Carti. 

The hook of this track stuck with me the most. While the lyrics of the verses tell of someone infatuated with another person, the hook is a simple yet emphatic, “Don’t leave, it’s my fault.” I found myself listening to this particular track on repeat and belting out this section the most. Given the state of confusion I was experiencing due to the somewhat-sudden nature of my breakup, these words felt like a cathartic release of emotion. Every time I sang along, it felt like a part of myself being lifted and my emotions flowing out. 

The final two songs of IGOR, “I DON’T LOVE YOU ANYMORE” and “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?” also really resonated with me. These two tracks come when Tyler nears the final stages of the emotional ride through his breakup. 

It’s not uncommon for someone to feel angry after a breakup, even when it happens in a friendly and respectful manner. In the immediate aftermath, I found myself in a similar place as Tyler on “I DON’T LOVE YOU ANYMORE”—angry, irrational, and lashing out. However, once that stage passes and people look back on what happened with a fresh perspective, they often find themselves in the mindset of “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?,” where Tyler extends a sort of olive branch to his lover. 

The lyrics that stood out to me, in particular, were, “I don’t want to end the season on a bad episode” from “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?”; even though the relationship is over, it feels healthier to end it with mutual respect like on “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?” than with petty anger like on “I DON’T LOVE YOU ANYMORE.” In these two songs, Tyler and I go through the necessary anger and acceptance stages of grieving a breakup—although the final track ends with the line, “Can’t say goodbye, goodbye.”

An article published in the Los Angeles Times explores themes discussed in “This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession,” a book by neuroscientist and former record producer Daniel Levitin. In the book, Levitin details that we form memories by activating circuits in our brains, and when we dwell on memories, our mind is put back in the same moment from which the memory formed. 

Levitin writes that in music, “there’s melody, and rhythm, there’s the sound of the instruments … it’s a very rich multi-parametric stimulus … any one of those elements could trigger a memory, and the total of the elements creates a powerful trigger.” Music has the ability to transport our minds back to moments, whether positive or negative, and that’s why music can be such a great healing tool—it allows you to remember the great times but also helps you power through the tough ones.

Going into this summer, I never expected to find myself going through such a personal growth process, and yet here I am. I’m certainly not a brand new person now, but I definitely think I’ve bettered myself, and to be completely honest—and somewhat cheesy—I owe a lot of it to Tyler the Creator. His music helped me confront the deep feelings I had during my break up and, for the most part, move on. 

Music has always been important to me, so it’s no surprise that it would also help me confront the issues within myself. Music taught me that it’s ok to be sad and angry sometimes, but it’s also important to be mature and rational. 

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