It is a part of the human condition to feel inadequate from time to time. As a result, many artists have written songs about not being good enough for one thing or another. Interested individuals should look up these songs because listening to them can be surprisingly therapeutic when they feel down.
10. “The Great Pretender” – The Platters
People often consider the 1950s an idyllic time. In practice, they had the same complexities as any other decade. For instance, “The Greater Pretender” tells the story of someone maintaining a joyful mask while struggling to cope with the end of their relationship with their significant other.
9. “Jolene” – Dolly Parton
“Jolene” is one of Dolly Parton’s most famous songs. Supposedly, she took inspiration from a red-headed clerk who flirted with her husband towards the start of their marriage. The song is a plea for the titular character to spare the viewpoint character’s relationship, though it is unclear whether the titular character is even interested in the latter’s husband in that way. As such, “Jolene” has inspired several answer songs, which sometimes have very unexpected but very interesting takes.
8. “Why Do You Love Me” – Garbage
The emotional turmoil in “Why Do You Love Me” earned it a spot on this list. At one moment, the singer wonders why her significant other loves her even though she is far from perfect. The next moment, she suspects their significant other is cheating on her with one of her friends. There are even lines in which the singer stresses her intent to continue, which can be interpreted as either determination or resignation. Put together, “Why Do You Love Me” feels authentic for someone sinking in their self-loathing.
7. “Why Don’t You Love Me” – Beyonce
Under certain circumstances, a straightforward song is the best. The singer in “Why Don’t You Love Me” asks the titular question while listing every single one of her many virtues. It is particularly nice because it doesn’t end with her languishing because of her unreciprocated love. Instead, she is going to be fine even though she is hurting at that moment.
6. “Sitting, Waiting, Wishing” – Jack Johnson
It is hard for people to maintain a sensible perspective when they feel miserable. After all, emotions just don’t work that way. Reportedly, Jack Johnson wrote “Sitting, Waiting, Wishing” because of a friend who went to great lengths to pursue a relationship that was never going to happen. It isn’t known whether he managed to snap his friend out of it or not. Still, it was nice of him to try.
5. “Perfect” – Alanis Morissette
Alanis Morissette’s “Perfect” skewers two kinds of bad parenting that often come hand-in-hand. One, it targets parents whose love is conditional on their child being perfect. Unsurprisingly, that makes for a very toxic relationship because no one is perfect. Two, it targets parents who live vicariously through their children. As such, they don’t see their children as people so much as mere extensions of themselves. “Perfect” is very good at exhibiting a complicated mix of fear, guilt, and fury.
4. “Creep” – Radiohead
The lyrics of “Creep” are pretty much exactly what one would expect, which is to say, the thoughts of someone experiencing a very self-destructive sort of sexual attraction. It put the band Radiohead on the international stage. However, the sheer popularity of the song is known to have annoyed the band, who felt that it put too many constraints on what their music could be. Despite this, “Creep” remains one of the best debut singles ever released by an alt-rock band.
3. “Perfect” – Simple Plan
“Perfect” feels like a song aimed at teenagers and young adults, which makes sense because Simple Plan is a band aimed at those demographics. Its lyrics make it clear that the relationship between parent and child was strong in the past. Indeed, it is precisely the strength of that bond that makes its rupture so painful in the “present” painted by the song. Perhaps the rupture is permanent. That kind of thing can happen. However, the song itself points out that nothing lasts forever. As a result, parent and child may reconcile in the future, perhaps when the intensity of their emotions fades or perhaps when their perspectives change.
2. “Hurt” – Nine Inch Nails
Amusingly, “Hurt” is more associated with Johnny Cash than with Nine Inch Nails. It is understandable because Cash gave one of the best performances of his career for the cover. Something particularly poignant because it came out so close to his passing. With that said, that timing is why the Nine Inch Nails version rather than the Johnny Cash version made it onto this list. The former feels as though the singer is drowning in his misery. In contrast, the latter feels as though the singer is moving beyond it because his time is coming to a close.
1. “Black” – Pearl Jam
Romantic love matters a great deal to most people. As a result, it is natural for people to make songs about broken relationships. The sheer number of them means that the ones showing up on this list are something special. Pearl Jam’s “Black” has a strong claim to being the best of the best. It makes no pretense of being something it is not. Instead, it weaves sound and meaning together wonderfully to create a lament for a lost love. They aren’t dead, but they are beyond the viewpoint character’s reach anyway because their time together is over, never to return. That provides the song with much of its emotional weight.