R&B is possibly the best musical genre to listen to when you’re feeling down. These singers know how to connect with the heart and soul of sadness, and they’re especially skilled at singing to a broken heart. If you’re in the mood for sadness, turn to your favorite R&B artists.
We’ve put together a list of the top 21 saddest R&B songs of all time to comfort you through the low times. Whether they’re songs from today or tunes your grandparents used to cry to, this is the genre you need right now.
1. Un-break My Heart – Toni Braxton
Released in 1996, this excellent ballad has stood the test of time. It gets played again and again by the brokenhearted. Toni Braxton’s sultry voice carries the message with your tears. Years later, this song lent its title to the biopic of the same name about Braxton’s life. The film came out in 2016, heralding another wave of enthusiasm for the song.
2. It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday – Boyz II Men
Boyz II Men released this a cappella cover in 1991 and blew everyone away. The original came out in 1975, written for the film Cooley High. With lyrics that can be interpreted in a variety of ways, this song became the theme for many different sad occasions. From graduations where friends have to part to funerals, it gets near constant play for its heartbreaking melodies and lyrics.
3. Killing Me Softly With His Song – Fugees
Trivia time: The singer who inspired “Killing Me Softly With His Song” was probably Don McLean of “American Pie” fame. Whoever it’s about, this 1971 classic describes the way singers can tell our stories through their songs. The Fugees did an amazing cover in 1997 and won a Grammy for it.
4. I Have Nothing – Whitney Houston
Whitney Houston was going to be a musical icon whether she worked on The Bodyguard film or not, but the soundtrack certainly helped. This emotional rollercoaster of a romantic drama is perfectly scored by the unmatched vocal talents of Houston.
5. Truth Is – Sabrina Claudio
Sabrina Claudio said that this song is about “emotions we often think of but are afraid to voice.” Her gentle, whispering vocals set the tone for this theme in her 2019 R&B hit. This singer-songwriter of Puerto Rican and Cuban descent has even been credited with writing a song for the R&B superstar Beyoncé.
6. Officially Missing You – Tamia
This track sets itself apart from other sad R&B songs by using just a guitar and a gentle beat to underscore the vocals. It lets the raw emotion of the lyrics really come through. This 2004 tune hit number one on the Billboard Adult R&B Songs chart.
7. Torn – LeToya
LeToya’s first official single in 2006 was this powerhouse of a sad song. It tells the story of a person struggling with whether to stay with her lover or leave. Anyone who’s been in that situation will recognize the pain in these lyrics. There are four different versions of this song, including an a cappella and an instrumental version, so you can find the perfect “Torn” for your current emotional state.
8. John Redcorn – Sir
This 2019 jam is from the point of view of a man who can’t have the woman he loves. It’s a strangely hypnotic rhythm and melody that leads us into someone’s quiet pain. For those times when you’re feeling low and need a background beat to match your vibe, this is a perfect choice.
9. Pray You Catch Me – Beyoncé
In 2016, Beyoncé dropped an epic album in the form of a one-hour music video. “Pray You Catch Me” is one of the songs on this album that is highly personal and gives fans a glimpse into the sadness that even a superstar can know. The beauty of this song is that its melody hides a sweetness behind the pain.
10. The Knowing – The Weeknd
Here’s another epic film of a music video. The Weeknd is known for innovative work in the music industry, and this track is no exception. “The Knowing” is slow and drawn out, bringing focus to every word of the lyrics. This 2011 song reached new heights of emotion with its sad story about the end of things.
11. Love T.K.O. – Teddy Pendergrass
Here is a thoroughly 1980s song about losing at love. It has R&B at its heart, but echoes of disco are in there if you listen closely. Released in 1980, it has been covered more than ten times since. With a title like “Love T.K.O.,” how could it not be a hit?
12. Could’ve Been – H.E.R. Featuring Bryson Tiller
H.E.R.’s 2018 slow jam earned several accolades and nominations. The lyrics tell a familiar story of a person who knows she’s being taken for granted in her relationship. She laments that they could have been great together, but he didn’t take their love seriously enough.
13. Too Fast – Sonder
In an excellent use of irony, this slow song describes what happens when people think you live “too fast.” It illustrates several kinds of regret and sadness, making this 2017 release the perfect R&B song for your playlist. Be careful watching the official video, though. It uses a visual metaphor that can be alarming at first. If you prefer not to, here’s an audio-only version.
14. Can’t Let Go – Anthony Hamilton
Singer-songwriter Anthony Hamilton released this in 2005, and it stayed on the charts for 68 weeks straight. That’s no surprise when you hear the mournful soul of this song. This is perhaps the best song to listen to when you simply can’t give up on someone.
15. Walking Home – Mac Ayres
Mac Ayres released this in 2019 on his album, Juicebox. It packs a lot of lyrics in a small space for a short song, and all of them express regret and sadness perfectly.
16. Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) – Marvin Gaye
If anyone ever tries to create an R&B playlist without Marvin Gaye on it, please make sure to set them right. This 1971 mellow funk song tells the story of broader problems than individual romances gone wrong. It’s about social sadness rather than personal problems.
17. Like I Want You – Giveon
Not every relationship comes to a dramatic end with cheating and arguments. Giveon’s 2020 song captures the feeling of a relationship that feels like it’s stalling. It’s a soulful ballad with plenty of imagery to show how this problem feels. His wide vocal range allows him to pull emotions along on a ride with his melodies.
18. How Can You Mend a Broken Heart? – Al Green
In 1972, Al Green released this cover of the Bee Gees song, and it remained a hit for years to come. It has appeared on the soundtracks of several top films, including Good Will Hunting and Notting Hill. When your track gets used as the emotional hit for tear-jerker movies, you know you have a good sad song.
19. Jaded – Drake
Canadian rapper Drake released this in 2018, and it received mixed reviews. Some critics had less than stellar things to say about the track, but its place on the charts was a testament to its power with fans. This song pulls its power from the emotion in the lyrics, something Drake is known for.
20. Do You – Ne-Yo
This 2007 song is for all of you out there who can’t stop thinking about an ex. Ne-Yo’s lyrics describe the pain of constantly wanting to reach out and wondering what his ex is doing. When it’s hard to let go, Ne-Yo has you covered with this track.
21. Kiss and Say Goodbye – The Manhattans
Let’s close out the list with a classic from 1976. The writer said, “I figured anyone who’s been in love could relate to it.” And, wow, he was right. This song topped several charts and was an international favorite for years.
R&B has been going strong for decades, and it shows no sign of slowing down—even when the songs are slow and sad. Perhaps it’s because the genre knows how to be quiet when times are rough. That understanding brings fans back every time for much-needed comfort.
As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
Liam’s lifelong love for music makes his role at Music Grotto such a rewarding one. He loves researching, writing and editing music content for Music Grotto.