Broken-hearted? Bring on the ‘sad banger’ songs like Mark Ronson’s | Rebecca Nicholson

The singer’s new album promises a glorious wallow in breakup misery

Mark Ronson has a theme for his forthcoming album and it’s bleeding messily from the trail of teasers for it. Its hashtag is #theheartbreakera and its first track is the irresistibly glum Nothing Breaks Like a Heart, a down-in-the-dirt, country-licked pop song featuring Miley Cyrus, the video for which spins around a heart-shaped disco ball with a thick crack running through it.

Wearing my finest Poirot moustache – since John Malkovich does not have a use for it – I have deduced that Ronson is not on the verge of releasing an LP in tribute to the giddy rush of falling in love.

“I tried doing some other music, whatever I could do not to relive Uptown Funk, but the only stuff that started to stick was the stuff that moved me and made me feel melancholy,” he told the BBC last week, promising an album full of “sad bangers”.

Ronson, who went through a divorce last year, paid tribute to the pioneers of the sad banger and its present-day flag-bearers, from Gloria Gaynor to Erasure to the permanent woes of Drake.

Joining Cyrus on the album will be Lykke Li, whose musical output is so reliably bleak that her albums – Wounded Rhymes, I Never Learn, So Sad So Sexy – read like a series of increasingly regrettable 4am texts sent after bumping into an ex.

Sad bangers live and thrive in that world of late-night, early-morning misery. They are the finest genre of music, songs that allow you to wallow in grief and then fling it away. They are a buy-one-get-one-free emotional salve for when you’re feeling the kind of heartbreak that you think you might never get over (you will).

A surefire shot of catharsis, for me, is the Pet Shop Boys and Dusty Springfield’s What Have I Done to Deserve This, made all the more bittersweet by Springfield’s short-lived return to the public eye, but it’s hard to speak of sad bangers without thinking, in particular, of Robyn, who has mastered the art.

There’s a reason that the double whammy of Dancing on my Own and Call Your Girlfriend appeared to take over the world in the early 00s: they told two different fables of lost love, in which the dancefloor offered the only hint of salvation.

Robyn returned this year with Honey, one of 2018’s best albums, which spins melancholy into uplifting joy. To write it, she holed up in her studio and listened to old funk and disco and house records and she danced until she found what she was looking for.

Righteous anger finds a powerful voice in Noma Dumezweni

Noma Dumezweni as Hermione Granger. 'Like most women of my age, I was brought up not to be angry.'
Noma Dumezweni as Hermione Granger. ‘Like most women of my age, I was brought up not to be angry.’ Photograph: PR

As part of the BBC 100 Women initiative, the actor Noma Dumezweni, best known for playing grownup Hermione in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, wrote a thoughtful and affecting piece about female anger.

“I can count three moments of full rage in my nearly half-century of life, all of which left me with deep feelings of shame,” she admitted, writing about those occasions, from childhood through to the end of a 20-year relationship. “Like most women of my age, I was brought up not to be angry.”

She goes on to attack the “angry black woman” stereotype and to credit the younger generation for refusing to make excuses for how they are feeling. It made me feel lucky that the women I looked up to in my formative teenage years never flinched from anger, whether it was PJ Harvey exasperated by Tarzan’s showing-off in Me-Jane, or Courtney Love screaming from the stage, or Bikini Kill, who wrote punk anthems about being pissed off and owning it, songs that still sound urgent today.

Over the past few years, the notion of women finding strength and unity in anger has risen again. But it is too often seen as unsavoury for a woman to be publicly furious. Tarana Burke, who started the #MeToo movement in 2006, spoke at a TEDWomen conference last week and decried the media’s reframing of the movement as “a vindictive plot against men”. It struck me as a classic example of how women’s anger is so easily defused or deflected, by playing it down or by simply changing its meaning. When “calm down, dear” still rings in the air, voices such as Dumezweni’s feel even more vital.

Britta Osthaus provides more bones of contention

Not as smart as a pigeon, apparently.
Not as smart as a pigeon, apparently. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

A decade ago, Dr Britta Osthaus published a scientific paper in which she concluded that dogs are more intelligent than cats.

“The fallout on that from cat owners was really bad,” she told the Times. Still, uncowed by the feline backlash, which I’d imagine as scratchy, hissy, and then irritatingly aloof, she has published another paper, In What Sense Are Dogs Special? Canine Cognition in Comparative Context, co-authored with Stephen EG Lea, which shows that dogs are not so smart, either, at least when put alongside hyenas, dolphins or even pigeons. “Don’t underestimate pigeons!” she said. “A study found pigeons can learn the difference between Picasso and Monet.” I look forward to seeing their team progress to the semi-finals of University Challenge.

What I like most about Ostaus’s study is that it demands respect for the rest of the animal kingdom, the ones that do not care for our warm living rooms and ear scratches. I also admire her for taking on the determined wishful thinking of both cat and dog owners. I love my dog far more than is decent, but I expect her Mensa application to be rejected, given that she appears to think only in bone-shaped biscuits.

• Rebecca Nicholson is an Observer columnist


Rebecca Nicholson

The GuardianTramp

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