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Heartbreak, 3 Ways: New Songs Confront The Ache And Fury Of Lost Love


This is FRESH AIR. Most of us have gone through a heartbreaking romance, which we each experience in our own individual way. Rock critic Ken Tucker has been listening to the ways romantic disappointment has been expressed in new songs by three artists - R&B singer Jazmine Sullivan, who sang the national anthem at this year's Super Bowl alongside Eric Church, pop star Olivia Rodrigo and rocker Matthew Sweet. Ken says this is the sound of heartache.


JAZMINE SULLIVAN: (Singing) You say that I've been acting different. Yeah - funny how I finally flipped the script on you when you the one who's double dipping. Yeah, you so sloppy how I caught you slipping up. You're off the lease. Run me my keys - no more popping up to hit it, yeah. I ain't even got the miles to trip on you. New phone - who is this? - brand-new like the whip. Rack it up.

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: That's Jazmine Sullivan and "Pick Up Your Feelings," a high point of her new EP title, "Heaux Tales," which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard R&B Chart. On "Pick Up Your Feelings," Sullivan portrays herself as a woman who is so over her boyfriend's cheating, she is beyond being hurt. She's settled into cold dismissal, telling the guy to pick up his feelings for her and get out of here. While Sullivan's vocals have a powerful gospel edge, her EP is filled with stories about women's sexual and romantic feelings, told in very explicit language. The musical tension between the church and the bedroom gives Sullivan's singing an extra surge.


SULLIVAN: (Singing) I'm trying to find a [expletive] to give for you. You ran out of chances of forgiving, yeah. Yeah, listen, I ain't listening just for you to go and break my heart again. I learned my lesson last time. Woah, and I ain't coming back now. This is what you had now. And I bet you I look better, don't I? New phone - who is this - contact don't exist. Need a ride? Call that [expletive] - gas way too expensive. No more benefits, pop-up visits - hands tied - no grip. I ain't got no room for extra baggage. So don't forget to come and pick up your feelings and don't leave no pieces. You need to hurry and pick up your...

TUCKER: Where Jazmine Sullivan projects a steely strength of character, a refusal to be manipulated in a relationship, the veteran pop rocker Matthew Sweet is all desperation and exposed nerve endings. Sweet's new album is called "Catspaw," a word that means someone who's been duped, who's the victim of another. Like so much of the music Sweet has recorded since the late 1980s, the songs on "Catspaw" sound like hit singles that never became hits, which only makes his feverish guitar playing and his plaintive vocals seem more poignant. My favorite song on his excellent new album is called "At A Loss" because he really does sound at a loss for what he's going to do with his broken heart.


MATTHEW SWEET: (Singing) I'm out on a limb - out on a limb reaching for you. I'm out of my mind - out of my mind dreaming of you. I'll never know what I'm going to say till you say you do. I'll never know what I'm going to say until then. I'm at a loss. I'm at a loss. I'm at a loss. I'm at a loss. I'm frozen in place...

TUCKER: Finally, we come to Olivia Rodrigo. She has a huge Number 1 pop hit called "Drivers License," a song about cruising past her ex's house. She's not a stalker, she's heartbroken.


OLIVIA RODRIGO: (Singing) I got my driver's license last week, just like we always talked about 'cause you were so excited for me to finally drive up to your house. But today I drove through the suburbs, crying because you weren't around. And you're probably with that blond girl who always made me doubt. She's so much older than me. She's everything I'm insecure about. Yeah, today I drove through the suburbs 'cause how could I ever love someone else? And I know we weren't perfect, but I've never felt this way for no one. And I just can't imagine how you could be so OK now that I'm gone. Guess you didn't mean what you wrote in that song about me 'cause you said forever. Now, I drive alone past your street.

TUCKER: Rodrigo was a 17-year-old who stars in a Disney+ tongue twister of a TV series titled "High School Musical: The Musical: The Series." "Drivers License," her first non "High School Musical" release, has broken streaming records on both Spotify and TikTok, where her young fans are dazzled by her mature melodrama.

Whether it's the aching loss Olivia Rodrigo endures, or the icy fury Jazmine Sullivan describes, or the frantic desperation Matthew Sweet feels, we are reminded once again that people experience heartbreak in as many ways as a heart can be broken.

DAVIES: Rock critic Ken Tucker reviewed music by Jazmine Sullivan, Matthew Sweet and Olivia Rodrigo.

On tomorrow's show, we talk with New York Times cybersecurity journalist Nicole Perlroth about the underground cyber arms industry, and how the National Security Agency's own cyberarsenal got into the hands of our adversaries. Her new book is about why everything from America's nuclear reactors to our own cell phones are vulnerable. I hope you can join us.

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham, with additional engineering help from Charlie Kaier. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Kayla Lattimore. Our associate producer of digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.


SULLIVAN: (Singing) Yeah, yeah. He live with his momma, but I treat him like a king. Yeah, every time he come around he got me acting like a fiend. When he be asking me for money, I can never tell him no. And when he say he... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.