Un-Break My Heart

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"Un-Break My Heart"
Single by Toni Braxton
from the album Secrets
Released October 1996
Format CD single, 12", cassette single
Recorded 1995; The Record Plant, Chartmarker Studios
(Los Angeles, California)
Genre Pop, R&B
Length 4:32
Label LaFace
Writer(s) Diane Warren
Producer(s) David Foster
Toni Braxton singles chronology
"You're Makin' Me High"/"Let It Flow"
(1996)
"Un-Break My Heart"
(1996)
"I Don't Want To"/"I Love Me Some Him"
(1997)

"Un-Break My Heart" is a song by American recording artist Toni Braxton, taken from her second studio album, Secrets (1996). The ballad was written by Diane Warren. Braxton expressed a dislike for the song; however, L.A. Reid was able to convince the singer to record it and include on her album. It was released as the second single from the album in October 1996, through LaFace Records. Lyrically, the song alludes to a "blistering heartbreak" in which Braxton begs a former lover to return and undo the pain he has caused. It won a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 1997.

"Un-Break My Heart" attained commercial success worldwide. In the United States, the song reached number-one on the Billboard Hot 100, where it stayed a total of eleven weeks, while reaching the same position on the Hot Dance Club Songs and Adult Contemporary component charts. In Europe, the song reached the top-five in more than ten countries while peaking at number one in Austria, Belgium (Wallonia), Sweden and Switzerland. Billie Woodruff directed the accompanying video for the single. It portrays Braxton mourning on the death of her lover, while remembering the good times they had together. Braxton performed the song on the opening ceremony of the 1997 Billboard Music Awards. "Un-Break My Heart" has been covered by several artists, including American alternative rock band Weezer.

Background[edit]

"Un-Break My Heart" was written by Diane Warren in 1995. When asked about her songwriting process, she said that songs usually come to her from a title, a chorus or a drum beat. "Un-Break My Heart" was conceived from its title, and, according to Warren, "it popped into my head, and I thought, 'I don't think I've heard that before, that's kind of interesting.' I started playing around on the piano with these chords and did a key change, and then I knew, 'OK, this is magic.'"[1] Warren further explained that she wrote "Un-Break My Heart" as a ballad and dance song, because that was the way she heard it. She also said that "some people only know it as a – gay – dance song!"[2]

When Warren played the finished song to Arista Records' president L.A. Reid, he thought that the song would fit Braxton's then upcoming album.[3] When "Un-Break My Heart" was sent to Braxton, she expressed dislike for the song. According to Warren, "Toni hated the song. She didn't want to do it."[4] Reid was able to convince Braxton to record it, and later it became her signature song.[4] Following the recording sessions of the song, Braxton approached Warren and explained to her why she was skeptical about recording it, further explaining that she didn't want another "heartbreak track".[4] Recording sessions occurred at The Record Plant and Chartmarker Studios in Los Angeles, California in the same year.[5] "Un-Break My Heart" was released as the second single from Secrets on October 7, 1996.[6]

Composition[edit]

A 27-second sample of the song's chorus, which features Braxton singing about a heartbreak over a R&B background.[7][8]

Problems playing this file? See media help.

Produced by David Foster, "Un-Break My Heart" is a pop and R&B power ballad with a length of four minutes and twenty seconds.[5][8][9] The song's theme alludes to a "blistering heartbreak" in which Braxton begs a former lover to return and undo the pain he has caused.[7] According to sheet music published by Realsongs at Musicnotes.com, "Un-Break My Heart" is composed in the key of B minor and is set in time signature of common time with a moderately slow tempo of 55 beats per minute.[8] Braxton's vocal range spans from the low-key of D3 to the high-note of D5.[8] David Willoughby, author of The World of Music (2009) said that a few phrases such as "Don't leave me in all this pain" are sufficient to reveal the "sadness and the longing" in the song.[10]

The song was remixed by several DJs such as Hex Hector and Soul Solution. As noted by Jose F. Promis of Allmusic, the song "in its original form, was a massive adult contemporary and pop hit, and, with its larger-than-life chorus, worked equally well as an unstoppable dance number, even if the vocals were never re-recorded."[11] The "Soul-Hex Vocal Anthem" remix, with a length over nine minutes, was influenced by tribal house music; while the "Classic Radio Mix" is a piano-driven house edit.[11] A Spanish version of "Un-Break My Heart" titled "Regresa a Mi" was included as a bonus track on Secrets.[5] musicOMH contributor Uma Uthayashanker considered it "an easy listen" version "that encapsulates the passion and meaning of the original but opens it up to a wider audience."[12]

Reception[edit]

Critical response[edit]

Spin journalist Charles Aaron gave a positive review to the song and joked: "this exquisitely crafted, heart-pumping l-u-v song has been droning in the produce department of my grocery store for about a year now, but I'd just like to go on record as saying that if it ever stops, I'll really be heartbroken."[13] Bob McCann, author of Encyclopedia of African American actresses in film and television (2010), considered it "simply one of the most haunting R&B records ever made,"[14] while Robert Christgau named it "miraculous" and explained "the miracle being that it's by Diane Warren and you want to hear it again."[15] About.com reviewer Mark Edward Nero named it one of the best R&B break-up songs, and considered it Braxton's "finest moment." He further commented, "damn, this song is so sad it can make people cry for hours at a time."[16] In 1997, "Un-Break My Heart" won a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.[17]

While reviewing the album, Stephen Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic said that the songs produced by David Foster are too predictable due to their "slick commercial appeal." However, Erlewine noted that Braxton "manages to infuse the songs with life and passion that elevates them beyond their generic confines" due to her vocal ability.[18] Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly considered the track "a tearjerker so grandiose and yet so intrinsically, assuredly hit-bound, it's the kind of mass-appeal grabber that's probably already sent a jealous Diana Ross diving for a comfort gallon of Häagen-Dazs."[19] Tucker also named it the worst track on Secrets, and further stated that "Un-Break My Heart" is "one of those the-verses-exist-only-for-the-swelling-chorus showstoppers that allude to emotions without ever actually embodying them. Braxton does her darnedest to plug some life into the song, to no avail".[19] "Un-Break My Heart" was described as "overblown" by J.D. Considine of The Baltimore Sun.[20]

Chart performance[edit]

In the United States, "Un-Break My Heart" managed to peak at number one on Billboard Hot 100 for eleven weeks, from the week of December 7, 1996 to the week of February 15,1997 and stayed on the same position on the Adult Contemporary chart for fourteen weeks.[3] It was certified Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), for shipping over 1,000,000 physical units of the single in the country selling 1.3 singles 1996 and 1.1 singles 1997 according Nielsen Soundscan.[21] "Un-Break My Heart" also achieved commercial success worldwide, reaching number one in Austria, Belgium (Wallonia), the European Hot 100 Singles, Sweden and Switzerland,[6] while reaching the top five in several European countries.[6]

On the week of November 4, 1996, the song debuted at number four in the UK Singles Chart, reaching a peak at number two after seven weeks on the chart.[22] According to the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), it has shipped over 600,000 copies there, being certified Platinum.[23] In Australia, the song peaked at number six,[6] and was later certified Platinum by the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA), for shipments of more than 70,000 units of the single.[24]

Promotion[edit]

Music video[edit]

LaFace Records commissioned a music video to be directed by Billie Woodruff.[25] The concept evolves around the ending of Braxton's relationship with her lover, played by model Tyson Beckford.[26] As the video begins, Beckford is seen leaving their home, with Braxton giving him a goodbye kiss, then going to check the mail box. After he leaves the garage, a fast car suddenly appears and causes an accident, leaving him lying on the street while Braxton cries over his body. She then walks around the house, remembering the good moments she had with him, such as swimming in the pool and playing Twister. During the final chorus, Braxton is seen singing the song during a live concert. As applause rises, the video fades to black. The music video premiered on September 10, 1996 on MTV.[27]

Live performances and covers[edit]

"Un-Break My Heart" was performed during the opening of the 1997 Billboard Music Awards. During the up-tempo rendition of the track, Braxton sported an outfit similar to the ones of theatrical productions Ziegfeld Follies.[28] She also performed it as the closing number of the Libra Tour (2006).[9]

Saxophonist Marion Meadows covered the song for his album Pleasure in 1997,[29] while Filipino singer Nina recorded her own version of it for her 2008 album Nina Sings the Hits of Diane Warren.[30] Italian group Il Divo cover of the Spanish version of the track received positive appreciation from critics, who said that the cover "has the potential to be a hit and to open doors for many of opera's most acclaimed stars."[12] American alternative rock band Weezer also covered "Un-Break My Heart" in 2005.[31] Their version was released on the album Death to False Metal in 2010.[32] Lead vocalist Rivers Cuomo explained why the band covered the track:

"I loved that song. It was actually Rick Rubin's suggestion. We both loved that song and we both thought it would be great for Weezer, and for my voice, and it’d be great to do like a rock version of it with more of an alternative aesthetic. And you know, just the way I would sing it versus in the way Toni Braxton would sing it. And I love the way it came out, and I think probably the rest of the band really does not like it, and that’s probably why it didn’t make our fifth record, in 2005 when we were recording it."[31]

Track listings[edit]

Charts[edit]

Release history[edit]

Region Date Format Label
Europe[6] October 7, 1996 CD single LaFace Records
Maxi single
United States[11] November 11, 1996 Remix EP

References[edit]

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  5. ^ a b c Secrets liner notes. LaFace Records (1996)
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Notes[edit]

  • Willoughby, David (2009). The World of Music. McGraw-Hill Higher Education. ISBN 9780073401416. 
  • McCan, Bob (2010). Encyclopedia of African American actresses in film and television. McFarland. ISBN 9780786437900. 

External links[edit]

Order of precedence
Preceded by
"No Diggity" by BLACKstreet featuring Dr. Dre
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 number-one single
December 7, 1996 – February 15, 1997
Succeeded by
"Wannabe" by Spice Girls
Preceded by
"Don't Speak" by No Doubt
"Breathe" by The Prodigy
"Barrel of a Gun" by Depeche Mode
Swedish Singles Chart number-one single
December 20, 1996
January 17, 1997 – February 7, 1997
February 21, 1997
Succeeded by
"Breathe" by The Prodigy
"Barrel of a Gun" by Depeche Mode
"Vänner" by Together
Preceded by
"Sugar Is Sweeter" by C. J. Bolland
U.S. Billboard Hot Dance Club Play number-one single
December 21, 1996 – January 11, 1997
Succeeded by
"No One Can Love You More Than Me" by Hannah Jones
Preceded by
"When You Love a Woman" by Journey
Billboard Adult Contemporary number-one single
January 4, 1997 – April 5, 1997
Succeeded by
"All by Myself" by Celine Dion
Preceded by
"Verpiss' Dich" by Tic Tac Toe
Swiss Singles Chart number-one single
January 5, 1997 – January 12, 1997
Succeeded by
"Time to Say Goodbye (Con te partirò)" by Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli
Preceded by
"Quit Playing Games (with My Heart)" by Backstreet Boys
Austrian Singles Chart number-one single
January 19, 1997
Preceded by
"One and One" by Robert Miles featuring Maria Nayler
European Hot 100 Singles number-one single
January 25, 1997 – February 1, 1997
Succeeded by
"Don't Cry for Me Argentina" by Madonna
Preceded by
"Freed from Desire" by Gala
Belgian Singles Chart (Wallonia) number-one single
February 15, 1997 – March 15, 1997
Succeeded by
"Let a Boy Cry" by Gala