Since its inception, pop left innumerable examples that settle accounts with exams and often become an incalculable business. The revenge is a dish that is enjoyed noisy.
At least if you’re a singer who wants to make an impression on the charts and revalidate your credentials as a pop star. That’s the logic behind Shakira’s “Bizarrap Session 53.”
She’s the same person behind Miley Cyrus’ comeback single, “Flowers.” The enfant terrible of pop breaks a three-year silence with the release of the song on January 13.
It is also the birthday of her ex-partner Liam Hemsworth, whom she divorced in January 2020 after two years of marriage.
Coincidence? Not if you take into account the previews of the lyrics that the singer offered on Instagram.
“I can love me better than you,” Cyrus sings, her raspy voice cracking with emotion. But was her desire to share her loving pain her only motivation? Cyrus was never an artist to do things by halves, and she’ll be eager to build on the acclaim she achieved for her 2020 album Plastic Hearts. Does she hope to supercharge her return with an insult-laden heartbreak song?
You can consider several big stars and reflect on their best-known songs. Taylor Swift? Until the masterpiece she released last year that is a reflection on midlife crises, Midnights, her biggest hits were invariably those in which she fired thick ammunition at former boyfriends.
One case is “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”, a song loaded with invective with which she closed each night of her last great world tour, in 2018. It was her grunt greeting to an ex who, in her story, had treated her like an emotional rag doll, to be picked up and discarded whenever I wanted.
Rumors point to actor Jake Gyllenhall, with whom Swift was involved for three months in 2010. She neither confirmed nor denied the speculation. Beyond the mystery, the lyrics aren’t afraid to delve into specific details.
For example, Swift recalls how her boyfriend dismissed her songs: “You would hide away and find your peace of mind/ With some indie record that’s much cooler than mine.” cooler than mine”). “It’s a definitive portrait of how I felt when I finally stopped caring what my ex thought of me,” she told USA Today.
“It made me feel like it wasn’t as good or as relevant as those hipster bands he was listening to…so I made a song that I knew was going to drive him absolutely crazy when he heard it on the radio.” A whole book could be filled with the list of Swift’s revenge songs.
It includes “Dear John,” supposedly about John Mayer, whom she dated when she was 19 and he was 32. And “Bad Blood,” not about anything romantic but about his dispute with Katy Perry, with whom he had a fight when they both tried to hire the same dancer for their tours.
B’Day, Beyoncé’s second album, had faltered on its release in 2006. The singles “Déjà Vu” and “Ring the Alarm” had passed without leaving a mark. There were questions about how viable Beyoncé could be as a solo artist, especially coming off a successful world tour with Destiny’s Child a year earlier. Was it preferable that she had remained a member of a very successful girl group? She then released the wonderfully vindictive “Irreplaceable.”
A sentimental song that sets fire to memories of a bad relationship with a cheating partner. “All yours is in the left-hand drawer / The closet is all mine,” she declaimed over a lively Spanish guitar. The queen was born.
The power of a good revenge song was not lost on Beyoncé. “Irreplaceable” paved the way for that definitive artistic statement that was Lemonade in 2016. It was an epic skinning of her husband Jay-Z, following her alleged act of infidelity. And she gave him the one award she had yet to earn by that time: universal critical acclaim.
But perhaps the most explicit and notorious example of revenge’s commercial potential is “Cry Me a River,” released by Justin Timberlake in 2002. A quintessential “before and after” moment, it sealed the former ‘N Sync frontman’s transformation from mere artist. Romantic to Serious Artist.
Timberlake was criticized because he accelerated his career by sacrificing his ex, Britney Spears. The lyrics of “Cry Me a River” are inspired by her breakup with her.
Still, Timberlake made explicit what was implicit in the video that accompanied the song, which featured a dancer not only dressed and made up to look like Britney Spears, but filmed in a way that suggested she had been unfaithful. , as rumored in the tabloids.
For the time, the video served its purpose, painting Spears as the heartthrob and Timberlake as the innocent, naïve boyfriend. Twenty years later, Spears’ blaming looks very different.
Far from being seen as the duped party, Timberlake is now seen as a bully, washing his dirty laundry in front of the whole world. He came to that conclusion, too: In 2021, he publicly apologized to Spears. And yet he wasn’t treading on new ground. His lack of generosity to Britney was part of a tradition of male artists taking advantage of his ex.
If Timberlake’s reputation took a hit, he can take solace in the knowledge that he’s not alone in bringing an ex-love to the fore. Even the impeccable Ed Sheeran has done it with his 2014 song “Don’t,” about his girlfriend Ellie Goulding’s alleged cheating on One Direction’s Niall Horan (Goulding has denied this). There he furiously trills that “I met this girl last year… but she was just looking for a lover to burn.”
There are many speculations about the identity of the women, and although Sheeran never gave names, he says that the song is inspired by true events. “‘Don’t’ is 100 percent true,” Sheeran told Billboard magazine.
“I could have made it more horrible, there’s a lot more shit left out. I was seeing someone for a while, and she ended up getting physically involved with one of my friends at the same hotel we were staying at, while I was downstairs. I thought you have than treat people the way you want to be treated.”
No decade demonstrated the power of the revenge song more than the ’90s. To varying degrees, Björk, Tori Amos, and No Doubt have dabbled in it. And Alanis Morissette’s career is built on the kick to the chest in Jagged Little Pill (1995), a demanding act of revenge against a lover who cheated on the singer.
With 33 million units sold, his quest for revenge proved highly lucrative. She also casts a shadow over her ex-boyfriend, David Coulier, who has been hounded by journalists eager to find out if he was the one who broke Alanis’s heart.
That he was the villain was completely new to Coulier. He was in the car listening to the radio when he came on “You Oughta Know,” with its acid spill of verses like, “I’m here to remind you of the mess you left behind when you left.” “I was like, ‘Wow, that girl is mad.’ And then I was like, ‘Oh no. I think that’s Alanis,'” Coulier revealed.
“I listened to the song over and over again and I was like, ‘I think I really hurt this person.'” . We will have to see if “Flowers” reaches the heights of the great songs of the past. Although Cyrus has closed her run with Hemsworth, her feelings clearly run deep.
Nor is she an artist who bites her tongue or looks for the back door when she can kick the front door. Shakira’s song set records on YouTube and streaming platforms. There is no doubt that revenge is sweet. And noisy.
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Beyond Shakira: the best revenge songs for the ex
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