Though they might have better (much, much better) voices than the general public, singers are really just like the rest of us. They fall down, they get in tiffs with friends, and they go through breakups.
Along with their amazing voices, another difference between singers and the rest of us is that when we go through a breakup, we eat junk food and watch terrible television and when they go through a breakup, they write a hit song about their ex.
If you actually listen to the lyrics of all of these 17 songs, you can tell exactly who the singer is referring to — sometimes fondly and sometimes…. not so much. While you could just listen to Taylor Swift’s entire discography for a diary of her dating life, she’s not the only one who writes about exes. These non-Taylor Swift songs were all written about real breakups, too.
18. “Where Are Ü Now” by Justin Bieber
Release Date: February 2015
Who It’s About: Selena Gomez
Contrary to popular belief, “Sorry” isn’t a public apology to Selena Gomez — at least, not only a public apology to Selena Gomez. Justin Bieber admitted that the song asking if it was too late to say sorry was indeed a public apology, but to the general public for all of his less than pleasant antics of years past, rather than to Gomez in particular. Instead, the more EDM-esque (thanks to production by Skrillex and Diplo) “Where Are Ü Now” was written with Gomez in mind. The video, full of animations and doodles, even includes fan art with the very clear, if grammatically incorrect, message: “Where R Now Selena.”
17. “It Ain’t Me” by Selena Gomez
Release Date: February 2017
Who It’s About: Justin Bieber
Co-written with Kygo, “It Ain’t Me” is Selena Gomez’s take on her complicated former relationship with Justin Bieber (though they seem to be doing great this time around!). Though it’s not Gomez’s first song about the Biebs (“The Heart Wants What It Wants,” for example), the lyrics and music video more directly point to issues she was having with Bieber, including his recklessness, immaturity, and propensity for partying. The lyrics even reference meeting the man at 17, which is how old Gomez was when she met Bieber. Can they just come out with a reunion track now?
16. “Cry Me a River” by Justin Timberlake
Release Date: November 2002
Who It’s About: Britney Spears
Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake were a classic couple. They wore matching all-denim outfits together! Does it get any more former Mickey Mouse Club members turned mega pop stars than that? The two superstars broke up amid rumors that Spears cheated on Timberlake with a choreographer, and the lyrics of “Cry Me a River” couldn’t be any clearer about the infidelity aspect, so … draw your own conclusions. The music video also features Timberlake attempting to get back at the woman who wronged him, who is indeed blonde and looks a heck of a lot like Brit.
15. “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette
Release Date: July 1995
Who It’s About: Dave Coulier
Although it’s honestly kind of disturbing to think of someone going down on funny Uncle Joey from Full House in a movie theater, it’s pretty commonly accepted that Alanis Morissette is indeed singing about Dave Coulier in “You Oughta Know.” It’s also even disturbing just to think of Uncle Joey breaking anyone’s heart as badly as this song makes it sound. Also, fun fact in case you forgot (I definitely did): Morissette not only dated Ryan Reynolds, she was even engaged to him. Maybe she just needed another musical artist to bond with; she’s been married to rapper Mario Treadway AKA Souleye since 2010 and the couple has two children.
14. “Potential Breakup Song” by Aly & AJ
Release Date: June 2007
Who It’s About: Joe Jonas
Lyrics in breakup songs about real life breakups aren’t always quite as literal as they are in “Potential Breakup Song.” The song kicks off explaining how the boyfriend forgot her birthday, and Joe Jonas has since admitted that an ex-girlfriend once mailed him a piece of birthday cake in the mail, dramatically but effectively signaling the end of the relationship. Not only was the song inspired by Joe Jonas’s terrible mistake of forgetting AJ’s birthday, it has the true fervor of her first broken heart: the middle Jonas brother was AJ’s first kiss. It happened in a bowling alley!
13. “Don’t Speak” by No Doubt
Release Date: April 1996
Who It’s About: Tony Kanal
Forget continuing to work with your partner after you break up. Imagine literally singing a breakup song about your relationship with him. “Don’t Speak,” written by Gwen Stefani and her brother, was originally a love song… until Tony Kanal, the drummer for No Doubt, ended the seven-year romantic relationship and the tune changed. Kanal is featured in the music video, and No Doubt stayed together for years after the breakup before Stefani went solo. Stefani has since married and divorced rock band Bush’s frontman Gavin Rossdale and has been partnered with country singer Blake Shelton since 2015.
12. Basically all of The Weight of These Wings album by Miranda Lambert
Release Date: November 2016
Who It’s About: Blake Shelton
Speaking of Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton … guess who wasn’t too happy about the two of them linking up? Shelton’s now-ex-wife Miranda Lambert. Although, ironically enough, Shelton and Lambert first met and hit it off back when he was still married to his first wife. After the two The Voice judges hooked up, Lambert produced an album that includes multiple songs about the situation, some more veiled in subtext than others. From one song about wishing she could give the Tin Man (à la Wizard of Oz) her heart in exchange for his armor (“Tin Min”), to another about not being able to escape from an ex (“Six Degrees of Separation”), and then the disappointment of leaving behind a marriage (“Use My Heart”), the message is there. Hi, Blake!
11. “Gonna Get Caught” by Demi Lovato
Release Date: September 2008
Who It’s About: Joe Jonas
Aly & AJ aren’t the only ones to write a breakup song about Joe Jonas — Demi Lovato called him out in song, too. (Taylor Swift sings about the middle Jonas brother too, because of course she has.) Although multiple Lovato songs are rumored to be about Jonas (including “Mistake” and “Without the Love”), Lovato has confirmed that “Gonna Get Caught” is indeed about him. Which is incredible, because the album Don’t Forget was produced with help from the Jonas Brothers, and Joe’s little bro Nick Jonas actually helped Lovato write the song. Awkward!
10. “Much Better” by the Jonas Brothers
Release Date: June 2009
Who It’s About: Taylor Swift
Joe Jonas may have been the recipient of multiple real-life breakup songs, but he didn’t take it lying down. The Jonas Brothers wrote “Much Better” after Joe’s relationship with Taylor Swift ended. Though it’s not a breakup song in the traditional sense — it’s about moving onto a new relationship that is much better than the previous one — it’s still clearly referencing a celebrity breakup. It can’t just be a coincidence that the lyrics “Now I’m done with superstars / And all the tears on her guitar” name check one of Swift’s original hits about being sad over a guy (“Teardrops on My Guitar”). So good.
9. “Paper Doll” by John Mayer
Release Date: June 2013
Who It’s About: Taylor Swift
Just like Taylor Swift can write songs about every guy she’s dated, the guys she dated can write songs about her — John Mayer, like Joe Jonas, penned a song about Swift after she pretty blatantly called him out by name in her song “Dear John.” His lyrics aren’t quite as obvious, but the chorus of the song does include the line, “You’re like 22 girls in one / and none of them know what they’re running from,” which refers to Swift’s album “22” that had come out the year prior. Is it really any surprise that these exes wrote breakup songs about one another after collaborating on a song that literally talks about only loving one another with half of their hearts?
8. “Still Feel Like Your Man” by John Mayer
Release Date: February 2017
Who It’s About: Katy Perry
Okay, okay, Taylor Swift isn’t the only one who writes about many relationships; John Mayer definitively confirmed that “Still Feel Like Your Man” is about his relationship with Katy Perry, even telling The New York Times “Who else would I be thinking about?” It’s unfortunate that Mayer and Perry broke up — their love ballad had much more promise than Mayer’s with Swift. “Who You Love” talks about how they may not have expected to find one another, but you love who you love. “Still Feel Like Your Man” is by far one of the more complimentary breakup songs out there.
7. “Wide Awake” by Katy Perry
Release Date: May 2012
Who It’s About: Russell Brand
John Mayer may have written about his breakup with Katy Perry, but Katy Perry wrote her breakup song about her ex-husband, Russell Brand. And tbh it should have been a lot more harsh than “Wide Awake,” considering he broke off their marriage via text message. This isn’t junior high, you took vows! Instead of cutting the a**hole down, “Wide Awake” describes how Perry had been feeling so high and happy, only to come crashing down and wake up to the reality that her life wasn’t what it seemed. Which I suppose is an incredibly mature way to approach a breakup song… but kicking Brand to the curb would have been so satisfying.
6. “Don’t” by Ed Sheeran
Release Date: August 2014
Who It’s About: Ellie Goulding
Although Ed Sheeran is recently happily engaged to a woman he first met in high school (awww), he allegedly wrote “Don’t” about a love triangle (to put it nicely) between himself, ex-girlfriend Ellie Goulding, and Niall Horan. “Love triangle” refers to Goulding’s rumored hooked up with Horan back when One Direction was still going strong — and to make matters worse, it apparently happened when Sheeran, Goulding, and Horan were all staying in the same hotel. Talk about pouring salt in the wound!
5. “You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon
Release Date: November 1972
Who It’s About: Warren Beatty
Before Kate Hudson as Andie Anderson and Matthew McConaughey as Benjamin Barry butchered the lyrics of this iconic song in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Carly Simon wrote it about her ex Warren Beatty — at least, she wrote the second verse about him. She jokes that he probably thinks the whole thing is about him, but we may never know who actually walks into parties like they’re walking onto a yacht.
4. “Love without Tragedy / Mother Mary” by Rihanna
Release Date: November 2012
Who It’s About: Chris Brown
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Chris Brown should absolutely positively not still be famous in any way, shape, or form, except perhaps infamous for the damage and drama he’s caused. One such incident is immortalized in Rihanna’s song “Love without Tragedy / Mother Mary.” Though the entire Unapologetic album is often considered to be a love letter to her on-again, off-again boyfriend, this song includes the lyric: “Who knew the course of this one drive / Injured us fatally,” which refers to the first time the public found out about Brown’s aggression against Rihanna; the couple initially claimed her injuries were caused by a car accident.
3. “7 Things” by Miley Cyrus
Release Date: June 2008
Who It’s About: Nick Jonas
Another breakup song written about a Jonas brother — except this time it’s the youngest one, Nick! Cyrus and Nick Jonas were together for over two years in their early days as teenagers and Disney kids, back when the Jonas brothers were still known for their promise rings and Cyrus was still known for fooling all of her on-screen friends by switching wigs to become Hannah Montana. For everyone older than Cyrus and Jonas, it’s pretty obvious this song is a rip off of Julia Stiles’s speech about Heath Ledger in 10 Things I Hate About You — the song lists things Cyrus hates about an ex-boyfriend, culminating with the fact that she hates how much she loves him. Sound familiar??
2. “Wedding Bells” by the Jonas Brothers
Release Date: November 2013
Who It’s About: Miley Cyrus
Although he waited five years, Nick Jonas finally got his clapback to Miley Cyrus. In the last album released by The Jonas Brothers as a group act, Nick Jonas wrote “Wedding Bells” on his own. It obviously refers to an ex getting married, and Cyrus had recently gotten engaged to Hemsworth (although the wedding obviously fell through the first time, I guess it’s better late than never since they’re back together). It also mentions the anniversary date of June 11, which happens to be the same date that Jonas and Cyrus met.
1. “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus
Release Date: August 2013
Who It’s About: Liam Hemsworth
Miley Cyrus has certainly had a rollercoaster of a career. She started as an innocent tweenybopper in Hannah Montana; got engaged as a teenager; went hard on the partying, provocative dressing and dancing (including her infamous tongue wagging); and then kind of pulled it back into her current self. “Wrecking Ball” was released after that engagement to Liam Hemsworth broke off, and essentially described how she loved someone so much, but she was a force of nature that ruined the relationship, which fits nicely with the “hard on the partying” timeline during which the couple broke up. Now the two are engaged again, so I guess we can stop watching Cyrus swing naked on a wrecking ball in the song’s music video.