The 8 Ball 02.16.13: The Top 8 Relationship Revenge Songs
Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Music Zone! I’m your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, I will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You’re free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is “wrong” is just silly. With that in mind, let’s get right in to it!
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Caveat: For this list, my primary criterion was as follows: the song cannot just be about heartache or being done wrong. To qualify for this list, a song had to be about getting even in some way, taking pleasure in the fact that things are now going downhill for the target of the song or rejecting a lover who came crawling back.
Motörhead – “Bye Bye Bitch Bye Bye”
Alanis Morissette – “You Oughta Know”
First up on the list is a song about a woman scorned which, as we all know, Hell hath no fury like. The first single and track of Kelly Clarkson’s third LP My December, this song marked a venture into a more rock sound for the season one American Idol singer and tells the tale of a woman who has been left behind for another. However, instead of getting sad, the subject of the song uses her rage to funnel into a hate-filled diatribe against the cheating heart in question, asking “Does it hurt, to know I’ll never be there? Bet it sucks to see my face everywhere?” There’s no sympathy for the other woman either, as she growls, “If she really knows the truth, she deserves you” and “You’ll die together, but alone.” Word of advice to Miss Clarkson’s fiancé: don’t piss this one off. Highlighted with a fantastic video where the man in question is slowly driven mad by visions of a ghostly, vengeful Clarkson, this is one of the singer’s best and stands out among her catalog of hits for its take-no-prisoners attitude. Anyone who’s stuck in the “was it me?” cycle of romantic rejection or betrayal would be well-served to use this song as a piece of advice, namely “You’re better off without them.”
Normally, getting revenge on one’s ex in a song takes a more emotional or karmic bent. In Eminem’s case, he took a very…shall we say, different fashion. “Kim” was not a single off of The Marshall Mathers LP, probably for the simple reason that no radio station in its right mind would risk the level of public criticism it would take by playing such a vividly violent song. Easily one of the most controversial tracks in Eminem’s already-controversial career, “Kim” is a hate-filled stream-of-consciousness fantasy about murdering his ex-wife Kim while their daughter Hailie is in the vicinity after having slain her husband and stepson. It’s actually a rather difficult song to listen to, between the verbal abuse heaped on his wife and the graphic depiction he gives of what’s going in the midst of the song. It’s perhaps even more disturbing considering how gentle the song begins as Eminem soothes his daughter and then lashes into Kim out of nowhere. Still, one cannot deny the song’s raw emotional power and Em is hardly the first person in popular music history to record a violent fantasy track. As it turned out, this ended up being vengeance in a real-life manner as well as a revenge song, as Kim reportedly attempted suicide when she was present for a live performance of the song in Detroit and saw a mock-up effigy of her abused on-stage while the song was performed and the audience shouted their approval. As I said, disturbing but powerful.
I don’t listen to country music as a rule. It’s just not a genre I have a lot of love for. However, you would have had to be living under a rock not to have heard Underwood’s “Before He Cheats,” the second song singing about committing a crime over a relationship-gone-bad. No, Carrie doesn’t murder her boyfriend in this song the way that Eminem did, but she commits one hell of an act of vandalism by positively wrecking the cheater’s “pretty little souped-up four-wheel drive.” That felonious chorus follows her imagination about exactly how her straying boyfriend is out having fun with his mistress. This song had some serious crossover appeal upon its release in 2006 and for good reason; it is a simple but very effective and even powerful song about a woman taking matters into her own hands. I wouldn’t recommend turning a lover’s vehicle into a heap of metal and slashed leather seats over an affair, but I have to appreciate the righteous anger and “screw you” attitude that the song displays. Underwood has joined Clarkson as one of the few true breakout successes in the music industry to come out of American Idol and this song was a huge reason why.
You can’t go wrong with the classics. Nancy Sinatra turned this into an enormous hit in 1966, providing a template of female empowerment against unfaithful men that would inspire hundreds of songs after the fact. There’s no simpering “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to” pity-party going on here; instead Sinatra’s steely voice affects a “Oh, you’re in for it now” attitude to the point that you can feel how much she’s looking forward to putting down some footprints up and down her poor, doomed cheater’s spine. The song’s writer/producer Lee Hazelwood reportedly told Sinatra to sing the song as if she was a sixteen-year-old giving the brush-off to a forty-year-old man. So just in case you somehow didn’t think the sentiment of the song was a valid one before, now you can. But more than just planning to “walk all over you,” Sinatra also points out that she’s moved onto someone else who knows more about being with a woman (take that in whatever way you like) than the target of the song has even had time to learn. It’s both vindictive and an empowering “I’ve moved on” song which makes it one hell of a romantic revenge number.
Most people would put probably Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River” on such a list over this one, but for me the karmic factor gives this its edge. Timberlake is possibly the modern master of the relationship revenge song between the two songs. “River” was about Timberlake’s breakup with Britney Spears and many assumed that “What Goes Around” was a sequel to that, but Timberlake has said it was actually inspired by a situation that a friend went through. Whatever the case, here Timberlake’s response is a bit more vindictive than “Cry Me a River,” as the song’s subject sings about a woman who he was ready to marry but who strayed. As the song progresses, he notes that, as the title explains, karma will come back to her and immediately the song’s break he’s explaining how the woman has now been betrayed herself, but he doesn’t have any sympathy for her. There’s an almost gleeful tone as he sings that part. As he says flat-out, “Girl you got what you deserved.” It doesn’t hurt that Scarlett Johansson is stunning in the music video but this is about the song, which is one of my absolute favorite songs about payback. Karma really is a bitch, ladies and gentlemen.
Few songs take as blatant of a “go screw yourself, I’m way better off now” attitude as this little piece of vengeance. Written in the wake of Kid Rock’s breakup with Pamela Anderson, “Half Your Age” is an in-your-face country-esque song about how he may not be with Miss Baywatch anymore, but he’s got someone who, as the song says, is “half your age…and twice as hot.” This is a song that rubs its target’s face in it almost as much as Eminem’s “Kim,” but replacing flat-out disturbing serial killer-like attributes with a sense of fun. See, you can be vindictive and not go incredibly dark, folks. Few would ever accuse Rock of being a great songwriter, and truth be told this isn’t a “great” song in the critical sense. But in terms of pure post-breakup catharsis it can nary be beaten. Just think about it this way; if a near-fifty year-old Kid Rock can find someone better, then can’t anyone?
Leave it to Bob Dylan to take a bitter vengeance song and turn it into taking the high road. Dylan’s poetic lyrics are put to great use in “It Ain’t Me Babe,” a song that is popularly rumored to be about his split with either Joan Baez or, more likely, Suze Rotolo. Whichever the case, Dylan tells the story of a bad breakup where the other party has come back and wants back into his life. Instead of folding and taking her back though Dylan just says, quite simply, “It ain’t me, babe…it ain’t me you’re looking for.” This is a song for those who have had a nasty split and are ready to move on; sometimes the best revenge is not taking any pleasure in another’s pain and simply laying it all out in a straight-forward manner. Dylan does that with his usual exquisite skill here, never making the shots unnecessarily deep because he knows they don’t have to be. It is exactly as painful as it needs to be and nothing more.
For a lot of people–obviously, myself included–Carly Simon wrote the perfect kiss-off to a lover in 1972. The identity of the target for “You’re So Vain” has never been identified; Simon has maintained that the song is about “men” as opposed to “a man.” So if you ever had sex with Carly Simon before 1972…well, then you’re probably not reading this. But if you are…this song may well be about you. Simon explains as the song builds how the target, a clear ladies man, had everything but gave it all away and now he’s too busy with “the wife of a close friend.” The revenge aspect of this song is more subtle perhaps than the other songs, but it is very clear throughout the song that Simon is past mooning over the man (or men) that inspired this and has become more enlightened, while the man is (or men are) still wrapped up in their own arrogance. As the saying goes, sometimes the best revenge is living well. Simon proves that here.
MUSIC VIDEO A-GO-GO
While it didn’t make the list because I try to limit myself to one song per artist for these, you can’t deny that Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River” is one hell of a great revenge song. Check it out, and the video (which features a Britney Spears look-alike as the villain) below:
And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don’t forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.