The breakup song is a rite of passage for just about every singer. Mostly, they’re sad-sack anthems about moving on, but every so often, the wound is raw enough that the artist is inspired to issue their former lover a cutting message: I’m better off without you.
That’s what Katy Perry seems to be doing with her new single “Part of Me,” which she premiered at the Grammy Awards on Sunday. With lyrics like “Days like this I want to drive away/ Pack bags and watch your shadow fade/ You chewed me up and spit me out like I was poison in your mouth/ You took my life, you drank me down/ But that was then and this is now,” it’s pretty clear she is dressing down her ex, Russell Brand, and has no intention of beating around the bush.
Need less-obtuse lyrical evidence that the song is about Brand? Later, she sings, “You can keep the diamond ring, it don’t mean nothing anyway/ In fact, you can keep everything, except for me.” Perry has only exchanged rings with one gent, and that’s Brand.
But this isn’t her first kiss-off track: On Teenage Dream, Perry laments a love gone wrong on “Circle the Drain,” which she reportedly penned about her relationship with Travie McCoy. It doesn’t present a flattering picture of her time with the Gym Class Heroes frontman. “You fall asleep during foreplay/ ’Cause the pills you take/ Are more your forte,” Perry sings. “Wanna be your lover/ Not your f—ing mother/ Can’t be your savior/ I don’t have the power/ I’m not gonna stay and watch you circle the drain.” Ouch.
Whether “Part of Me” or “Circle the Drain” will stand the test of time to rank alongside the most-famous kiss-off songs in pop history remains to be seen, but Perry has certainly got people talking right now. From Gloria Gaynor’s disco classic “I Will Survive” to George Michael’s “Faith” and pretty much half the songs in Kelly Clarkson’s catalog, it’s a genre that could use a little fresh blood, though these five (relatively) recent additions to the cannon do a pretty solid job of holding down the jilted-and-not-having-it fort.
Justin Timberlake, “Cry Me a River” and “What Goes Around … Comes Around”
We’re giving Justin Timberlake a little extra shine on our kiss-off list because he did the genre justice by bringing the sex to it then coming back for more — which is a pretty good metaphor for how we’d like to break up with him. “What Goes Around” was in many ways a sequel to Timberlake’s 2002 single “Cry Me a River,” from his debut solo set, Justified. “River” details the dissolution of a relationship after his girl cheated on him and is allegedly a behind-the-scenes look at what really ended his three-year relationship with Britney Spears.
“I’m not going to specifically say if any song is about anybody,” Timberlake told MTV when asked who the ballad was about. “I will say writing a couple of songs on the record helped me deal with a couple of things.”
Noted. Timberlake returned to the post-Britney well for “What Goes Around,” from 2006’s FutureSex/LoveSounds, though for his second spin, the spurned heartthrob changed the message from “How could you?” to “You’re gonna get yours.” The lesson here is clear: Do not cheat on JT unless you would like several awesome pop songs assassinating your character penned in your honor. (And, really, wouldn’t you rather be the subject of “LoveStoned”?)
Adele, “Rolling in the Deep”
While assembling this list, we tried to keep it to songs where we could identify the subject (i.e. Britney in “Cry Me a River,” Carey Hart in Pink’s “So What,” which you’ll find below), but we’re making an exception for Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.” The song is so ubiquitous after its many Grammy wins and so famously about her ex that it is impossible to ignore. And while Adele has never spoken publicly about who the songs on her massive album 21 are about — and the guy has smartly never stepped forward to say, “Yeah, I’m the one who was pretty awful to the world’s current favorite singer” — “Rolling in the Deep” is still without question the most-stinging kiss-off song in recent memory.
The powerhouse vocalist doesn’t sugarcoat her feelings, singing, “Finally, I can see you crystal clear/ Go ’head and sell me out and I’ll lay your s–t bare/ See how I leave with every piece of you/ Don’t underestimate the things that I will do.”
Depending how you look at it, Adele possibly offered up the harshest kiss-off ever in the history of sound. If it wasn’t bad enough to have an album’s worth of songs dedicated to how much you sucked as a boyfriend, we wonder what it feels like to watch that album go on to win six Grammys and sell close to 7 million copies, seemingly en route to becoming the first 10-time platinum album in the U.S. since Usher’s 2004 Confessions. They say looking good is the best revenge (and she did that too, looking glam and trim on Grammy night), but we think Adele’s critical and commercial success probably stings the hardest.
Pink, “So What”
Our thoughts on success killing the game when it comes to slapping your ex in the figurative face also applies here: “So What,” the lead single from Pink’s fifth studio album, 2008’s Funhouse, was the singer’s first #1 hit. (Doesn’t that seem strange? It’s true though.) This song was written by Pink while she and Carey Hart were separated and the oft-brutally honest singer did not hold back when it came to taking shots at the motocross superstar.
The song’s chorus says it all: “So, so what/ I’m still a rock star, I got my rock moves/ And I don’t need you/ And guess what, I’m having more fun/ And now that we’re done, I’m gonna show you tonight/ I’m alright, I’m just fine/ And you’re a tool/ So, so what/ I am a rock star, I got my rock moves/ And I don’t want you tonight.”
Hart must be into that sort of thing, however, because he and Pink reunited not long after the song was recorded and he even good-naturedly cameos throughout the video. The pair now have a baby girl, Willow, and appear happier than ever. Maybe it took a good kiss-off for these two love birds to realize they couldn’t live without each other.
Alanis Morissette, “You Oughta Know”
In case you don’t know already know, this angst classic is all about Dave Coulier, a comedian-actor best known as Joey Gladstone on the former ABC sitcom “Full House.” Yes, Alanis Morissette wonders if Uncle Joey is thinking about her when he’s, you know, getting busy with his new girl. Eek. Once you know this song is about Coulier, it’s difficult to watch “Full House” the same way. After all, we learn an awful lot about his relationship with the much-younger Morissette — including that we should probably give them a rundown on what you are and are not permitted to do in a movie theater.
Sure, there are more-recent breakup tracks and, yes, we were trying to keep this list contemporary, but much like the end of a relationship gone sour, it’s hard to shake a great kiss-off song.
What’s your favorite kiss-off song? Tell us in the comments below!