Move over, crying in the shower to Adele. Come in, singing about self-love and revenge. We look at the best revenge anthems, from Miley Cyrus’ new single Flowers through to the Carly Simon classic You’re so Vain.
Heartbreak gets a lot of airtime on the radio but it’s dark twin sister, the revenge anthem, is also a prized part of pop culture. Sadly, I have a voice that only sounds good inside my own shower but I like to think I once played a small part in creating my own revenge anthem. When you work in media, you are often subbed in to do weird jobs for your colleagues and so it came to be that I once volunteered to a voiceover magazine ad for a Countdown spot. Was this the sudden realisation of a long-lost dream to work in voiceover? Absolutely not. I was there for revenge.
I volunteered because I knew my ex-boyfriend shopped at Countdown and I wanted to haunt his
dreams weekly supermarket shop, shortly after he had dumped me for the second time. I can promise you, he absolutely did not notice and there is only so much you can channel “I curse the day you were born” while advertising canned corn or whatever. In my mind, I was Stevie Nicks in the Fleetwood Mac classic Silver Springs – “You’ll never get away from the sound of the woman who loved you” – and yes, I’ve had a lot of deranged thought patterns in my life but that makes the top 10 for sure.
So when it comes to a new trend of female artists creating break-up songs that are both powerful AND petty? I love it. More, please! Here’s how three of our biggest female artists have channelled their fire and fury in the past few days:
– Miley Cyrus, who endured years of headlines that it was her wild-child behaviour that led to the breakdown of her marriage with Hunger Games actor Liam Hemsworth, before releasing her break-up single Flowers on his birthday. It’s a song that definitely implies that, um, it wasn’t her behaviour that ended things (to put it mildly). The single’s chorus rebuts every line for Bruno Mars’ When I Was Your Man, which apparently was a favourite song of Liam’s while they were together.
Bruno’s chorus: “I should’ve bought you flowers / And held your hand / Shoulda gave you all my hours / When I had the chance / Take you to every party / ‘Cause all you wanted to do was dance.”
Miley’s chorus: “I can buy myself flowers / Write my name in the sand / Talk to myself for hours / Say things you don’t understand / I can take myself dancing / And I can hold my own hand / Yeah, I can love me better than you can.”
– Lana Del Rey promoted her upcoming album, Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd, on exactly ONE billboard in America, which she placed in her ex-boyfriend’s hometown. *chef’s kiss*
– Shakira’s new single, written about her ex-husband and his new 22-year-old girlfriend, compares him trading ‘a Rolex for a Casio,’ which is honestly a bit women blaming women and not that ground-breaking (of course, neither is a divorced man dating a woman half his age!). But what IS new? The fact that she allegedly set up a terrifying life-size witch doll on her balcony, that apparently overlooks her ex mother-in-law’s house, while blasting her new single on repeat. A perfect strategy, no notes.
And look, I know these are rather small emotional stakes and personal break-ups, but women getting to own their pain and create number one hits out of it normally gets the whole ‘they only sing about breakups’ flak (see Taylor Swift & Adele). It’s a tired criticism that never gets levelled at male counterparts – Drake’s entire career is one bad break-up, for instance. Ed Sheeran? Same dif. In fact, take away ‘love’ or ‘heartbreak’ as a common factor and you’ve got empty airwaves.
But the revenge anthem? It’s powerful! So in the spirit, here are some other revenge anthems that have reached Hall Of Fame status
Best Revenge Anthems
Don’t Hurt Yourself By Beyoncé
Two years after the elevator incident, and many years of enduring silence around cheating allegations, Beyoncé surprised dropped her masterpiece album, Lemonade, in 2016, which tracked infidelity, rage and ultimately, reconciliation in her marriage. But this song was definitely set in that first emotional wheelhouse, with the final lines: ‘This is your final warning, You know I give you life. If you try this shit again, You gon’ lose your wife.’
You’re So Vain by Carly Simon
Long before there was the ‘How to tell when you’re dating a narcissist?’ think pieces, there was Carly Simon just laying out what it’s like to date someone who stares at themselves, dates younger girls, cheats with his BFF’s wife and is just generally a dick. Half a century later, we’re still singing along.
All Too Well (10 Minute Version) by Taylor Swift
While the initial song was allegedly about her break-up with Jake Gyllenhaal, the 10-minute version released in 2021 really tucked into the power imbalance of the age gap of that relationship – Taylor was 20, Jake was 31. While the original sees a heartbroken Taylor Swift, the 2021 version is older and angrier – Taylor was in her early 30s for this release (the same age as Jake when they dated) and included this line at the end of the song: “I was never good at telling jokes but the punch-line goes, I’ll get older but your lovers stay my age,” causing the planet as one to Google ‘How old is Jake Gyllenhaal’s current girlfriend?” The answer: 25. Him? 41. The punchline stands. Don’t let the sad piano fool you, those new verses are fuelled by rage, not sadness.
You Oughta Know by Alanis Morissette
Screamed by women inside every karaoke room since 1995, this Grammy-award winning song was written when Alanis was just 20 years old and truly, it’s hard to pick the winning line between the ‘are you thinking of me when you…’ or the ‘scratch my nails…’ a true classic for a reason.