Aw, poor John Mayer. The singer/reformed ladies' man complained in a recent Rolling Stone interview that he was "really humiliated" by what he called Taylor Swift's "cheap songwriting" in the case of a biting tune the country superstar penned about their relationship. John Mayer. Photo: Mark Sullivan
It's hard to feel too sorry for him--because as an artist himself, he should know perfectly well that throughout popular music, the "ex revenge" song has a long history. In other words, you're in fine company, John; but if you don't believe so, let's have a look at a few classic examples of this songwriting subgenre over the years.
A good place to start is with Swift herself, whose relatively short career is a veritable theater for confessional songs about men who have made her feel fluttery/wonderstruck/pained/angry. Her ode to Mayer, which appears on 2010's Speak Now, chides him for messing with a young girl ("Don't you think 19's too young to be played with?").
But that's the least of it. She also accuses him of having "a sick need to give love and take it away," and--lest he not get the message--directly tells him "I stopped picking up [the phone] and this song is to let you know why."
Of course, this isn't Swift's first high-profile diss. In 2008, she socked it to ex-boyfriend Joe Jonas--who famously broke up with her over the phone--with "Forever And Always." Although this song is not as overall stinging or direct as "Dear John," she does refer to Jonas as "a scared little boy" forced to "run and hide" from her awesome honesty...oh, let's just face it, from her awesomeness period. (For his part, Jonas didn't take this lying down: He fired back with the tune "Much Better," in which he declared himself "Done with superstars, and all the tears on her guitar"--a reference to Swift's 2007 hit "Teardrops On My Guitar.")
Although Swift is unquestionably a master at pointing fingers at her exes, the first-place trophy for revenge songs belongs to another singer. That would be Alanis Morrissette, whose 1995 breakout hit "You Oughta Know" has served as an anthem for bitter girlfriends going on two decades strong now. The Grammy-winning song, which she penned about actor Dave Coulier (best known as the goofy "Uncle Joey" on '90s sitcom Full House), fairly drips venom as Morrissette snarls about her ex's new girlfriend. "Every time you speak her name, does she know how you told me you'd hold me until you died? But you're still alive," she accuses.Dave Coulier. Photo: Michael Tullberg
Coulier remained silent about the song for years, but in 2008 finally acknowledged his role in the composition. He recalled hearing the song for the first time: "I said, 'Wow, this girl is angry,' And then I said, 'Oh man, I think it's Alanis,'" he noted. "I listened to the song over and over again, and I said, 'I think I have really hurt this person.'" According to Coulier, the two eventually made up--but the song remains.
Nasty revenge tunes aren't limited to female artists only. Kanye West's somber, nearly 8-minute composition "Blame Game," from 2010's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, allegedly targets ex-lover Amber Rose.
Kanye West and Amber Rose. Photo: Eric Ryan'Ye barrels back and forth from sweetly romantic declarations "You weren't perfect but you made life worth it" to bitter, almost unhinged commentary about the pair's intimate life and his role in teaching her everything she knows (most of it not fit to print here).
Rose claimed in 2011 that she was asked by West to appear in the video for the song--also confirming that West told her the song was about her--but she declined out of respect for her current beau, Wiz Khalifa. A classy answer, considering the content of the material in question.
Finally, for purists, there is always the classic 1970s "ode to the ex" by Carly Simon: "You're So Vain." For years, the identity of the ex in question remained a secret--Simon dated many luminous men including Mick Jagger, Kris Kristofferson, Cat Stevens, and James Taylor (whom she married) who would all be good candidates. Believe it or not, Simon still has not absolutely confirmed who the tune is about, although in 1989 she admitted it was "a little bit" about actor Warren Beatty.
In 2010, news headlines trumpeted that the song was about record mogul David Geffen, who allegedly favored Simon's musical rival Joni Mitchell--a rumor Simon denied, saying she hadn't even met Geffen yet at the time the song was written.
The brilliance of never revealing exactly who your song is about? Well, then, all your exes can squirm for decades wondering who's the culprit!