Kiss off! 28 gleeful breakup songs
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1. Cee-Lo Green, “Fuck You” (2010)
Bitter, depressing odes to shattered romance have been around since people first put words to music. But pop music is a big tent, and while some folks fall apart when the relationship is over, others realize that they’re probably better off and choose to whoop it up and stick their newfound happiness right in their ex’s face. With “Fuck You,” an insanely catchy kiss-off to a gold-digging girlfriend and her new beau, irrepressible hip-hop crooner Cee-Lo Green manages to pull off two amazing feats. First, he turns his resentment into a ridiculously bouncy triumph. (Even when he breaks into tears at the end of the bridge, he gets over it in the next verse.) And second, he turns a song with zero chance of radio airplay into a huge hit. Ain’t that some shit?
2. The-Dream, “Florida University” (2010)
If not for Cee-Lo Green, The-Dream probably would’ve had the best kiss-off song of 2010. “It’s a hell of a clean version,” he announces at the end of “Florida University,” a track whose chorus is nothing but repetitions of the state school’s initials. But who needs clean versions? Less than two months after Love King dropped, Cee-Lo unveiled his filthy Internet smash, making The-Dream’s self-censorship (and speculation about what his mother would say) look downright quaint. Nevertheless, he gets his point across, managing to squeeze in plenty of I-told-you-so’s and one not-quite-radio-friendly jab. (“What rhymes with ‘asshole’? Asshole!”)
3. Nilsson, “You’re Breakin’ My Heart” (1972)
The world knew Harry Nilsson best as the balladeer behind the melodramatic classic “Without You” and as John Lennon’s running buddy in mid-’70s Los Angeles, but he was also a good, eccentric rocker who knew how to cut right to the chase. Perhaps the refrain of this 1972 album track from Son Of Schmilsson will sound familiar to listeners who have been entertaining themselves with Cee-Lo’s anthem: “You’re breakin’ my heart / You’re tearin’ it apart / So fuck you.” Succinct, no? Needless to say, it wasn’t a hit—hell, it wasn’t even a B-side. But it’s awfully hard to forget once it’s been heard, and in certain situations, it’s a reliable go-to.
4. Gloria Gaynor, “I Will Survive” (1978)
The feel-good kiss-off anthem is such a dance-music staple, it’s odd to realize it not only has a specific beginning point, but that that point came so late—“I Will Survive” wasn’t released until 1978, the fifth straight year of disco’s chart domination. It was originally a B-side: The label thought the song had too many words to be a hit, especially for a dance record. Instead, it became one of disco’s perfect anthems, its self-empowerment lyric (“Go on now, go, walk out the door / Just turn around now / ’cause you’re not welcome anymore”) perfectly catching a moment when the divorce rate was skyrocketing and feminism was on the rise. It’s been covered many times, by everyone from alt-rock outfit Cake to country singer Billie Jo Spears—but just as importantly, it’s served as a template for countless other dance records, most notably M People’s “Movin’ On Up,” with its immortal refrain “Take it like a man, baby, if that’s what you are.”
5. Kelly Clarkson, “Since U Been Gone” (2004)
Scorned? Don’t sweat it: Kelly Clarkson has your back with one of the best kiss-off songs ever, “Since U Been Gone.” Annoying text-speak and all, “Since U Been Gone” is a transcendental breakup jam of the first order. The minute that bass and drum machine start, this song is an anthem of the scorned, a call to self-actualization, and an instant hands-in-the-air dance party. There are about a hundred reasons this song was a mega-smash, and every single one of them reeks of “Fuck you, we’re through.” Even the bridge rips. “You had your chance, you blew it,” Clarkson shrieks. “Out of sight, out of mind!” You tell him, sister.
6. Lily Allen, “Not Big” (2006)
With her easy good looks, breezy charm, and British sass, Lily Allen is every guy’s ideal girlfriend. With “Not Big,” however, she also proves to be every guy’s nightmare ex. When it’s all over with her boyfriend, she does the one thing every man fears his ex will do: She publicly exposes his sexual inadequacies, starting with his inability to bring her to orgasm, and getting worse from there. She threatens to “work my way through your mates,” reveals her man as occasionally impotent and premature, and does it all with an indulgent smile. By the time the song is over, he’s not only not big where it counts, he probably feels about three inches tall, to boot.
7. Team Dresch, “Freewheel” (1994)
This queercore kiss-off to a trendy ex-partner is a welcome spot of comic relief on the ultra-intense Personal Best album. Like many of the songs in this list, it’s a mixture of extended middle finger and mild self-mockery: Over a jangly, rollicking guitar line, Kaia Wilson gives her girlfriend the boot, saying she doesn’t need her “to tell me what’s in and tell me who’s cool.” Then, in the ultimate “just-a-phase” lesbian insult, she coos “Go back to your boyfriend.” To show how much she had invested in the relationship, Wilson then details her post-breakup plans: “I don’t need that girl to watch TV with… I think I’ll take a nap.” Just like a freewheel!
8. The Donnas, “I Didn’t Like You Anyway” (1999)
It’s easy to wonder what some of these folks saw in their exes to begin with, especially with a sour-grapes title like this one. One of the most insulting breakup songs of all time, The Donnas’ “I Didn’t Like You Anyway” provides a litany of the many shortcomings of Donna A.’s latest conquest over a slamming glam-rock guitar riff: He’s dumb, boring, addicted to nasal spray, hopelessly unfashionable (honestly, a wallet chain?), a bed-wetter, and he has a head the size of a Boston baked bean. Before heading off to her next “quick and easy” lay, she delivers the ultimate putdown: “You thought that I would be brokenhearted / Maybe I would, if you weren’t so retarded.” Ouch.
9. Tuscadero, “Dime A Dozen” (1994)
What is it about girl bands that make gleeful breakup songs cut so viciously close to the bone? Oh, that’s right, it’s that most guys are horribly insecure. Combining a slick ’90s indie-pop sound with a sweet, danceable girl-group vibe, Margaret McCartney and Melissa Farris of Tuscadero meld voices to show they’ll shed no tears over a failed romance. “You know your daddy must have married his first cousin,” they chirp, “and guys like you are a dime a dozen.” They also note that they made sure the ex in question “paid, paid, paid” for his philandering ways; they don’t go into any details, but some things are better left to the imagination.
10. Roy Clark, “Thank God And Greyhound” (1970)
At first, this song by traditional country superstar Roy Clark seems like it’ll be a typical country-and-western tear-in-my-beer weeper: Over a slow, mournful honky-tonk piano, Clark laments a relationship he’s poured his heart and soul into, now that he’s being told it’s over. But then comes the twist: The piano drops out, the guitar kicks in, the tempo picks up, and it turns into a joyous celebration. “Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone,” Clark sings as his ex boards a bus to leave town. “That big diesel motor is singin’ my song.” As he claims “That shiny old bus is a beautiful sight,” listeners can almost picture him whistling a happy tune as he strides away with a spring in his step.
11. Fishbone, “Lyin’-Ass Bitch” (1985)
It’s a little murky what exactly happened to Angelo Moore’s relationship in this song; it involves his best friend and lyin’-ass Yvette, but it’s unclear exactly who did what with whom, or even who he’s singing to. In spite of the title, though, he doesn’t seem to be wallowing—he’s too busy skanking his brains out. The song makes a pretty good case for getting over a bad relationship by dancing around so manically, you forget what you were upset about. Obviously, Moore isn’t happy. He does, after all, call Yvette a “lyin’ piece of sack of shit slut trashcan bitch,” which is about nine insults in one. But he sure seems to be having a good time.
12. Rilo Kiley: “Breakin’ Up” (2007)
It’s nearly impossible to write a breakup song completely devoid of bitterness, and Jenny Lewis doesn’t entirely succeed in doing so on “Breakin’ Up,” which features backhanded, cooed lines like “Betrayal is a thorny crown / You wear it well, just like a king.” But the jubilant chorus, which repeats the reassuring mantra of newly single people everywhere—“Ooh, it feels good to be free”—effectively washes away any lingering traces of cynicism or self-doubt, leaving behind a shiny, sunny song that serves as a perfect anthem for moving on.
13. Beyoncé, “Single Ladies”
Few moments of schadenfreude are more potent than getting to rub your superiorly awesome new life in the face of the one who wronged you, and Beyoncé revels in coming out on top on “Single Ladies”: She chides her ex that he “shoulda put a ring on it,” draws attention to her new man and her tight jeans, and taunts him with “You had your turn and now you’re gonna learn / what it really feels like to miss me.” She backslides a bit in the bridge, melodramatically pleading “Pull me into your arms, say I’m the one you want” before warning “If you don’t, you’ll be alone, and like a ghost, I’ll be gone.” It’s a jarring 180 in an otherwise triumphant kiss-off, but the song quickly returns to the cutting chorus, stomping out the moment of hesitation with a four-inch stiletto heel.
14. Elvis Costello & The Attractions, “I Hope You’re Happy Now” (1986)
Few musicians have written as many angry love songs as Elvis Costello, but “I Hope You’re Happy Now” is arguably his most gleefully angry. In it, he taunts a former lover about her current beau, informing her that everyone’s laughing about his penis, and delivering zingers like “I know that this will hurt you more than it hurts me” and “I knew then what I know now / I never loved you anyhow.” It isn’t Costello’s most sophisticated song, but he certainly captures a sentiment many of us have felt: You and your new lover can go to hell.
15. Pink, “So What” (2008)
It’s rare that a singer is so transparent and specific with a kiss-off song, but in the brattily sing-songy “So What,” Pink proclaims that she wants to “get in trouble” and “start a fight,” and does so by singing about her split from Carey Hart, being given the brush-off at a restaurant in favor of Jessica Simpson, and the meta fact that this very song will play on the radio. The self-referential music video reveals that Pink, in saying “So what, I’m still a rock star / I got my rock moves, and I don’t need you” might be reassuring herself with this braggadocio more than telling anyone off.
16. Belle And Sebastian, “You Don’t Send Me” (2003)
A bouncy little number from Belle And Sebastian’s 2003 “comeback” album, Dear Catastrophe Waitress, “You Don’t Send Me” exemplifies Stuart Murdoch’s ability to elevate emotional minutiae to the level of something worth singing about. The song’s protagonist has had a minor epiphany—a former flame no longer has a hold on him—and the joyful realization is channeled through Mick Cooke’s buzzing trumpet and a chorus of voices repeating the song’s refrain like a post-breakup mantra: “You don’t send me anymore.” Any theories that the song is a report from Murdoch’s Sebastian to his at-the-time recently departed Belle, cellist-vocalist Isobel Campbell, is pure hearsay—though it’s worth noting how much brighter the band sounds without her.
17. Bob Dylan, “Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)” (1966)
The second disc of Bob Dylan’s (and rock’s) first double-LP kicks off with a song that mirrors the album’s first, with Dylan’s hired Nashville studio players sounding like the Salvation Army Band on parade while he moans with seductive charm. That’s one reason Dylan can make lines like “You say you got some other kinda lover / And yes, I believe you do” sound as jolly as “Everybody must get stoned.” The other is that instead of treating romantic betrayal as a trial by jury (for that, see the Blonde On Blonde-era outtake “She’s Your Lover Now” on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3), Dylan is bemused and a little apathetic: “I’m just gonna let you pass / Yes, and I’ll go last.” With that barnstorming band behind him, his foggy voice sounds delighted at the prospect.
18. Garth Brooks, “Friends In Low Places” (1990)
Garth Brooks doesn’t need your country clubs. He doesn’t need your hoity-toity soirées. He has three things that will get him past his potentially devastating breakup: beer, whiskey, and a bunch of friends who are willing to sing backup on the chorus. “Friends In Low Places” is one of many country kiss-off songs, but it’s one of the few that revels in how good friends and good alcohol can patch over a bruised heart and perhaps help make its owner realize that a woman who sips champagne was never the best match for a guy who tracks mud into her fancy-schmancy party on his cowboy boots.
19. ’N Sync, “Bye, Bye, Bye” (2000)
’N Sync’s “Bye, Bye, Bye” couches its message in catchy pop music, but the point is as old as manipulative lovers: “I’ve had enough of this shit.” The hugely successful lead-off single from No Strings Attached was a more cynical take on love than the band’s earlier, heart-on-sleeve hits. The singer addresses a girl who’s cruelly jerked his heart around, making him “just another player in a game for two,” and now he’s showing her the door. While the band didn’t come out and say so, the situation’s similarity to its acrimonious split from former manager Lou Pearlman (a split that kept Strings in legal limbo for several months) certainly suggests that Justin Timberlake and pals were kissing off more than just another boy-band villainess.
20. All-American Rejects, “Gives You Hell” (2008)
One major benefit of a band’s success: the chance for a big “told you so.” All those naysaying teachers can get bent. Grandparents, shove off. The prissy ex-girlfriends who presumably wanted All-American Rejects singer Tyson Ritter to settle down and get a real job? She gets it worst of all in “Gives You Hell.” “Where’s your picket fence, love? And where’s that shiny car?”, Ritter asks, right before he taunts the gal that scorned him with “When you see my face, hope it gives you hell” over and over and over. It isn’t pretty. In truth, it’s a prissy shit-fit meltdown—so much so that scorned diva Lea Michelle sang it to a confused Cory Monteith on Glee—but it feels good. Sometimes, post-breakup, that’s all that matters.
21. Ben Folds Five, “Song For The Dumped” (1997)
There’s no cheating or backstabbing here—just plain old lack of interest on the ex’s part. It happens all the time, and that relatability is what lets “Song For The Dumped” get away with being petty and petulant. Folds quickly sums up the scenario (“So you wanted to take a break / Slow it down some and have some space”) to make room for fuck-you’s, name-calling, and a sprightly little piano solo. There’s also a lot of concern over who should’ve paid for the pre-breakup dinner. (Ben, just let it go.) Still, it’s fun to shout along to in a crowd.
22. Frightened Rabbit, “I Feel Better” (2008)
We could create a separate Inventory of “last” songs, including this one from The Midnight Organ Fight, in which Frightened Rabbit frontman Scott Hutchison proclaims “This is the last song I’ll write about you.” Hutchison enjoys a good wallow like any upstanding Scotsman, but the jaunty melody and quick tempo of “I Feel Better” mark this as a (relatively) upbeat addition to the band’s catalogue. Hutchison may have left his paramour’s house in New York “without a fucking clue,” but when the horns kick in during the chorus, he joyfully sings “I feel better and better and worse and then better than ever, than ever, than ever”—a gleeful sentiment, even though it sounds like he’s trying to convince himself.
23. Ween, “Piss Up A Rope” (1996)
“Piss up a rope” is one of those Southern phrases that doesn’t have to make any sense to get its point across. No, there doesn’t seem to be any plausible way of urinating up a braided cord, but advising someone to try is an effective way of saying “Take a hike.” Ween’s jolly quasi-parody country song makes the point even more emphatic; she rides his ass like a horse in a saddle, takes all his money, leaves him no smokes, yells at his buddies, and insults his folks, so now he’d like her to “hit the fuckin’ road and piss up a rope.” Oh, but before that, perhaps one last blowjob: “On your knees, you big-booty bitch, start suckin’.” Seems unlikely, but nice try.
24. Punchline, “Somewhere In The Dark” (2008)
Getting dumped can really open up your schedule. Sure, at first you might be wandering around in daze, staring at your phone every few minutes to see if you’ve missed a call, but not too much later, the realization of freedom sets in: “Now I do what I want when I want… now I play guitar and hang out with my friends,” the narrator of Punchline’s “Somewhere In The Dark” reveals. Turns out the whole ordeal might have been for the best, and in the twisted perspective of a breakup, that’s worth gloating about: “I’ve got some news—I might like it better without you, baby.”
25. Grace Potter And The Nocturnals, “That Phone” (2010)
“You’re gonna want me the minute that you leave me,” taunts Grace Potter, but everyone knows relationship mulligans are hard to work out. Those tortured, pointless, ultimately unproductive phone conversations that mark the process—why even bother? Potter’s bouncy, bluesy “That Phone” forcefully outlines her plan for being incommunicado: “You’re gonna wanna call me… I ain’t taking your call… I ain’t pickin’ up that phone… It’s time for you to be alone.” If only more people truly understood the wisdom of the clean break.
26. George Michael, “Faith” (1988)
George Michael grabbed headlines in 1988 with his controversial come-on “I Want Your Sex” off his album Faith. But while that song got the press (and the censorship), the title track got the sales: “Faith” became 1988’s bestselling single, likely on the strength of its bouncy, poppy hooks. It’s more or less the anti-”I Want Your Sex,” since that song urges a lover to give in and put out, while “Faith” features Michael showing his lover to the door because putting out isn’t enough—even love doesn’t suffice if it “comes down without devotion.” It’s unclear who exactly is the jerk in “Faith”’s narrative: Michael doesn’t imply his lover is unfaithful, or even unloving, he just doesn’t entirely trust her, given that he’s a game-player himself, and that there’s the slightest chance she might “throw my heart back on the floor.” Or is that lover a man? Given Michael’s longtime closeted status and his propensity for commenting on his sexuality in his music, it’s pretty easy to read “Faith” as the story of someone spurning the gay lover who “tied me down to the loverboy rules,” and fighting his own preferences via religion. But that may be back-justification; either way, there’s no denying that “Faith” was a big hit, and that it’s a damn cheerful way to dump someone.
27. Blu Cantrell, “Hit Em Up Style (Oops!)” (2001)
As this Inventory has shown, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Take Blu Cantrell: On “Hit Em Up Style,” the one-hit wonder responds to her partner’s infidelity by taking her friends and his credit cards on a decadent spending spree that puts row upon row of exclamation points to a breakup. Ah, but that isn’t enough punishment for our vindictive vixen: She then sells all her ex’s belongings (even his photographs), so he’s left with little more than the shirt on his back and a lingering sense of regret. It would, all things considered, have been cheaper to keep her. In spite of Cantrell’s puckish advice for all ladies with cheating men to go forth and do likewise, the song gets a little pained in the middle; more than most of the singers on this list, she does lament the dissolution of the good times. But check out the raw glee on her face throughout the video, especially as she smugly counts the cash after her impromptu everything-of-his-must-go yard sale.
28. Nancy Sinatra, “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” (1966)
Technically, the singer-narrator of one of the most famous “You’re getting kicked to the curb” songs in American history hasn’t actually gotten around to the kicking part yet—as the chorus explains, it’s going to happen “one of these days.” But it’s entirely clear that one of these days is coming along sooner rather than later—as Nancy Sinatra points out in the best-known version of Lee Hazlewood’s much-covered song, the man in her life is unfaithful and a liar, and she’s already found a better model to replace him. The tone of the song is maybe more banked pride than out-and-out glee, but there’s no hesitation or regret in Sinatra’s voice, just confidence that she’s already made the right decision, and it’s time to carry it out. When she says, “Are you ready, boots? Start walkin’!” after the last chorus, it’s clear she was never bluffing, and she’s never looking back.