Let’s face it, most of us can’t get enough of celebrity gossip. And while glossy magazines might seem like the obvious place to get our fix, it seems that the pop charts should be our first stop. That’s because many artists, whether subtly or overtly, use their work to document their break-ups, feuds and romances with other famous folk. Here are 40 tunes that you probably didn’t realize are actually about specific stars.
40. Obsessed — Mariah Carey
Rumor has it that Carey’s 2009 track “Obsessed” is about Eminem. The pop diva’s apparent feud with the rapper goes way back. It seemingly stems from reports the pair had a fling in 2001, though Carey has always refuted such claims. The song was part of a musical back-and-forth between the two stars, with Eminem referencing Carey in his songs “Bagpipes From Baghdad” and “The Warning.”
39. Malibu — Miley Cyrus
Miley Cyrus dropped her 2017 album Younger Now shortly after it was revealed that she’d rekindled her romance with ex-fiancé Liam Hemsworth. The couple were living together in the Californian beach city of Malibu, which seems to have inspired a track of the same name. It’s also thought that Cyrus’ 2013 hit “Wrecking Ball” was inspired by her now ex-husband Hemsworth.
38. Call Out My Name — The Weeknd
The Weeknd’s 2018 EP My Dear Melancholy is believed to have been inspired by the Canadian singer’s relationships with both Selena Gomez and Bella Hadid. The song “Call Out My Name” seemingly refers to his romance with Gomez and her subsequent return to her ex Justin Bieber. One brutal line goes, “Guess I was just another pit stop/ Until you made up your mind/ You wasted my time.” Ouch!
37. Fix You — Coldplay
The emotional song “Fix You” appeared on Coldplay’s 2005 album X&Y. And its sentimental lyrics were apparently inspired by frontman Chris Martin’s then-wife Gwyneth Paltrow. The actress’ father, Bruce Paltrow, passed away in 2002. And during a 2014 appearance on The Howard Stern Show, Paltrow revealed, “‘Fix You’ was about [Martin] trying to put me back together after my dad died.”
36. Thank U, Next — Ariana Grande
It’s not exactly a secret that Grande’s 2018 tune “Thank U, Next” was written about her exes Pete Davidson, Mac Miller, Big Sean and Ricky Alvarez. However, what’s less well-known is that the pop princess had different endings for the song depending on how her relationship with Davidson panned out. In the version we all know, it ends with them breaking up. But there was an alternative rendition which saw the pair marry.
35. Don’t — Ed Sheeran
Back in 2013 Sheeran was pictured holding hands with Ellie Goulding, fueling rumors that the pair were dating. But fans believe their romance came to an end when Goulding paired off with One Direction star Niall Horan. Adding fuel to the fire, Sheeran’s song “Don’t” seems to reference the break up, with one lyric stating, “And I never saw him as a threat/ Until you disappeared with him to have sex of course.”
34. Sorry — Justin Bieber
Bieber had a lengthy on-off relationship with fellow singer Selena Gomez after the teen stars started dating in 2010. Keeping that in mind, it’s thought that the Canadian heartthrob’s hit songs “What Do You Mean?” and “Sorry” were written about his famous ex. In fact, Bieber said as much during an appearance on Ellen in 2015.
33. On My Mind — Ellie Goulding
Goulding’s 2015 song “On My Mind” is believed to be a response to Ed Sheeran’s single “Don’t,” which supposedly references their rumored relationship. Both songs mention hotel rooms. One line in Goulding’s lyrics states, “Next thing that I know, I’m in a hotel with you/ You were talking deep like it was mad love to you/ You wanted my heart, but I just liked your tattoos.”
32. All Too Well — Taylor Swift
Swift’s 2012 single “All Too Well” is thought to be about her ex-boyfriend, actor Jake Gyllenhaal. The song refers to “a little kid with glasses.” As a result, some of the singer’s fans went wild in September 2020 when Gyllenhaal posted a throwback picture of himself on Instagram in which he matched that exact description.
31. I Kissed A Girl — Katy Perry
Believe it or not, Perry’s smash hit single “I Kissed A Girl” was inspired by a certain celebrity. According to the singer, she had been flicking through a magazine when she stumbled upon an image of actress Scarlett Johansson. Perry promptly told her boyfriend she’d “make out” with the star, she later revealed to Steppin’ Out magazine.
30. Hollaback Girl — Gwen Stefani
It turns out that Gwen Stefani was inspired to write “Hollaback Girl” after a feud brewed between her and Courtney Love. In an interview with Seventeen magazine, Love once aimed a sideswipe at the former No Doubt star. “Being famous is just like being in high school,” Love said. “But I’m not interested in being the cheerleader. I’m not interested in being Gwen Stefani.”
29. Perfect — One Direction
Some Directioners believe that the band’s song “Perfect” is about Harry Styles’ relationship with Taylor Swift. In Swift’s track “Style” – which is also supposedly about the romance — she references midnight drives, which are also mentioned in “Perfect.” Furthermore, the 1D lyrics also say, “If you like cameras flashing every time you go out/ And if you’re looking for someone to write your break-up songs about.”
28. Give It To Me — Timbaland
Not only does this Timbaland track feature an all-star line-up with Nelly Furtado and Justin Timberlake appearing on the song, but it’s also thought to reference the performer’s celebrity feuds. Timbaland’s part is said to be about a fallout he had with producer Scott Storch. But it’s also rumored that it could be about Prince or Janet Jackson. Meanwhile, Furtado’s verse is supposedly about Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas.
27. Wonderful Tonight — Eric Clapton
Clapton’s famous love song is about the model Pattie Boyd. The British beauty is actually the inspiration behind a number of tracks, thanks to her relationships with both Clapton and George Harrison, of the Beatles. Clapton also wrote the Derek and the Dominoes song “Layla” about falling in love with Boyd while she was still married to his friend Harrison. Meanwhile, the Beatles star also penned “Something” in tribute to her.
26. Just Like A Woman — Bob Dylan
The model and actress Edie Sedgwick is perhaps best known for being a muse of the artist Andy Warhol. However, she also seemingly provided inspiration for Bob Dylan, who is believed to have written “Just Like A Woman” about her. The pair met at Warhol’s Factory, and while a romance has never been confirmed between Dylan and Sedgwick, they supposedly did have a flirtatious relationship.
25. Cry Me A River — Justin Timberlake
Timberlake’s 2002 track “Cry Me A River” is alleged to be about his split with Britney Spears. Fueling the rumors, the singer is seen pining over a blonde model in the song’s video, leading some to believe that the woman was supposed to represent his famous ex. However, neither party has ever confirmed the true inspiration behind the tune.
24. Soldier — Destiny’s Child
Beyoncé’s relationship with Jay Z has been a regular source of inspiration in her solo career. But it turns out she might have been referencing their romance as far back as her Destiny’s Child days. It seems that the band’s 2004 song “Soldier” could be about the rapper, given that it talks about a Brooklynite “snatching up” Queen B.
23. Paper Doll — John Mayer
Mayer’s 2013 single “Paper Doll” is generally believed to be a retort to his ex Taylor Swift’s 2010 tune “Dear John.” Swift’s song states, “Dear John, I see it all now that you’re gone/ Don’t you think I was too young.” Meanwhile, Mayer’s song goes, “You’re like 22 girls in one/ And none of them know what they’re running from/ Was it just too far to fall/ For a little paper doll?”
22. In Your Eyes — Peter Gabriel
Gabriel’s song “In Your Eyes” is reportedly about his relationship with the actress Rosanna Arquette. And that’s not the only tune that the celebrity is thought to have inspired. That’s because Arquette also dated Steve Porcaro, the keyboardist from the band Toto. With this in mind, their song “Rosanna” is also believed to be a tribute to Arquette.
21. You’ll Be In My Heart — Phil Collins
Collins’ track “You’ll Be In My Heart” memorably appeared on the soundtrack of the 1999 animated Disney film Tarzan. The song was written for his daughter Lily Collins. Of course, she wasn’t famous at the time. But she has since gone on to become a star in her own right, forging a successful career as an actress and a model.
20. Famous — Kanye West
It’s hard to miss West’s reference to Taylor Swift in his 2016 song “Famous.” One controversial lyric stated, “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/ Why? I made that b**** famous.” The line resulted in a back and forth between the two musicians. Swift claimed that West didn’t get her permission to use her name in such a way, while he claimed that he did.
19. Sweet Caroline — Neil Diamond
Diamond’s hit “Sweet Caroline” is a classic, but did you know it may have been inspired by the daughter of a former president? In 2007 the singer revealed the song was about Caroline Kennedy when he performed it at her 50th birthday celebrations. But he’s also claimed that the song was written about his ex-wife Marcia Murphey, claiming he only used the name “Caroline” because he needed something with three syllables.
18. By The Grace of God — Katy Perry
Perry’s song “By The Grace of God” details an episode of heartbreak and is believed to have been written about her split from ex-husband Russell Brand in 2011. In an interview with the Australian talk show The Project the singer said of her music, “I can only write autobiographically. I put all the evidence in the music. I tell my fans if they want to know the real truth about stuff, just listen to the songs.”
17. I’ll Stick Around — The Foo Fighters
Foo Fighter’s frontman Dave Grohl wrote “I’ll Stick Around” one year after his Nivana bandmate Kurt Cobain committed suicide in 1994. Grohl wasn’t a fan of Cobain’s wife Courtney Love, and in 2009 he admitted that the song was about her. One cutting line states, “How could it be, I’m the only one who sees your rehearsed insanity?”
16. Mirrors — Justin Timberlake
It turns out that Timberlake’s marriage to Jessica Biel has proved fruitful ground for his music. He has revealed that his 2018 album Man of the Woods was inspired by his wife and their son, Silas. But it would seem that Biel has inspired his music for some time. So much so that Timberlake’s 2013 hit “Mirrors” is also about the actress.
15. Love Bug — Jonas Brothers
The Jonas Brothers released their song “Lovebug” in 2008 but waited over 10 years to reveal the inspiration behind the tune. In their 2019 documentary Chasing Happiness the band stated that the track is about Nick Jonas’ teenage romance with Miley Cyrus. In the film, Nick Jonas says of his little brother, “When we met Miley, I think that kid’s head exploded.”
14. Uptown Girl — Billy Joel
When Joel penned his 1983 classic “Uptown Girl” — which tells the tale of an “backstreet guy” who’s in love with a classy lady — he was dating Elle Macpherson. As a result, it’s believed the tune is about her. But, when the singer cast fellow model Christie Brinkley in the music video and ultimately married her, the song became about her too.
13. Perth — Bon Iver
At the time of Heath Ledger’s untimely death in 2008 the actor had been close friends with Matt Amato, producer of American indie folk band Bon Iver. With that in mind, the band’s frontman Justin Vernon revealed that their song “Perth” was inspired by the actor’s tragic death. The title refers to the coastal capital of Western Australia, where Ledger hailed from.
12. Like A Rolling Stone — Bob Dylan
According to one rumor, Dylan’s hit “Like A Rolling Stone” contains some cutting words aimed at Andy Warhol. When the song was written in 1965, Warhol and his muse Edie Sedgwick had become estranged. Dylan reportedly thought that Warhol had mistreated the model. So, it’s believed the line, “He took from you everything he could steal” was about their relationship.
11. Everytime — Britney Spears
Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake were arguably the hottest couple of the millennium, having dated from 1999 until 2002. Following their split, both artists dealt with the break-up in their music. And while Timberlake seemed defiant in “Cry Me A River,” in her song “Everytime” Spears sings “I may have made it rain/ Please forgive me/ My weakness caused you pain.”
10. Still Feel Like Your Man — John Mayer
Mayer has had his fair share of famous girlfriends over the years, having dated the likes of Jennifer Aniston, Jessica Simpson, Jennifer Love Hewitt, and Taylor Swift. But the singer-songwriter’s 2017 single “Still Feel Like Your Man” was reportedly about another celebrity ex, Katy Perry. The pair dated sporadically for two years, before finally going their separate ways in 2014.
9. Dude (Looks Like A Lady) — Aerosmith
Aerosmith’s rock anthem “Dude (Looks Like A Lady)” was reportedly inspired by Vince Neil, the frontman of Mötley Crüe. According to the songwriter, Desmond Child, Steven Tyler had mistakenly believed Neil to be a woman when he spotted him standing at a bar. The incident became an inside joke between the members of Aerosmith, with Neil not knowing that he had inspired the tune until sometime after it was released in 1987.
8. The Heart Wants What It Wants — Selena Gomez
Gomez’s 2014 song “The Heart Wants What It Wants” is reportedly about her rocky relationship with former flame Justin Bieber. The pair had dated on-and-off between 2010 and 2018 and Gomez has admitted that the teen idol was her first love. During a 2014 appearance on On Air With Ryan Seacrest Gomez admitted that her latest single was autobiographical, leading many to suspect it was about her famous ex.
7. Me and Mr. Jones — Amy Winehouse
According to the song, “nobody stands in between” Winehouse and her mysterious “Mr. Jones.” Apparently, the lyrics refer to the rapper Nas — who’s real name is Nasir Jones. The two artists were reportedly close friends before Winehouse died at the age of 27 in 2011. The song mentions “Destiny,” the name of Nas’ daughter, and also references his birthday, September 14.
6. I Knew You Were Trouble — Taylor Swift
Swift often writes about her former flames and “I Knew You Were Trouble” is seemingly among her heartbreak hits. The tune is supposedly about her ex Harry Styles. Though they were only together for a few months between 2012 and 2013, it’s believed the romance inspired a number of songs on Swift’s 2014 record 1989.
5. You’re So Vain — Carly Simon
After it’s release in 1972 the nameless subject of Simon’s hit “You’re So Vain” was a much puzzled over mystery. However, Simon later revealed that the song was inspired by a group of her exes, rather than just one. The second verse is about actor Warren Beatty. But other former flames including Mick Jagger, Dan Armstrong and James Taylor also inspired Simon’s lyrics.
4. Yummy — Justin Bieber
Bieber’s album Changes was released soon after he married the model Hailey Baldwin, and it seems she acted as the singer’s muse for a number of songs on the album. Lyrics to the song “Yummy” apparently nod to Baldwin’s runway career. With that in mind, one line states, “Picture perfect, you don’t need no filter/ Gorgeous, make ’em drop dead, you a killer.”
3. Candle In The Wind — Elton John
John’s song “Candle in the Wind” became associated with Princess Diana when he rewrote it in the wake of her death in 1997. But the original inspiration behind the tune was actually Marilyn Monroe. The first line of the hit refers to “Norma Jean” the actress’ real first name. There’s also talk of an early death, when John says, “Your candle burned out long before the legend ever did.”
2. Can’t Hold Us Down — Christina Aguilera
Aguilera’s female empowerment anthem “Can’t Hold Us Down” is supposedly a clap back to Eminem. The rapper talks about Aguilera in his songs “The Real Slim Shady” and “Off the Wall.” In her song, the pop diva sings, “So what am I not supposed to have an opinion/ Should I keep quiet just because I’m a woman/ Call me a b**** cause I speak what’s on my mind/ Guess it’s easier for you to swallow if I sat and smiled.”
1. Sex On Fire — Kings of Leon
“Sex On Fire” was a hit for Kings of Leon back in 2008. At the time the band’s frontman Caleb Followill was dating the Victoria’s Secret model Lily Aldridge, and the tune is said to be inspired by her. If that wasn’t sweet enough, the couple are still going strong. Married since 2011, Followill and Aldridge now have a daughter named Dixie Pearl and a son called Winston Roy.