When Colombian singer-songwriter Shakira released the darkly funny, candid and cathartic breakup song “BZRP Music Session Vol. 53”, otherwise known as “Out of Your League” in early January 2023, she offered an anthem for women and a fearful prospect to men. Cheat on, exploit or disrespect an international pop star and you’ll be delivered a diss song.
In the 24 hours following its release, her collaboration with rapper Bizarrap was viewed 63 million times on YouTube. Facing the biggest catastrophes of her personal and professional life, it seemed inevitable that her best means of coping and finding her confidence anew would involve public performance. The Barranquilla-born 45-year-old began her musical career at the age of 13, debuting on Sony Music Colombia. Her career has amassed three Grammys and a record-breaking 12 Latin Grammys.
Her romance with Spanish footballer Gerard Piqué began in 2011 and they set up a home in Barcelona. In 2022, they announced their separation: 11 years, two sons and a whole lot of drama involving an ongoing tax fraud trial and alleged cheating. In other words, the perfect storm for a great pop song. “I’m worth two 22-year-olds,” she sang to Piqué and his 23-year-old girlfriend, “You swapped a Rolex for a Casio!”
At the height of her award-winning pop career, in 2012, Shakira got pregnant and decided not to release her planned album, nor to be a judge on The Voice. By that point, she had been named among the five top-earning women in music, performing around the globe, then for Barack Obama, achieving multiple number ones, and collaborations with the likes of Wyclef Jean, Beyonce, Carlos Santana, Stevie Wonder and Usher. Of “Session #53”, she shared via Instagram: “I want to embrace the millions of women who rise up to the ones who make us feel insignificant.”
For Piqué and their growing family, she put her career second. She’d previously made sacrifices for her long-term partner Antonio de la Rua, who tried to exploit his management of the singer’s commercial interests to sue her—unsuccessfully—for $100 million in 2013. “I was out of your league, which is why you’re with someone just like you”, she sings to Pique. “You left me with my mother-in-law as a neighbor, with the press at my door and a debt to the taxman.”
While women were thrilled – especially those who’d put their careers and lives second to their partners – men in the music journalism game saw an opportunity to dismiss one of Latin music’s greatest stars. “Petty” was the sniffy verdict of NPR Music’s Lars Gotrich in the weekly subscriber newsletter. Gotrich would probably also roll his little eyeballs at Lana Del Rey, who also took aim at her ex by installing a singular promotional billboard for her new album in Sean Larkin’s hometown of Tulsa. In case there was any doubt over her intentions, Del Rey took to her private @honeymoon Instagram account to comment “It’s. Personal.”
Unsurprisingly, though unfortunately, some unevolved Instagram followers commented that Del Rey’s billboard “is the type of petty that I LIVE for.” The patriarchal public seems to think that when a woman responds to a crummy ex with a public f—k you, it’s petty. But, when Justin Timberlake sang “Cry Me A River” using a Britney look-alike in the video, or Big Sean dedicated “I Don’t F**k With You” to actress Naya Rivera? That must be songcraft, heartbreak, a catharsis.
Though Shakira and Lana hardly need any propping up, they’re not wasting time crying over critics. They can take their place in the roll call of women in music calling out crappy exes.
A history of women shading their exes through music
Little Mix’s “Shout Out to my Ex” sent Zayn Malik a pointed message after he called off his engagement to the band’s Perrie Edwards. “This is a shout-out to my ex, Heard he in love with some other chick, Yeah, yeah, that hurt me, I’ll admit, Forget that boy, I’m over it.” Miley Cyrus’ “Flowers” assured her ex-husband Liam Hemsworth: “We were right ’til we weren’t, built a home and watched it burn…I can take myself dancing, I can hold my own hand… I can love me better than you can.”
Even though he wasn’t an ex, Beyonce’s no-holds-barred diss to Jay-Z and his dalliances with “Becky with the good hair” deserves to be praised here. In “Sorry” from the epic “Lemonade” album, she sings: “He trying to roll me up (I ain’t sorry), I ain’t picking up (I ain’t sorry), I’m headed to the club (I ain’t sorry), I ain’t thinking ’bout you (I ain’t sorry)”.
Loretta Lynn’s bittersweet, wonderful “Happy Birthday” is a clever farewell to her cheating ex, to whom she sings, “My best wishes may be early but I’m not sticking around, To bake a cake for your birthday while you’re out turnin’ around. She can help you celebrate, may she bring you lots of cheer, Happy Birthday, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.”
Sheryl Crow’s “My Favorite Mistake” is rumored to be about fellow musician Eric Clapton, but she explained that it is not about one particular cheating ex but an amalgam of all of them. “Our friends are sorry for me, They watch you pretend to adore me, But I am no fool to this game… Did you know when you go it’s the perfect ending, To the bad day I’d gotten used to spending. When you go, all I know is you’re my favorite mistake, You’re my favorite mistake.”
Selena Gomez addressed a toxic, narcissistic ex (Justin Bieber?) in “Lose You To Love Me”. She sang, “You promised the world and I fell for it, I put you first and you adored it, Set fires to my forest, And you let it burn…” while SZA’s “Smoking On My Ex Pack” laughingly tells her ex that she’s had to block his favorite rapper who is demanding her attention, and his favorite athlete is begging her to return his texts. Despite her ex chasing her tail, she isn’t interested. “He screamin’, ‘Gеt back together’, I’m screamin’, ‘Back of thе bus, trick!’” girl in red dedicated “Forget Her” to an ex-girlfriend, with the aching chorus “She stole my heart and ran away, Left me with some things to say.”
And finally, one of the greatest disses to an ex of all time, Pink’s “So What” deserves to be celebrated. Two years into their marriage, Pink and Carey Hart announced their split in 2008. In response, she penned “So What”, which goes: “I guess I just lost my husband, I don’t know where he went, So I’m gonna drink my money, I’m not gonna pay his rent…”
As for lamenting the breakup? Not so much. Shakira, Lana, Miley, Loretta, and SZA understand exactly where Pink was coming from when she resolutely chanted: “So, so what? I’m still a rock star, I got my rock moves, And I don’t need you!”
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