The 22 greatest kiss-off songs, from ‘abcdefu’ to ‘I Will Survive’

Heartbroken but angry, too? There’s a song for that. Roisin O’Connor counts down the tunes that wave goodbye to an ex in the most cathartic way possible

Thursday 13 January 2022 08:03
<p>L-R: Gloria Gaynor, Billie Eilish and Kelly Clarkson</p>

L-R: Gloria Gaynor, Billie Eilish and Kelly Clarkson

The kiss-off is a particular type of break-up song. Less self-pitying than your average heartbreak anthem, it is there to provide catharsis. These are songs to tell your ex just how badly they messed up, to make them jealous they no longer get to be with you, or simply to make them wish they’d never been born. It’s why you won’t find excellent indie rampages such as “The Rat” by The Walkman on this list, given it’s more a case of “we can’t let each other go” than “good riddance”.

The best kind of kiss-off song tends to be upbeat, again defying the traditional “breakup” track and offering the chance to dance off that residual anger, rather than bottling it up. Many artists end up actually thanking their ex for making them realise they’re better off single, or else finding someone more deserving.

From defiant R&B to rollicking pop-rock, here are the 22 best kiss-off songs of all time.

22. “abcdefu” – Gayle (2021)

One of the biggest viral songs on TikTok was written by 17-year-old artist Gayle, which explains the unfiltered, gloriously melodramatic nature of the lyrics. It’s certainly one of the most explicit kiss-off songs in recent memory, with the chorus serving as a heady dose of rage to be sung at full volume: “ABCDEF you and your mom and your sister and your job/ And your broke-ass car and that s*** you call art/ F*** you and your friends that I'll never see again/ Everybody but your dog, you can all f*** off.” Ouch.

21. “Miss Me More” – Kelsea Ballerini (2017)

Country music has provided fertile ground for many a heartbroken singer, but Kelsea Ballerini decided to take a different route. This foot-stomping track is delivered like a letter to her ex, telling him about everything she’s rediscovering now she’s rid of him: “I put on my old records that I hid in the back of the closet/ And I turn them up to 10/ And then I played them all again/I found my independence/ Can’t believe I ever lost it.”

20. “Thanks fr th Mmrs” – Fall Out Boy (2007)

Emo kids, unite! This theatrical banger from Fall Out Boy takes aim at an ex, but also the band’s own label, which had asked them to cut down their frequently verbose song titles. Over thrashing drums, singer Patrick Stump thanks his ex for the memories “even though they weren’t so great”, before citing a line from the play and film Closer: “He tastes like you only sweeter.”

19. “Too Little, Too Late” – JoJo (2006)

Still only 16 when this song was released, JoJo showed how she had matured since her previous single “Get Out”. Compared to the simple catharsis of that earlier track, “Too Little Too Late” offered a little more gravitas thanks to lyrics that asserted JoJo’s sense of self-worth: “Go find someone else/ And letting you go/ I'm loving myself.”

18. “Love Yourself” – Justin Bieber (2015)

Occasionally a kiss-off song of a more understated nature comes along, and makes just as big of an impact. This was the case with “Love Yourself”, written by Ed Sheeran, Bieber and Benjamin Levin. The instrumentation – a brief electric guitar refrain and a short flurry of brass – is simple enough to keep the focus on the lyrics, where Bieber shrugs as his ex tries to get back in touch. “My mama don’t like you, and she likes everyone,” meanwhile, might be one of the most devastating lines in kiss-off history.

17. “Don’t Call Me Up” – Mabel (2019)

Mabel celebrates her independence on this empowering R&B track that asks her ex to let her move on. She rejoices over shuffling beats, dismissing offers to “talk” because she’d rather dance away her problems in the club.

16. “I’m Still Standing” – Elton John (1983)

Elton John wrote ‘I’m Still Standing’ as a reaction to remaining relevant through the Eighties

You can dance away your troubles with this timeless anthem from one of the greats. Elton John said this song was actually written as a reaction to him “still being relevant and successful in the early 1980s... with the New Romantics creeping in”, but it works perfectly as a kiss-off song, too.

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15. “Fighter” – Christina Aguilera (2002)

Inspired by Guns N’ Roses’ snarling, heavy rock, Christina Aguilera’s biggest song from her fourth album Stripped remains one of her best. She wastes no opportunity to show off her powerhouse voice, backed by aggressive guitar riffs and menacing percussion. The lyrics are especially cutting because Aguilera deigns to thank her ex for opening her eyes: “'If it wasn't for all that you tried to do/ I wouldn't know just how capable I am to pull through/ So I wanna say thank you.”

14. “Otha Fish” – The Pharcyde (1992)

This fantastic cut from the hip-hop collective’s debut album tempers its heartbroken theme with amusing parps of brass and SlimKid’s superb delivery. He raps: “The kid is going crazy, they stepping with my lady/ They working on a baby, I'm pushing up the daisies, but/ Hey diddle diddle, I won't play second fiddle/ To no man and stand firm on this.” Basically: I’m not happy, but I can’t do anything about it, and I’ll find someone else eventually. Right?

13. “You’re So Vain” – Carly Simon (1972)

“You probably think your song is about you…” Carly Simon’s mocking tune takes aim at a preening peacock of a man (or men) who’s convinced he’s the object of everyone’s desire. Simon’s disdain is on full display, even as she admits she once fell for this guy’s charms. The subjects in question has been a source of speculation for decades, with Simon mostly refusing to even allude to their identities. “Let's be honest. That song was about me,” notorious lothario Warren Beatty said in a 2007 interview. But in November 2015, Simon said while promoting her memoirs: “I have confirmed that the second verse is Warren (Beatty)”. She added: “Warren thinks the whole thing is about him”, he is the subject of that verse only, with the remainder of the song referring to two other, still unnamed men. So vain, Warren.

12. “You Oughta Know” – Alanis Morissette (1995)

Alanis Morissette

Alanis Morissette was often described as “angry” and “hysterical” upon the release of her third studio album, Jagged Little Pill, but really, who hasn’t experienced an adverse reaction to a breakup? “You Oughta Know” is one of the* go-to songs post-breakup. It’s the one for when you realise your ex is seeing someone new and all that resentment comes bubbling back to the surface. It’s the one you scream along to in your car, or at karaoke, or anywhere, really. Just let it out!

11. “thank u, next” – Ariana Grande (2019)

Ariana Grande’s single, released shortly after she split from fiancé Pete Davidson, sparked an international conversation about the importance of self-love in relationships. Over soft synths, she whisper-sings her thanks to her exes for making her the woman she is today. “thank u, next” doesn’t quite follow in the vein of songs such as “Fighter”, though, because there’s genuinely zero spite when talking about her former lovers. “I’m so f***ing grateful for my ex,” she sings. Proof that you can stay classy in the aftermath of a breakup, however messy they were at the time.

10. “Obsessed” – Mariah Carey (2009)

Is it a breakup song if you were never going out in the first place? Still, Mariah Carey’s sensational 2009 bop “Obsessed” is essential for any breakup playlist, if only for its withering tone. Long-rumoured to be about Eminem, “Obsessed” drips with scorn as Carey castigates the subject for lying about their supposed relationship.” Finally found a girl that you couldn't impress/ Last man on the Earth still couldn't hit this,” she sings. Good luck recovering from that burn.

9. “I Love It” – Charli XCX, Icona Pop

Charli XCX apparently wrote this about an older guy she dated (“You’re from the Seventies, but I’m a Nineties bitch”) but gave the song to Icona Pop because it didn’t fit with the sound of her new album. It’s the song you play while you’re smashing all the dishes in your house and throwing your ex’s clothes out of the window. Total carnage, basically, and a hell of a lot of fun.

8. “Happier Than Ever” – Billie Eilish (2021)

Billie Eilish

The most surprising song on Billie Eilish’s second album was the title track. Its first half has Eilish singing in her signature whisper over a Hawaiian breeze of a ukulele, as soothing as a lullaby. But the lyrics belie that tender instrumentation, as she recalls how miserable her ex used to make her. There’s a sudden switch-up: the ukulele is replaced by a grunge guitar riff and Eilish’s tone sharpens, grows bitter. “I don’t relate to you/ ‘Cos I’d never treat me this s***y/ You made me hate this city.” Then the song crashes into a flailing maelstrom, Eilish howling out her anger at how she was treated: “Made all my moments your own/ Just f***ing leave me alone!” Superb.

7. “Shout-Out to My Ex” – Little Mix (2016)

Since their debut album, Little Mix channelled the Girl Power attitude of the Spice Girls, but “Shout Out to My Ex” – from their fourth record, Glory Days – might be the pinnacle of that message. The instrumentation is perky and fun; the group’s attitude is triumphant. Here's to my ex, hey, look at me now,” they sing. “Well, I'm all the way up/ I swear you'll never, you'll never bring me down.”

6. “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” – Taylor Swift

There’s something great about the childishness of this song, the emphasis on “never ever getting back together”. Taylor Swift ramps this up with the playground rhyming style of the lyrics (and the pyjama party she throws in the music video). Maybe it’s wrong to be petty over a breakup, but it’s hard not to be with a soundtrack this good.

5. “Truth Hurts” – Lizzo

‘Why men great til they gotta be great?’ – Lizzo

Lizzo’s hit single is part of the “just look at what you’re missing” genre of kiss-off songs. “Why men great til they gotta be great?” she snaps on the intro. She’s brilliantly assured of her own excellence, over a rumbling piano motif reminding her ex of everything she has to offer. “You coulda had a bad bitch, non-committal/ Helped ya with ya career, just a little.” His loss, Lizzo!

4. “Since U Been Gone” – Kelly Clarkson (2004)

American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson defied the limited expectations for her career in 2004 with her second album, Breakaway. Included on the record was “Since U Been Gone”, a thrilling slice of rock-pop. “You had the chance, you blew it,” she tells her ex, over huge riffs and dramatic, thundering percussion. I reckon he heard you, Kelly.

3. “Survivor” – Destiny’s Child

“Now that you’re out of my life, I’m so much better.” Over a dramatic synth string section, Destiny’s Child proved their status as independent women – but the song was apparently inspired by jokes about the group themselves, rather than relationships. “Beyoncé was tired of people talking about the Destiny’s Child members changing, asking, who was going to be the last one to survive?” Williams told Entertainment Weekly in 2016. Still, it works perfectly as a farewell to toxic influences: “Now that you're out of my life I'm so much better/ You thought that I'd be weak without you, but I'm stronger// You thought that I'd be broke without you, but I'm richer/ You thought that I'd be sad without you, I laugh harder.” Yep, they definitely had the last laugh.

2. “Dreams” – Fleetwood Mac (1977)

Many people might pick the more raucous catharsis of “Go Your Own Way” as the ultimate Fleetwood Mac kiss-off (and there are plenty to choose from). “I very much resented him telling the world that 'packing up, shacking up' with different men was all I wanted to do,” Stevie said in an interview of her ex Lindsey Buckingham’s lyrics. “He knew it wasn't true. It was just an angry thing that he said. Every time those words would come onstage, I wanted to go over and kill him. He knew it, so he really pushed my buttons through that. It was like, 'I'll make you suffer for leaving me.”

Her song “Dreams”, by contrast, is relentlessly cool: “Now there you go again, you say you want your freedom/ Well, who am I to keep you down?” She delivers the lyrics over a leisurely drumbeat and twangs of guitar, along with that unmistakeable strolling bassline that gives the song an air of insouciance. Faced with such composure, “Go Your Own Way” sounds a lot like a toddler’s tantrum. Hats off to Stevie.

1. “I Will Survive” – Gloria Gaynor (1978)

You want catharsis? You want petty? You want to make your ex feel really, really bad? You can’t do better than Gloria Gaynor’s dazzling, disco-infused statement of female empowerment. From the gorgeous filigrees of harp to the defiant flurries of violin, everything about this song is designed to uplift. Gaynor begins the song “petrified” of being alone, before time gives her the chance to realise how much better off she is. And woe betide the fool who broke her heart then had the dumb nerve to try and come crawling back. Unbeatable.

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