He Said/She Said: 10 Dueling Pairs of Songs by Pop Music Couples
Not really looking for another mistake: Ed Sheeran and Ellie Goulding
Photos by Timothy Norris
Ellie Goulding's new single "On My Mind" has caused quite a stir since it was released last month, in part because the lyrics are pretty clearly a response to Ed Sheeran's "Don't," which is pretty clearly about getting your heart broken by Ellie Goulding. Though the two were only briefly linked romantically, the relationship seems to be have provided plenty of angsty creative fodder for both — and Goulding, for her part, won't apologize for basing her songwriting on personal experience (though she stops short of acknowledging that her song is about Sheeran).
"On My Mind" and "Don't" are far from the first time in pop music history that two different songs have told two sides of same relationship. Here, along with Ed and Ellie's tunes, are nine other notable instances of famous musical couples writing competing versions of the same romantic (or in one case, bromantic) narrative.
Ed Sheeran's "Don't" vs. Ellie Goulding's "On My Mind"
Though they were released about a year apart, these songs have pretty parallel structures: Sheeran describes meeting a female musician with whom he shared drinks and conversation and sex. He thinks there might be a relationship there, but then the girl cheats on him with one of his friends. There was plenty of speculation that the song was about Goulding, whom Sheeran had been connected with in 2013. Goulding says they were never in a relationship, but the man she describes in "On My Mind" seems to fit Sheeran's description, down to his tattoos and their tendency to drink together in hotel rooms. Her song indicates that she didn't know she hurt him, and that he's twisting the truth in the name of a good story.
Taylor Swift's "Dear John" vs. John Mayer's "Paper Doll"
Swift wasn't exactly being coy when she titled her song about an older ex "Dear John," asking him, "Don't you think I was too young to be messed with?/The girl with the dress cried the whole way home." She also gets in some digs about Mayer's behavior towards his other exes, singing, "All the girls that you've run dry have tired, lifeless eyes/'Cause you've burned them out," and indicates that she should have left while she could: "And I'll look back and regret how I ignored when they said/'Run as fast as you can.'" Three years later, Mayer responded with a song of his own called "Paper Doll." He describes a woman from his past as being "like 22 girls in one/And none of them know what they're running from"; Swift had released her single "22" just a few months before "Paper Doll."
Justin Timberlake's "Cry Me a River" vs. Britney Spears' "Everytime"
Timberlake was even less subtle than Swift. His video for "Cry Me a River" (from Justified, his first album post-*NSYNC) features an ex who looks an awful lot like Spears. Timberlake and Spears famously dated for a few years in the early 2000s — remember their matching denim outfits? Timberlake's song and behavior in interviews after their breakup hurt Spears, and she and Annet Artani, one of her back-up vocalists, wrote "Everytime" in response.
Mariah Carey's "Obsessed" vs. Eminem's "The Warning"
Carey has repeatedly denied that she ever had a relationship with Slim Shady, while the Detroit rapper maintains that he and the singer dated for about six months in the early '00s. When Carey released a song in 2009 called "Obsessed," with a video in which she's stalked by a very Eminem-like figure, Em shot back with a vicious diss track called "The Warning" that describes their alleged sexual encounters in graphic detail, takes shots at Carey's then-husband, Nick Cannon, and threatens to release photos and phone messages proving the relationship. "I can describe areas in your house you wouldn't find on Cribs," he raps angrily, countering Carey's lyrics that describe him as "delusional."
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.