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.”
Selena Gomez's “The Heart Wants What it Wants” vs. Justin Bieber's “What Do You Mean?”
Tween stars Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez famously dated on and off throughout the early 2010s, and their confusion about their relationship is clear in their songs about each other. Her video opens with a vulnerable recording of Gomez talking candidly about a relationship, saying, “You make me feel crazy, you make feel like it’s my fault. I was in pain,” before launching into the song, where she explains, “This is a modern fairytale/No happy endings/No wind in our sails.” For his part, Bieber's track describes how women confuse him, as he sings, “Don't know if you're happy or complaining/Don't want for us to end, where do I start?” (Eagle-eyed fans have also spotted Selena's name in the background of the song's music video.)
Jay Z's “Lost One” vs. Beyonce's “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)”
Beyonce and Jay Z have been music's de facto power couple for over a decade, and they have an impressive body of shared work, from “'03 Bonnie and Clyde” to “Drunk in Love.” Beyonce's albums are filled with solo songs seemingly about Jay Z, including “Countdown,” “Halo,” “Love on Top,” “XO” and of course, “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” written after they married secretly in early 2008. Jay Z doesn't have as many solo tracks about his wife. But in his 2006 track “Lost One,” he speaks candidly about his insecurities about their relationship, and alludes to some time spent apart, saying, “I don't think it's meant to be, B/But she loves her work more than she does me/And honestly, at 23/I would probably love my work more than I did she … I have to give her/Free time, even if it hurts.”
Fleetwood Mac's “Dreams” vs. “Go Your Own Way”
Fleetwood Mac's 1977 album Rumours was famously recorded as the band was undergoing several interpersonal conflicts, including the tumultuous romantic relationship between Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, and both Nicks and Buckingham wrote songs about it. On “Dreams,” Nicks wrote and sang, “Now here you go again/You say you want your freedom/Well, who am I to keep you down?” while Buckingham opens “Go Your Own Way” with the lyrics, “Loving you/Isn't the right thing to do/How can I ever change things that I feel?”
Joy Williams' “What a Good Woman Does” vs. John Paul White's “Someday Soon”
The nitty-gritty details of what actually happened between The Civil Wars' Joy Williams and John Paul White are unclear; both are married to other people, but there's long been speculation that they were involved, thanks to their heady on-stage chemistry and songs like “The One That Got Away.” But Williams' solo track, released this year (which opens with the lyrics “I can't carry the weight of this war”) gives some insight into the conflict between the duo, as she taunts, “I haven't lost my voice without you near me/I can tell the truth about you leaving/But that's not what a good woman does.” White has stayed mum on the subject, but “Someday Soon,” a song he co-wrote for singer Lindi Ortega, is full of heartache, as Ortega sings, “I've been spending all my nights on someone who just ain't right/And I wonder if I moved on/Would he notice that I'm gone?”
Nirvana's “Heart-Shaped Box” vs. Hole's “Doll Parts”
Plenty of artists have written about Love's relationship with Cobain, including Cobain himself, who sang, “She eyes me like a Pisces when I am weak/I've been locked inside your heart-shaped box for weeks/I've been drawn into your magnet tar-pit trap/I wish I could eat your cancer when you turn black” on the Nirvana track “Heart-Shaped Box.” (Fun fact: In 2012, Love tweeted that the song was written about her vagina.) Love displays a similar sense of insecurity on the Hole song “Doll Parts,” singing, “I love him so much, it just turns to hate/I fake it so real I am beyond fake.”
Paul McCartney's “Too Many People” and John Lennon's “How Do You Sleep?”
Lennon and McCartney were the most famous songwriting duo of all time, but their breakup was fairly nasty. McCartney took the first few shots, with songs like “Too Many People,” which complained about Lennon and Yoko Ono's preachy tendencies. Part of the chorus originally went, “Yoko took your lucky break and broke it in two,” though he later changed “Yoko” to “you.” Lennon fired back with a barbed song of his own, “How Do You Sleep?”, which takes shot after shot at McCartney and then concludes, “The sound you make is Muzak to my ears/You must have learned something in all those years.”
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