Bad Romances: The True Stories Behind Ten Epic Break Up Songs

Everyone knows the only way to heal a broken heart is to channel your emotions into an epic break up song. Some get their rage out screaming along with Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know,” while others opt for a more wistful sound, like Adele’s “Someone Like You.”

But what about the songs themselves? Who inspired our favorite break up ballads? Did Russell Brand really prompt Katy Perry to pen “Part of Me?” And is “Cry Me A River” about Justin Timberlake’s break up with Britney Spears? Which of your favorite break up songs are about true love gone wrong–and which were just born out of a lucky studio session?

We did a little digging on ten of your favorite break up songs of all time and found out how deep the artists had to dig to get them out.

“Someone Like You” by Adele

The Story of the Song: Just like most of the album 21, “Someone Like You” tells the tale of a heartbroken Adele desperately trying to overcome the heartache of losing whom she believes to be the love of her life…by looking ahead to someone better in the future.

The Story Behind the Song: Adele is one of the most confessional singer-songwriters in recent memory. Her acclaimed album, 21, was inspired by a horrible break up with photographer Alex Sturrock. Sturrock was hired as the official photographer on her 2009 U.S. tour, but if you click through his website, his photos of Adele look less like professional tour photos and more like intimate candids from the bedroom. Sturrock reportedly refused to call Adele his girlfriend and chipped away at her self-esteem. Adele has neither confirmed nor denied that Sturrock was the inspiration, but the timelines match up.

[Photo Credit: Getty Images, XL & Mavrick]
“Yesterday” by Paul McCartney

The Story of the Song: When we think of “Yesterday”, we think of one of the most beautiful and most lovelorn ballads in history. McCartney delivers the heart-wrenching lyrics with the absolute sincerity of a young man who has loved and lost and loves on.

The Story Behind the Song: The melody for the song was literally composed in a dream. Paul McCartney fell asleep at girlfriend Jane Asher’s house and in his dreamscape, he came up with the entire song…except for the lyrics. Once he figured out that he had in fact written a song in his sleep and not simply bit someone else’s song, he wrote lyrics about “Scrambled Eggs.” At some point, someone pointed out that no one wants to wax poetic about scrambled eggs (except for Dr. Frasier Crane) and McCartney came up with the tragic romance angle of “Yesterday.”

“F*$k You” by Cee Lo

The Story of the Song: Cee Lo Green created one of the most popular “feel good” break up songs when he wrote “F*$k You” or “Forget You.” The song tells the tale of a poor, jilted lover who was given the shaft by a woman in favor of a richer companion. The “F*$k You” is directed at the new boyfriend and the ex-lover. The catchy pop hook and the dismissive lyrics about the “gold-digger” make the narrator come out triumphantly on top.

The Story Behind the Song: Cee-Lo wrote this song with Bruno Mars and it’s not about any ex-girlfriend or lover. The “F*$k You” is directed at the music industry. In a video interview with, Cee-Lo explains–while reclining–that you have to court and be patient with the music industry just as you do when courting a woman. At the time that Cee-Lo wrote “F*$k You”, he was kind of over the music industry’s bullshit.

“You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette

The Story of the Song: “You Oughta Know” is blistering confessional ballad sung by a woman scorned. The furious narrator is confronting her the man who dumped her for another woman and listing not only his broken romantic promises to her, but their dirty escapades.

The Story Behind the Song: Alanis Morissette had been a teen star in Canada who made the mistake of getting involved with grown ass man (and Full House’s Uncle Joey) Dave Coulier. Yeah, the guy who does the Rocky and Bullwinkle impressions. As unbelievable as it is to imagine Alanis, uh…going…uh…somewhere on him “in a theater,” it’s true. It’s all true.
“I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor

The Story of the Song: If phoenixes rising from the ashes had a theme song, it would be this disco-era dance hit. The lyrics tell the story of a person overcoming their fear of being jilted to finding the confidence to tell their hurtful lover to “go…walk out the door…just turn around now…” Well, you know how it goes.

The Story Behind the Song: The urban legend* it that the song is actually about co-songwriter Dino Fekaris getting fired from Motown Records. Apparently, he had worked for seven years at the label as a staff writer when he got the boot. Upset and unsure of himself, Fekaris went home, turned on the television and heard one of his songs. He reportedly started jumping up and down on his bed and screamed, “I’m going to make it. I’m going to be a songwriter. I will survive!” And that, my friends, is how you turn getting fired into a break up anthem.

*By “urban legend”, I mean it’s an unsourced story on a music website, but you know, it makes sense. The song was written by Fekaris and his songwriting partner, Freddie Perren, immediately after they were canned by Motown. They waited years to find a voice like Gaynor’s to make the track soar.

“I Knew You Were Trouble” by Taylor Swift

The Story of the Song: Taylor Swift is no stranger to sharing her romantic feelings with the world. This song is a little different than others, though, because rather than completely paint the horrible ex-boyfriend as the bad guy, Swifty takes responsibility for knowing the bad boy “was trouble” from the start.

The Story Behind the Song: At first, the media assumed that the song was about Swift’s romantic dealings with older man–and noted lothario–John Mayer. However, as time wore on, it seemed that the song was actually about One Direction’s Harry Styles. Styles pursued Taylor upon first meeting her, but she was reticent due to his well-known flirtatious streak, and then she finally succumbed to his charms for a second ill-fated time late last year. Either way, it seems like Mayer and Styles were both probably trouble for the goldilocked songstress.

“Part of Me” by Katy Perry

The Story of the Song: Katy Perry released this angst ridden pop song in the aftermath of her separation from husband Russell Brand. Naturally, fans all over the world assumed he had inspired such pain in Katy.

The Story Behind the Song: The song was originally a B-side written during the songwriting sessions for Teenage Dream–meaning it wasn’t inspired by Russell Brand at all. It was a bit too pessimistic and combative for the frothy, fun tone of the album, so it was shelved. There were some lyrical changes that refer to the break up of a marriage in the single version, but Perry has been emphatic that the song was initially written prior to her relationship with Brand. In fact, at its core, the song was supposed to be about her transition from being a gospel singer to a pop star.

“You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon

The Story of the Song: In the 70s, Carly Simon was as famous for her easy, breezy pop ballads as she was for her easy, breezy sex life. Simon bedded the likes of Warren Beatty, Kris Kristofferson and Cat Stevens and boozed with society’s elite. This particular song is meant as a triumphant dig against an aloof and wealthy ex-lover.

The Story Behind the Song: Like a lot of the ladies on this list, Simon is a confessional singer-songwriter. One thing she has not confessed, though, is who the muse for the song was. Over the years she has given a few tantalizing hints. For instance, we know that the egotistical ex’s name contains the letters, “A, E, and R.”

“Cry Me A River” by Justin Timberlake

The Story of the Song: Well, based on music video which depicts Justin taking revenge on a Britney Spears look-alike for cheating on him, people tend to think this song is about Britney cheating on him.

The Story Behind the Song: Yes. It’s about Britney Spears cheating on Justin Timberlake. It’s also, funnily enough, about Justin’s fury over Britney’s decision to talk openly about him on stage.

“I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston

The Story of the Song: Most people hear this song and think, “ZOMG THE BODYGUARD.” The song tells the story of a troubled, yet passionate romance falling apart. The narrator claims to be leaving for the betterment of the other lover, but bombastically sings on the chorus, “IiiiiiiIiiiiiiIiiiiiiIiii Will Always Love You.” Super romantic, right?

The Story Behind the Song: In 1967, country star Porter Wagoner gave an unknown Dolly Parton her big break on his television show. As the years went on, Dolly went from Porter’s musical protege to a burgeoning superstar. In 1973, she finally broke off her professional partnership with Porter. For her final send off on The Porter Wagoner Show, Dolly debuted a new song inspired by their platonic breakup and her bittersweet feelings at leaving her mentor behind: