From You’re So Vain to Obsessed: A Brief History of Songs Not About You

So Mariah “Sparkle Pony” Carey’s “Obsessed” is about Eminem, right? Right? What prize do I win for the sheer obviousness of Mariah’s summer pop ode to her ego? A bootleg copy of The Real Slim Shady? A DVD collectors edition of Wild’n Out?

There’s nothing like a pop song that’s about someone you don’t like any more. A diss track. Rappers do it so much it’s pointless, but they normally don’t try to hide who the object of their ire is. I mean, we all know of the great Kool Moe Dee/LL Cool J wars. Those were awesome. But I’m specifically talking about songs that “aren’t about you.” The greatest diss jams are the kind that are thinly vieled hate Valentines to assholes. Like one of the greatest songs ever written, the original who is she singing about jam, Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain.”

More after the jump.

“You’re So Vain,” Carly Simon: No one has even come close to capturing the WHO IS SHE SINGING ABOUT? I MUST KNOW! mania of “You’re So Vain.” She sez it’s not about Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger because he helped make the sucker. And Warren Beatty is still convinced it’s about him (yes, his ego is THAT big). People still ask her who the song is about in almost every interview she gives. And it is simply a great song for any girl who ever dated an egomaniac. I’ve dated a few self-involved pretty boys in my day, so I can still visualize the awesomeness that is playing this song as loud as possible in the car and singing along pretending Carly was dissing Suave Tre of “I’m so pretty I should be a pimp” imfamy.

A matter of fact, “You’re So Vain” was so good that copying became the sincerest for of flattery for one artist.

“Son of A Gun,” Janet Jackson: It’s about her secret ex-husband. So about him. It is also so very much a clone of “You’re So Vain” that it includes a sample of the baseline and Carly Simon singing on the track. I personally perfer the remix version with P. Diddy and Missy Elliot. Even though it’s obvious who the song is about, their antics and Janet’s usual mewing make it a highly enjoyable experience.

“Rich Girl,” Hall & Oates: The singing/songwriting duo actually own up to who this song is about, a wealthy fast food heir, who was actually a dude, who used to date Daryl Hall’s ex-girlfriend. I like to pretend the song is about every obnoxious rich bitch I’ve ever known. Of course, most of the rich bitches I’ve known were either nuevo riche wannabes or broke wannabes, so they should actually take it as a form of flattery that I would even consider them “rich.”

“It’s Not Right, But It’s OK,” Whitney Houston: And I don’t care what Whitney said at the time, actually publishing a friggin’ disclaimer on the album this single came from — It’s about one Mr. Bobby Brown.

“Ring the Alarm” and “Ego,” Beyonce: I don’t pretend to know what “Ring The Alarm” was about (which was honestly like more pop version of Kelis’ “Caught Out There” without the gun clicks and screaming), but it’s one of the Beyonce songs I actually like a lot, as I always enjoy a good “gurl done wrong” track that involves a lot of pain and threats of attrition. “Ego” is a lot more obvious with the, um, none-too-subtle “it’s too big, it’s too wide, it won’t fit” references. All I can say is … ew. I realize that technically “Ego” is not a diss track, but it so over-the-top that it HAS to be irony. It must! I need to peel back the layers of sugary fluff to believe that Bey is kidding about how she was meant to for him and yadda, yadda, yadda. It’s too strong and all that jazz. Jokes. Those must be jokes, right? I mean, it’s not a GOOD thing to have a big ego. Not one getting stroked that much on a track. And any man who this song would actually be about must be so dull and insufferable that he can barely get his Camel Joe-esque head in a room. I’m going with it’s a diss song. Please, let it be a cloy, mocking diss song.

9 thoughts on “From You’re So Vain to Obsessed: A Brief History of Songs Not About You

  1. Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails also sampled "You’re So Vain" for his song "Starfuckers Inc." back in 1999, when he and Marilyn Manson were at each other’s throats.

  2. I love the Carly Simon Song and Janet’s version. A few years ago there was this big auction where Simon would tell the highest bidder who the song was about. The winner was on the Today show. Of course he’s sworn to secrecy so we’ll never know for sure.

  3. If I remember correctly, Carly Simon’s song "You’re so Vain" was written about her ex-husband, James Taylor, although Warren Beatty would seem to be a better choice.

  4. What about Alanis Morissette’s "You Oughta Know," purported to be about Dave Coulier from Full House? I always thought that was funny.

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