“NEW YEAR, NEW MILEY, NEW SINGLE” announced Miley Cyrus on New Years Eve, teasing her new single FLOWERS on social media. The news came with a video of Cyrus dancing through what appears to be a sun-drenched Los Angeles, adorned in a liquid gold dress as the lyrics “I can love me better” echo in the background. When, you ask, is the release date for this highly-anticipated single? January 13th. The day of Cyrus’ actor ex-husband Liam Hemsworth’s birthday.
This, of course, could just be one big coincidence. But when paired with billboards that proclaim “I can take myself dancing” and “I can buy myself flowers”, well, it does have the air of a deliberate dig at a certain ex.
And Cyrus wouldn’t be the only one using the release of new music to step on an ex’s toes. Last month, Lana Del Rey decided to promote her new album Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd with just a single billboard in Tulsa, Oklahoma, her ex-copper, ex-boyfriend Sean Larkin’s hometown. Then, to twist the knife, Del Rey released a lead single of the same name on 7th December – Larkin’s birthday, naturally. A couple of weeks later, she even went as far to share a photo of herself with the billboard in the background on her semi-private Instagram, captioned “There’s only one and it’s in Tulsa”. Followed by a comment that read “It’s. Personal”, it confirmed fans’ suspicions that the ad was indeed an intentional act of revenge.
In recent months, it seems our favourite female musicians haven’t been afraid to give vengeful nods to men from their past – and we bloody love to see it. In the case of Cyrus and Del Rey, it’s a flex as much as it is a jab, as their continued success proves they won’t be knocked down by a bad break-up. It’s Diana’s revenge dress all over again.
We can’t forget about SZA’s latest album SOS either, which features bitter payback anthem Kill Bill. Currently doing the rounds on TikTok and named after the legendary Quentin Tarantino film, the song serves as SZA’s fantasy of revenge, as she admits that “I might kill my ex, not the best idea”, because “if I can’t have you no one will”. Always self-aware, she even acknowledges her own pettiness, ironically repeating “I’m so mature” in the pre-chorus.
There’s a long history of singers using music to take a stab at their ex. Jazmine Sullivan raged at an ex when she “bust the windows out [their] car”, Carrie Underwood infamously dug her keys “into the side of his pretty little souped-up four-wheel drive” and Carly Simon took the time to clearly tell an ex “You’re so vain”, in the 1972 hit that has also recently enjoyed a TikTok revival. Then there’s a certain Miss Swift, who has a whole back catalogue of revenge anthems, such as Blank Space, Look What You Made Me Do and Karma, to name a few.
But while SZA, Swift and the rest of music’s scorned lovers seem to have written songs in the depths of post-breakup melancholy and anger, Cyrus and Del Rey’s digs arguably sting even more, precisely because they appear to be a fun afterthought. They’re also marketing gold. It’s likely that Del Rey’s singular billboard sparked more conversation on the internet because of its pettiness than a traditional ad campaign would have. Meanwhile, countless articles (including this one) have been written about Cyrus’ apparent birthday surprise for Hemsworth. We have truly reached new heights of petty excellence.
So, more shady billboards, strategic release dates, revenge dresses and songs admitting that we’ve thought about killing our ex, please. These artists aren’t going overboard to prove themselves or making their entire careers about these men. They’re indulging in the fun little details, flashing a knowing smirk as they go on to release chart-topping hits. They say the best revenge is success – why not serve it up with a wink?
Some may say it’s petty, immature, needlessly competitive. But don’t pretend you wouldn’t do the same. If you ask us, a round of applause is due for these musicians (and their PR teams), who have elevated the art of pettiness and turned their exes into mere footnotes in their stories. Oh, and a big happy birthday to Liam Hemsworth for January 13th. We’re sure he’ll be listening to FLOWERS just like the rest of us.