62 voters

Songs That Are Low-Key Calling People Out

Updated August 9, 2019 334 votes 62 voters 2.8k views12 items

List RulesVote up the songs that harshly, but quietly, call people out.

Music has a long history of singers calling people out in song. Some of these digs are definitely more subtle than others, but each takes aim in a way that keeps listeners humming along.

John Lennon has both admitted and denied his post-Beatles solo tune "How Do You Sleep?" was about former bandmate Paul McCartney in response to his song "Too Many People." McCartney's album Ram may have been a critical flop, but it certainly addressed his feelings about Lennon and Yoko Ono.

Taylor Swift has made a habit of writing breakup songs about former lovers. It took decades for Carly Simon to finally reveal one of the targets of her famous dig song, "You're So Vain." And no compilation of diss songs is complete without a mention of Nicki Minaj and Lil' Kim.

Which put-downs are more than just a little obvious, and which ones leave room for a listener's imagination? It's up to you to decide. Vote up the songs with the most subtle digs. 

  • Video: YouTube

    Taylor Swift writes songs directly about her life. She's renowned for penning personal lyrics about her romances and the tribulations of being a pop superstar. 

    The pop feud between Katy Perry and Taylor Swift dates back to 2013. In 2014, Swift told Rolling Stone magazine that her new song "Bad Blood" - off of her fifth studio album, 1989 - was aimed at a woman, not about a guy she dated. She said:

    For years, I was never sure if we were friends or not. She would come up to me at awards shows and say something and walk away, and I would think "Are we friends, or did she just give me the harshest insult of my life?"

    Swift also claimed that the singer in question did something so underhanded that it threatened her entire tour and officially made the pair "straight-up enemies." She explained, "She basically tried to sabotage an entire arena tour. She tried to hire a bunch of people out from under me." The quote by Swift may not directly call Perry out, though it's been widely reported that three dancers from Swift's Red World Tour left in the middle of the tour to dance for Perry's Prismatic tour. 

    Diss Lyrics:

    Band-Aids don't fix bullet holes
    You say sorry just for show
    You live like that, you live with ghosts
    (You forgive, you forget, but you never let it go)
    Band-Aids don't fix bullet holes
    You say sorry just for show
    If you live like that, you live with ghosts
    If you love like that, blood runs cold

    Is this a subtle burn?
  • 2. 'Swish Swish' - Katy Perry

    Video: YouTube

    Katy Perry teamed up with Nicki Minaj for her 2017 single "Swish Swish." The song makes use of basketball references in the fight against bullies. 

    Although Perry does not call out Taylor Swift by name, many music fans figured the track - from her fifth studio album, Witness - was a direct response to Swift's diss in "Bad Blood." Minaj also has a beef history with Swift.

    Perry claimed in an interview with Entertainment Weekly that the song was not about a specific person, despite the rumors:

    One thing to note is: You can’t mistake kindness for weakness and don’t come for me. Anyone. Anyone. Anyone. Anyone. And that’s not to any one person and don’t quote me that it is, because it’s not. It’s not about that. Honestly, when women come together and they decide to unite, this world is going to be a better place. Period end of story. But, let me say this: Everything has a reaction or a consequence so don’t forget about that, okay, honey. [Laughs] We got to keep it real, honey. This record is not about anyone else! This record is about me being seen and heard so that I can see and hear everyone else!

    Diss Lyrics:

    So keep calm, honey, I'ma stick around
    For more than a minute, get used to it
    Funny my name keeps comin' out your mouth
    'Cause I stay winning
    Lay 'em up like

    Is this a subtle burn?
  • Video: YouTube

    Justin Timberlake has not revealed the source of his scorn on the 2002 track "Cry Me a River." The lyrics never specifically mention ex-girlfriend Britney Spears, but the music video for the song features a woman that looks a lot like the "Baby One More Time" singer. The video also hews very close to the story of infidelity that supposedly broke up the Spears-Timberlake relationship.

    Almost 10 years after the song was released, Timberlake's friend Timbaland told E! True Hollywood Story the saga behind the Grammy Award-winning breakup song. "He went to a concert and saw Britney, and Britney talked about him in the show and he was p*ssed." Timbaland served as a producer on "Cry Me a River." 

    Timberlake admitted that a depressing phone conversation - with a person he still won't name - inspired him to write the hit song. "I was on a phone call that was not the most enjoyable phone call. I walked into the studio and he [Timbaland] could tell I was visibly angry."

    Timbaland added, "I was like, 'Man, don't worry about it' and he was like, 'I can't believe she did that to me.'"

    Diss Lyrics:

    You were my sun, you were my earth
    But you didn't know all the ways I loved you, no
    So you took a chance, made other plans
    But I bet you didn't think that they would come crashing down, no

    You don't have to say, what you did
    I already know, I found out from him
    Now there's just no chance
    With you and me
    There'll never be
    Don't it make you sad about it?

    Is this a subtle burn?
  • Video: YouTube

    Nicki Minaj and Lil' Kim have been feuding since 2007, and neither rapper has been shy about her feelings towards the other. Though Minaj has never publicly admitted her 2011 song "Stupid Hoe" is aimed at Kim, the lyrics do the smack-talking for her.

    The track, from Minaj's second studio album, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, may be in response to Kim's alleged diss on Minaj in her 2011 song "Black Friday." The song appeared on Kim's 2011 Black Friday mixtape, which features artwork that directly parodies Minaj's first studio album, Pink Friday, and even includes a headless Minaj. 

    Andy Cohen asked Kim what she thought of Minaj's "Stupid Hoe" during an interview on his cable show Watch What Happens Live. Kim said of the single, "I'm pretty sure I feel the same way everybody else feels right about now. If you have to make a song called 'Stupid Hoe,' you must be a stupid hoe."

    Diss Lyrics:

    I get it cracking like a bad back
    B*tch talking she the queen when she looking like a lab rat
    I'm Angelina, you Jennifer
    C'mon, b*tch, you see, where Brad at?

    Is this a subtle burn?