15 Songs You Never Realized Are Actually Diss Tracks

When it comes to pop songs that are diss tracks, subtlety is often just as good as - or perhaps even better than - full-on mockery. While the world will always welcome blatant parodies like Frank Zappa's "Bobby Brown" and the like, there really is something to be said for brilliantly passive-aggressive treatments of celebrity feuds in song.

Take Tori Amos's "Professional Widow," for instance - could it be about Courtney Love? The Foo Fighters' "Let It Die" might be about her, too. And is Radiohead's "Punch Up at a Wedding" really a response to a bad review? Either way, the lyrics are deliciously scathing.

Some artists, of course, choose to keep their double meanings eternally cryptic, but it's still fascinating to see private issues played out in the public arena of art. These secretly insulting pop songs managed to hit their mark perfectly, all while maintaining a facade that's just innocent enough. Perhaps more celebrity fights should be settled with music.

Photo: Jack Mitchell / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0

  • Dave Grohl and Courtney Love's animosity goes back a long way, and several Foo Fighters songs are rumored to contain unflattering references to her. In 2007, however, Grohl more or less admitted to reporters that this song is largely about Love.

    Commenting on lines like "a simple man and his blushing bride/Intravenous, intertwined," Grohl said:

    [It's] a song that's written about feeling helpless to someone else's demise. I've seen people lose it all to drugs and heartbreak.... It's happened more than once in my life, but the one that's most noted is Kurt. And there are a lot of people that I've been angry with in my life, but the one that's most noted is Courtney. So it's pretty obvious to me that those correlations are gonna pop up every now and again.

  • Trent Reznor's relationship with Marilyn Manson goes back a long way, and it's definitely had its ups and downs. So it's perhaps no surprise that most people believe that the song "Starf*ckers, Inc." (off the 1999 album The Fragile) is largely a none-too-veiled attack on Manson. 

    In an interview with Mojo, Reznor had this to say about his "former protegee":

    He is a malicious guy and will step on anybody's face to succeed and cross any line of decency. Seeing him now… he's become a dopey clown.

    However, Reznor and Manson also collaborated on the song's music video. So if the lyrics were, in fact, inspired by Manson, he didn't seem to mind that much.

  • At almost seven minutes long, David Bowie's "Teenage Wildlife" is one of Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)'s most extravagant tracks. But its flamboyance is also an exercise in full-fledged satire. As the AV Club puts it:

    When Bowie didn't like somebody, he let them know, though few people seem to have rubbed him the wrong way like Gary Numan did in the late 1970s. The new-wave pioneer owed a lot to Bowie’s experiments with sound and public image, as did many of the synth poppers who were coming up at the time - but instead of a nod of approval from the Thin White Duke, what they inspired was the sprawling, poison-pen “Teenage Wildlife”... The song’s lyrics are cutting: “Same old thing in brand new drag,” taking aim at Numan and his peers’ obsession with technology and repetition.

  • Tori Amos's 'Professional Widow' Might Be About Courtney Love

    The hard-edged lyrics of this song certainly suggest that Tori Amos's "Professional Widow" (off the 1996 album Boys for Pele) might be about Courtney Love. Amos's reasons for taking issue with Love appear to be well established. 

    Amos and Kurt Cobain were friends, and Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor has famously blamed Love for ruining him and Amos's friendship (and possible romance).

    Amos has neither confirmed nor denied Love's influence on the song. But she has strongly hinted that the tune was at least inspired by her, even if it did take on a poetic and open-ended life of its own after the fact (as works of art will). 

  • Gwen Stefani's 'Hollaback Girl' Is Supposedly About Courtney Love
    Photo: Georges Biard / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0

    Gwen Stefani's 'Hollaback Girl' Is Supposedly About Courtney Love

    Though most people probably don't even associate Courtney Love with Gwen Stefani, legend has it that the latter's "Hollaback Girl" is, in fact, a veiled attack on the former. 

    Love has publicly admitted to Howard Stern - perhaps facetiously - that she and Stefani's then-husband, Gavin Rossdale, slept together while he and the No Doubt singer were still married.

  • Nick Cave's 'Scum' Takes On His Former Housemate

    Nick Cave is a master of both searingly brutal and heartrendingly romantic musical tour-de-forces, and his abrasive track "Scum" is said to be about his former housemate, journalist Mat Snow. 

    As Snow recalled for the The Guardian:

    By 1983 the Birthday Party [Cave's former band] had broken up and Nick was forming the Bad Seeds. He and his girlfriend Anita were asking for somewhere to crash for a while, and the pair moved in with me... I raved about his From Her To Eternity album but then, in a singles review, happened to drop in that the forthcoming - second - Nick Cave album lacked the same dramatic tension. 

    A year or so later I found myself interviewing Nick formally for the first time... he said, “I think you're an a***hole” and mentioned that he'd written a song developing this theme.