Why do Watch Me pop stars insist on airing their dirty laundry in public?

When it comes to airing the dirty laundry, the Johnny Depp v Amber Heard civil libel lawsuit — in which Heard was accused of defecating on their marital bed — has set new lows. But lest anyone think his divisive verdict could be the end of the matter, Depp has now released a rock album, 18, with guitarist Jeff Beck. It’s an album about love and betrayal, which apparently shows no intention of letting things lie.

In Sad Motherf—— Parade, the actor becomes personal. “You’re sitting there like a dog, with a seven-year-old itch,” he sings about who do you think. “And I think you’ve said enough for one mother——night.” Elsewhere, he makes a snarling reference to money: “If I had a penny / it wouldn’t reach your hand.” But what does Depp get out of this wickedness, beyond cruel revenge and bitter rage? Of course, Depp isn’t the only one who’s worked a bad relationship into a song. The actor may even have found inspiration in the song from Marvin Gaye’s 1978 divorce album You Can Leave, But It’s Going to Cost You, which features the lyrics: “His lawyers worked so hard /try to take my wealth”.

Or he could be mimicking the Rolling Stones – he’s often accused of stealing Keith Richards’ look after all. Their 1966 track Under My Thumb flirts more than misogyny by referring to a woman as “under my thumb / it’s a squirming dog just had its day.” When Mick Jagger was told 10 years later that the lyrics made a lot of women cringe, he laughed it off as teenage experiences quoting another part of the song. “If you listen carefully to the lyrics – not too carefully – ‘Under my thumb/ The girl who once had me down’ – you see? It’s not that unfair.” He later said, “All I did was turn it around.”

Oftentimes, putting a soured relationship in the spotlight is a recipe for controversy, and female songwriters aren’t exempt from these poor PR decisions. Ariana Grande’s 2019 single Thank You Next hid very little, naming, if not exactly shamefully, a bunch of real-life ex-partners, thanking them for making her a better person, before to send them back with a biting, “I’m so f—— thankful for my ex / Thank you, next”. Although the song has since become an ode to empowerment, it has drawn criticism at the era because one of those exes, Mac Miller, had died a few months earlier (though it was former fiancé and Saturday Night Live regular Pete Davidson who seemed like the intended recipient of the title line).

Meanwhile, Taylor Swift’s beloved 2012 song about a lost love, All Too Well, from her album Red, has fans speculating it was actor Jake Gyllenhaal, with whom Swift allegedly shared a three-month relationship in 2010. The impression wasn’t exactly dispelled when Swift created a 10-minute version of the song for her album re-recording in November last year, then made a video for it. this one featuring Stranger Things’ Sadie Sink and Gyllenhaal lookalike Dylan O’Brien – which some felt was a step too far. Gyllenhaal told Esquire: ‘It has nothing to do with me’ and complained about Swift’s online fan attacks: ‘I think it’s important when fans get unruly that we feel responsible for make them be civil and not allow cyberbullying in his name.”

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