Even more than most artists, musicians can be a fickle bunch. Whether out of rivalry, jealousy, entitlement, or insecurity, famous musicians tend to drum up a lot of drama.
As long as there have been popular musicians, they’ve been quick to throw shade at each other and their works. Many of the most famous musical rivalries—Salieri and Mozart and Tupac and Biggie—are straightforward and make at least some twisted sense. Others, however, are baffling. Some rivalries make you question the sanity of those involved, or at least why they’re allowed to have Twitter accounts. With that in mind, here are ten of the weirdest rivalries in music history.
10 Queen and Vanilla Ice
The spat between legendary arena rockers Queen and a legendary cameo in Ninja Turtles 2 by Vanilla Ice is weird because its conclusion was so obvious from the start. In 1981, Queen teamed up with David Bowie to record “Under Pressure,” the song soon became a number one hit. Perhaps its most memorable component is its “Ding-Ding-Ding Diddle Ing-Ding” bass line written and performed by bassist John Deacon. That’s why it was odd when Vanilla Ice blatantly stole the riff and lied about it.
Ice sampled the bass line for “Ice Ice Baby” and then lied in interviews, claiming that he had modified it. This was all to avoid paying royalties, of course, which he still ended up paying after a successful lawsuit by Bowie and Queen. They also won songwriting credits on Ice Ice Baby, which makes it somewhat of a Pyrrhic victory.
9 The Dixie Chicks and Thirty Percent of America
In 2003, The Dixie Chicks found themselves inadvertently feuding with…nearly all of country music and its fans. During a show in London, Chicks singer Natalie Maines told the crowd, “Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.” As anyone could have guessed, the country music establishment was less than thrilled.
Thousands of country music radio stations across the United States blacklisted the Chicks’ music, and some rebellious DJs were even suspended for putting Chicks songs on the air. CDs were burned by the hundreds and destroyed with tractors. Country singer Toby Keith hung up a picture of Maines hugging Saddam Hussein at his concerts. The vitriolic backlash has not aged well.
8 Elton John and Madonna
The feud between Elton John and Madonna is odd because it started over essentially nothing and somehow still had enough fuel to burn for decades. In 2002, John felt a very random bee in his bonnet and decided to publicly comment that Madonna’s theme song for “Die Another Day” was “the worst ‘Bond’ tune ever.” The rest is history. Except that… it’s still going.
In the years since, John has continued to hurl some seriously catty barbs, such as “Madonna, best live act? F**k off,” and, “Her tour is a disaster, and it couldn’t happen to a bigger c**t.” Madonna, to her credit, has kept her public comments tactful and measured. However, her long history of derisive statements in other contexts makes it plausible that the queen of pop helps keep the feud burning in her own, less public ways.
7 Miley Cyrus and Sinead O’Connor
Miley Cyrus and Sinead O’Connor feuded for years, and it was such an odd battle because, at so many points, both sides were so close to supporting each other. It began when Miley cited O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” as an inspiration for her own “Wrecking Ball.” O’Connor, in typical O’Connor fashion, responded atypically.
She penned a long (long, long) open letter to Cyrus, offering the young star support and advice, but in a way that came across as condescending and critical. Miley took umbrage and tweeted out shade regarding O’Connor’s mental health. Then came another long (long, long) open letter, then more tweets. Every round was criticism disguised as counsel, or perhaps the other way around. It is always hard to tell with O’Connor.
6 Tchaikovsky and Half of Russia
Music, like any art, is a progressive medium; it’s a continuous cycle of out with the old and in with the new. Except that musicians, for whatever reason, love attempting to force the old out with public shade. That’s precisely what happened, and kept happening, to Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, as a group of younger composers known as The Five dragged him in public for daring to be…older.
The story goes deeper, of course, and includes a sense of nationalism within The Five, who wanted to produce a new, specifically Russian style of music and abandon the older, Western European style taught at traditional conservatories. But ultimately, the gang of slightly younger musicians simply tore into Tchaikovsky in print repeatedly, calling him, for example, “utterly feeble… If he had any talent at all…it would surely at some point in the piece have broken free of the chains imposed by the Conservatory.”
5 Dave Grohl and Courtney Love
The battle between Kurt Cobain’s widow Courtney Love and his Nirvana bandmates is a well-known chapter in music history. It’s easy to forget, though, how insane the whole conflict was.
Dave Grohl and Love were never fans of each other. Both slammed each other in interviews, and several documentaries chronicle their bad blood during Nirvana’s reign. Things escalated to an absurd level when Love took Grohl and Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic to court over the rights to unreleased Nirvana songs and any potential royalties thereof. The two then countersued. Though the three eventually settled, it’s worth stating for posterity: Courtney Love tried to sue Nirvana to keep Nirvana songs away from Nirvana.
4 Kurt Cobain and Axl Rose
Speaking of the late, great Kurt Cobain—he was not innocent from petty hostility himself. In the early ’90s, his band Nirvana and the Axl Rose-led hard rock band Guns N’ Roses were at the absolute top of the rock world. Rose, to his credit, was a Nirvana fan and invited them on tour. Cobain didn’t share the love. He refused the offer, calling Rose a “sellout.”
Things grew from there to include nasty attacks in print, such as Rose’s comments that Cobain was “just a f**kin’ junkie with a junkie wife” and implying their drug use would cause their then-unborn child birth defects. Things came to a head at the 1992 VMAs when the two bands verbally fought backstage. The feud only ended with Cobain’s death, but perhaps the weirdest part is its beginning: this was one feud not actively instigated by Axl Rose.
3 Justin Bieber and Patrick Carney
It’s hard to think of two more random and disparate musical acts than Justin Bieber and the Black Keys. Yet somehow, the two found themselves feuding on Twitter when Keys drummer Patrick Carney tweeted about Bieber’s Grammy win that, “Grammys are for music, not for the money, and he’s making a lot of money. He should be happy.” The Biebs was, in fact, not happy and tweeted that Carney should be “slapped around.”
The problem is that Bieber had 100 million Twitter followers, and many were young, reckless, diehards. They attacked Carney with immaturity and abuse that made the Keys drummer afraid for his life. Carney would later say of the incident, “he should be grateful that he has a f**king career in music. And he shouldn’t be f**king telling his followers to slap me, and then also be doing anti-bullying bulls**t. It’s so irresponsible.”
2 John Fogerty and…Himself?
In one of the most bizarre copyright cases in history, John Fogerty’s former record label sued him for copying himself.
After Fogerty left the label Fantasy Inc., they retained rights to his early catalog. When he recorded new material with a new label, Fantasy Inc. decided it was too similar to his old material and sued him for copyright infringement. The case went to trial, and an actual judge had to determine whether John Fogerty sounded too much like John Fogerty. Ultimately, Fogerty won the case by playing his guitar live in court and proving that his different songs are, in fact, different songs.
1 When Mayhem Earned Their Name
Mayhem was a band that decided to put the death in death metal. They were pioneers in the Norwegian black metal scene, which metal-heads will attest is one of the heaviest genres of music in history. They were not poseurs. They lived the metal life and then some, ultimately becoming infamous for violent attacks, church burnings, and eventually…murder.
It started when the original singer “Dead” committed suicide. Fellow member Øystein “Euronymous” Aarseth used the suicide as PR for the band, elevating their dark image and claiming the suicide happened because metal was becoming too commercialized. Euronymous even went so far as to fashion necklaces out of bits of Dead’s skull.
Fellow band member Varg Vikernes disliked the politicization of Dead’s death and feared Euronymous would kill him next to feed the band’s reputation further. Vikernes decided to act first and stabbed Euronymous to death. There truly has never been a musical feud like that between the members of Mayhem.