The Anatomy of a Poor Apology

Dissecting Justin Bieber’s Sorry

In recent months, Bieber’s song Sorry has soared in popularity. In my daily 10 minute drive to work, I invariably catch a few bars of it playing over the radio before I change the station. I wonder about the appeal of this song, and I think I get it. We all want someone to run after us insisting that they can’t live without us after all. And on the other side, we want to apologize for things we’ve done without being held accountable for them. Add catchy music to the mix and we’re sold.

Despite its popular appeal, I think this song offers a toxic but classic model of a poor apology. Here are the key components of a poor apology that I’ve extracted from Sorry:

1. Doesn’t own responsibility

The singer uses the word “sorry,” but he is unwilling to fully own the offense. He uses several strategies to avoid responsibility.

Minimizes the offense

I know you know that I made those mistakes maybe once or twice
By once or twice I mean maybe a couple a hundred times

The singer glosses over the magnitude and repetitive nature of the offense.

Blames others

I’ll take every single piece of the blame if you want me to
But you know that there is no innocent one in this game for two

While he offers to take the blame, he doesn’t actually do it. Instead, he points out that she is to blame as well.

2. Demands a particular response

The singer has an agenda. It’s not his grief for the pain he caused that that moves him to apologize. He believes that his apology will only be “in time” if he gets the response that he desires from the girl.

Desires that she ignore the offense

Can we both say the words and forget this?

The singer wants her to forget or ignore the offense even though he admitted that it was something he did regularly. He is asking for her trust without making any attempt to rebuild it.

Expects a restored relationship

So let me, oh let me redeem, oh redeem, oh myself tonight
‘Cause I just need one more shot at second chances
Is it too late now to say sorry?
‘Cause I’m missing more than just your body

According to the singer, it’s too late to apologize if she’s unwilling to take him back. These lines reveal the singer’s true motive. He isn’t really sorry. He just misses his girlfriend and thinks he can have her back if he apologizes.


So to the singer of Sorry, I would say this: it’s probably not too late to offer a genuine apology, but that’s not what you’ve done. No, you’re using the word “sorry” manipulatively to get something from the person you hurt. I suggest you spend some time listening to Andrew Peterson’s song, “I want to say I’m sorry” and try again later.

Further Reading on apology and forgiveness:
How to Move from Forgiveness to Reconciliation – The Gospel Coalition

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