Justin Bieber's Sorry Lyrics Meaning

Dear Justin Bieber, the confessional mode looks good on you. At least, that's how I'd best interpret the lyrics for Bieber's latest track "Sorry," which dropped earlier today with a poppy, incongruous dance video. Its EDM polish (it was co-produced by Skrillex and Blood Diamonds, two heavies of the EDM landscape today) and brightly dressed dancers belie its apologetic (well, it's called "Sorry" after all), candid lyrics. The song is addressed to an unnamed "you," but what are Justin Bieber's "Sorry" lyrics about?

Last month, Bieber was interviewed by Complex, speaking at especial length about his on-again, off-again relationship with Selena Gomez, which began when he was 16. By 18, they had moved in together, but as Bieber tells it, it wasn't the healthiest relationship:

We were all about each other. But when it’s like that and you get your value from that, people will always disappoint you. Your girl or your dude, they’re always going to disappoint you. Your full identity can’t be in that person. My identity was in her. Her identity was in me. When stuff would happen, I would lose my freakin’ mind, and she would lose her mind, and we would fight so hard because we were so invested in each other. Love is a choice. Love is not a feeling.
On the heels of that, it's inevitable that Bieber's lyrics — especially ones as pointed and poignant as "Sorry" — will be linked back to his relationship with Selena Gomez. And honestly, given how serious their relationship became, it's a fair interpretation. The lyrics pack a punch from the very first line; Bieber isn't holding back for this track.

Putting aside for a moment the inevitable "What is going on with those dancers?" question that must arise from seeing the video, I want to look at the lyrics for "Sorry" a piece at a time to get a better idea of what he's saying. Let's go old-school English class close-reading on this.

You gotta go and get angry at all of my honesty
You know I try but I don't do too well with apologies
I hope I don't run out of time, can someone call a referee?
Cause I just need one more shot at forgiveness
I've got to give Bieber props for acknowledging his flaws right off the bat. Apologies are hard enough in the abstract; it speaks to me when he talks about how difficult they are for something so important. Then he turns to outside support — "Can someone call a referee?" — which could well relate to his relationship with Gomez. She often turned to her pal, a lady by the name of Taylor Swift, in times of distress. But "I just need one more shot at forgiveness"? That speaks to a broader audience than his audience of one, Gomez. Who hasn't wished they had one more chance?

It's not necessarily about his relationship with Gomez; instead, it seems like that relationship, serious and rocky as it was, gave him the necessary perspective to appreciate the weight of an apology. Sure, "Sorry" likely has more than a few notes of remorse for how their relationship ended, but it's reductive to say that a song's lyrics are exclusively about one individual. "Sorry" has a universality about it evident in the subsequent lyrics.

I know you know that I made those mistakes maybe once or twice
By once or twice I mean maybe a couple of hundred times
So let me, oh let me redeem, oh redeem myself tonight
'Cause I just need one more shot at second chances
"By once or twice I mean maybe a couple hundred times" might be my favorite line in the song. It's hyperbolic, yet so honest. But this isn't a post about my subjective feelings. Bieber really, really wants that second chance, by the sound of it. There's not a lot left to the imagination in "Sorry." He's showing his hand, and declaring, "Ball's in your court." It's up to the jilted friend or lover to respond.
So then we move into the pre-chorus:

Is it too late now to say sorry?
Cause I'm missing more than just your body
Is it too late now to say sorry?
Yeah I know that I let you down
Is it too late to say that I'm sorry now?
Well, it took a while, but Justin Bieber has realized that there's more to a woman than "just [her] body." "Sorry" seems less like a straightforward apology, though, and more of an exploration of when, if ever, is the right time to say sorry. When is too soon, or too late, or just right? This elevates the song from just an expression of apology to a really thoughtful account of what it really means to apologize.

Bieber repeats that he's sorry a couple times throughout the simple chorus — he's back and forth between total contrition and questioning when is the appropriate moment to be contrite. In the second verse, he declares,

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
I'll go, I'll go and then you go, you go out and spill the truth
Can we both say the words and forget this?
"Sorry" is such an emotional odyssey. First, he's sorry, then he's not sure when he should be sorry, and now he's asking that his lover be sorry too. And Selena Gomez is no more a stranger to writing about her relationships than Bieber seems to — her song "The Heart Wants What It Wants" is pretty overtly about him, too. The couple has probably produced an entire record out of their tumultuous relationship. And even if "Sorry" isn't entirely about Gomez, future collaboration, anyone?

In the bridge and final chorus, Bieber trails back into sorrow after this brief lash out against whoever has hurt him. He's a little bit self-deprecating throughout "Sorry," and it's a great look. Hopefully it heralds more mature material to appear on his upcoming album Purpose.

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