Justin Bieber released his latest single, “Sorry,” yesterday afternoon and I watched the accompanying dance video seven times on repeat when it still had under 30,000 views. I’m proud of that. There was a time when I followed Bieber on Instagram because he takes good selfies, and I like to see his new tattoos, and sometimes he hangs out with really cute dogs. But now, I use Bieber’s Instagram for an entirely different purpose: To remind myself exactly when I can expect to hear his next fire single. This is how I managed to hear “Sorry” within the first 30 minutes that it was released, which is impressive for me, because I am late to literally every single pop song despite the fact that I have James Rettig breathing down my neck every day in the office telling me to listen to Carly Rae Jepsen, etc. My reason for this: So many of these songs will be ubiquitous in a few weeks’ time, so why rush? Over the summer, I couldn’t walk down the street without hearing “Fuck Up Some Commas,” and now I can’t escape “Hotline Bling.” But something about Bieber’s new shit makes me feel really fucking rushed. I want to be the first person to proselytize.
Of course, I’m not first on this one. In all honesty when this song dropped, Chris slipped it into the Week In Pop and we thought that was good enough. The truth is, “Sorry” isn’t as immediately impactful as “What Do You Mean?” was. The two songs actually sound kind of similar; they both initiate with a lone piano note before a distinct motif takes over. In the case of “What Do You Mean?” that motif was a ticking clock; in “Sorry” it’s a high-pitched coo. The production on both is the consistency of coconut-scented tanning oil — vaguely tropical, sparsely rhythmic, with a few sampled flourishes here and there, but never overwrought. In fact, it’s confounding to me that both of these songs weren’t produced by the same person.
When “What Do You Mean?” was released, a lot of people instinctively thought Skrillex had worked on it, because it dropped in the aftermath of a Skrillex x Diplo x Bieber collaboration filled with expensive sounding sounds, “Where Are Ü Now,” and both light the fuck up with a pan-flute trill. (Note that the pan-flute perfectly soundtracks Bieber’s newfound Peter Pan aesthetic). There was a time when “Skrillex” was synonymous with a warbling drop, the kind that makes you feel queasy and sounds highly inappropriate in most day-to-day settings. But on “Where Are Ü Now” and “Sorry,” the latter of which he co-produced with Blood (bka Blood Diamonds), he raises the stakes without resorting to Huge Overwhelming Sounds. The drop in “Sorry” is straight-up glassy, ushered in by the super subtle swish of a broom or a horse’s tail. It sounds effortless, which is only heightened by this cute video of Blood, Skrillex, and Bieber humbly kumbaya-ing it up:
Like “What Do You Mean?,” “Sorry” is a song about a decaying relationship, but unlike the first single, Bieber shoulders all of the blame. Lyrically, I can’t help but be reminded of Taylor Swift’s “New Romantics” when I listen to “Sorry” because both of these songs hold a mirror up to half-assed lovers in the 21st century, exemplified by the first line in the chorus: “Is it too late now to say sorry?/ ‘Cause I’m missing more than just your body.” That’s the line in this song that hits me the hardest — how fucked is that? Maybe I’m giving him way too much credit, but it seems more than obvious that Bieber has been on a redemptive path to make up for all of the years he spent kneeling at the altar of assholism. It’s kind of nice to hear a song about how much he messed up, and maybe it’s “about Selena,” but maybe it’s not. This song is the musical equivalent of Bieber breaking down in tears at the VMAs. Regardless of the many snarky comments I made about it, that sobbing stirred something in me. It felt like one of the least choreographed moments of the entire shitshow spectacle. He’s reclaiming an image without backtracking on his mistakes, and so I have chosen to think of “Sorry” as Bieber’s apology to us all, his reluctant fans. Listen below.
Purpose is out 11/13 via Def Jam.