Why Jason Derulo sucks at apologies

28 05 2013

Ages ago, in 2009, Jason Derulo wrote a song called “Whatcha Say” in which he sings the part of a cheating boyfriend attempting to reconcile with his girl after being caught in infidelity. The situation wrestles with some weighty and universal issues like trust, commitment, and forgiveness, and seems to have the potential for thought-provoking impact on its listeners.

Unfortunately for Derulo, he ignores all of that and writes one of the more pathetic excuses for creative language in a music industry that includes the Black Eyed Peas.

Why am I reviewing a 4-year-old hip-hop song for its social commentary and impact? Because I think it’ll be fun, that’s why.

OK, maybe there’s more than that. I’m a words guy. I think words have incredible power, and the way we use words has the potential to be both wildly constructive and profoundly damaging. And I think the way we use language in the entertainment media is having a hugely negative impact on the audience – and that’s all of us.

I think we could solve a lot of our relational issues in real life by being able to identify manipulative language when we see it.

Did someone say “manipulative language”? (Jason, that’s your cue!)

[Verse 1]
I was so wrong for so long
Only tryin’ to please myself
Girl, I was caught up in her lust
When I don’t really want no one else
I know I should have treated you better
But me and you were meant to last forever

I’ll give Derulo credit: he starts out OK. Admitting his wrong is a great start to an apology. Unfortunately, that’s as close as he ever gets to an actual apology. That’s right, you’re listening to an apology song that does not contain the words “I’m sorry!”

The third line is a nice example of blame-throwing (the “lust” belongs entirely to the other woman and not the singer), but in the grand scope of how awful this apology is, I just don’t have the time to dwell on it. The real issue is the last line. Notice how Derulo doesn’t say he’ll treat the girl better. He doesn’t say he’ll try harder, or enlist some close friends to keep him away from other women, or anything of the practical sort. He doesn’t even promise he won’t cheat again. The reason he does give for deserving forgivness? “Me and you were meant to last forever.” It’s a cheap cliché based on what sound like the flighty emotions of a 16-year-old, and it’s manipulation of language at its finest – words that hold absolutely no meaning strung together to play on emotions and numb the mind.

Ladies, if your boyfriend cheats on you, that’s a good sign you are not “meant to last forever,” and if he uses that exact cheesy phrase to justify himself, then the sign should be just about impossible to ignore.

Skipping to the pre-chorus:

Cause when the roof caved in and the truth came out
I just didn’t know what to do
But when I become a star we’ll be living so large
I’ll do anything for you

Translation: When you caught me cheating, it made me feel bad. (I don’t know how you felt, and I’m not going to bother to address it). But you should stay with me on the off chance I become rich and famous because then we can live the high life. Also, when we’re rich, then I’ll do anything for you (although I won’t do anything right now, since anything probably includes staying faithful).

My take? Great logical points. Because fame and wealth have the long-observed effect of making a person more faithful to their partner.

At this point, I’m going to skip over the chorus (the girl singing Derulo’s rationales back to him), because I just don’t want to address the line

Mmmm whatcha say,
Mmm that you only meant well?

for so, so many reasons.

[Verse 2]
How could I live with myself
Knowing that I let our love go?
And ooh, what I’d do with one chance
I just gotta let you know
I know what I did wasn’t clever
But me and you we’re meant to be together

My personal favorite verse. Glossing over the first line (we get it, Jason, getting caught made you feel bad. We’re all very sorry for you) and only briefly mentioning that this is at least his second chance (your first try was the one where you got caught cheating, remember buddy?), what I love so much are the closing lines.

You just got caught with another woman. You’re trying to apologize and get your girl back. You start the sentence “I know what I did was ______.” You could go any number of directions here. Words like selfish, damaging, and reprehensible come to mind. But nope, you’ve got something better. You choose to take this one all-important opportunity to point out that what you did “wasn’t clever.”

Something tells me you’re not a very clever man a lot of the time.

I feel bad harping on poor Jason Derulo so much today (ah, who am I kidding, I don’t feel bad at all), because this kind of abuse of language is all-too-common in popular entertainment – music, movies and TV especially. The ubiquity of it is enough to numb us to its presence and leave us vulnerable to language manipulation. One common abuse of language right now is a refusal to admit faults or wrongdoing – it’s pervasive among our generation, and I’ll admit to being as guilty of it as anyone. In fact, Donald Miller wrote in his blog last week that an unwillingness to admit wrongs is the common denominator among all manipulators.

Thinking critically about the way we use language can save us from falling victim to those who manipulate it, whether they are religious leaders, political figures, or folks from our everyday lives. And even more importantly, it can keep us from becoming self-absorbed manipulators ourselves.

As for Derulo’s (possibly imaginary) girl, I like to think she escaped a toxic relationship, and radio single history backs me up on this. As terrible as Jason Derulo’s apology was, it’s really no wonder his next single was “Riding Solo.”


Wide-ranging thoughts on the Minnesota Marriage Bill

14 05 2013

Let me say right off the bat that I just don’t like the issue of gay marriage. I don’t like what it does to us all. The debate brings out a level of vitriol that so far transcends any other topic. Slurs against homosexual people are incredibly hurtful, damaging, and far too common. And the harsh words directed to traditional marriage advocates are no better. Since last fall, I’ve seen myself and others called bigots, small-minded, backwards and homophobic (the most misleading misnomer in modern conversation). Look at those words for a moment. These are insults. These aren’t logical words arguing with a political position. These are fighting words, pieces of ad hominem attacks against a person’s character, not their arguments.

Words hurt, folks. They hurt everyone – gay or straight, marriage traditionalist or expansionist. And I hate that this debate has seemingly made us all forget that ever-important kindergarten lesson.

With full disclosure that I just don’t like what this argument does to us, I want to organize a few (gentle and non-confrontational) thoughts on today’s landmark marriage bill in Minnesota.

The Good? The Fitzsimmons Amendment. Last week, a St. Michael-Albertville representative tacked on an amendment adding the word “civil” before the word “marriage” wherever it appears in the bill. The idea was to protect religious institutions from being forced to violate their beliefs under the bill, and though most analysis of the amendment says the effects will be insignificant if anything, it’s a step in the right direction.

This is the route the debate needs to go. It’s becoming clear that there is a divide between how government treats marriage and how the church treats it. Civil or governmental marriage is about legal recognition, it’s about tax benefits and visitation rights, and to be honest, it’s not the government’s place to be giving these rights to some and denying them to others.

What’s unfortunate is that the state has tied these rights to a religious concept called marriage that encompasses so much more for religious people than a legal document and a tax break. The battle cry for the marriage bill has been “love is love,” and love is a vital part of marriage. But when someone says that if two people love each other, they deserve to get married, I can’t help but feel like they’ve missed something in the definition of marriage. Love is essential, but marriage is so much more than love. Marriage is lifelong commitment, marriage is ever-growing intimacy, marriage is the one and only setting for procreation, it’s the nursery for growing children, the breeding ground for a deepening relationship with God, the seed of the so-vital family unit, the affirmation of the complementary strengths and weaknesses of each sex, the living symbol of the church’s relationship to our creator. And I’m sure there are plenty more aspects I’ve missed that my more theologically-versed friends can help me out with.

If I sound a little overly dramatic, if I sound like I’m describing something sacred and absolutely vital to myself and my faith, then you’ll understand why a government redefinition of marriage is so painful for Christians like myself.

Quite frankly, the government can’t and shouldn’t be promoting marriage, not if it encompasses everything listed above. Ideally, the state wouldn’t be involved in marriage at all. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem an option at this point. The next best thing would be allowing the state to do what it wants legally (based, of course, on what its constituents ask for – people of faith included), and religious institutions should be able to promote the more comprehensive definition of marriage without legal restraint.

That’s where this bill concerns me. It’s a rare law that comes with zero unintended consequences, and the most likely to follow this bill are discrimination suits against people of faith.  No matter how adamantly supporters of the bill assert that it won’t happen here, they are unable to provide any hard evidence. Why? Because  the facts argue otherwiseprecedent from other states makes it awfully clear that there will be unintended consequences and that whether advocated intend it to or not, this bill will wind up forcing people to violate their personal and religious beliefs, as one local law professor wrote in the Pioneer Press.

These problems were addressable in the Minnesota bill. One of my local representatives tried to add an amendment Friday fixing some, but it was shot down. There just wasn’t time. The bill was rushed through, it was forced down the throats of the minority by a majority that, spurred on by a desire to be on some arbitrarily-defined “right side of history,” simply wouldn’t listen to anyone with a differing view. I agree with Melissa Coleman when she wrote last week that this was an extreme solution to an issue with many available compromises.

Last fall we were told that a constitutional amendment in favor of traditional marriage was too concrete, too permanent. But the pleas to merely ‘continue the conversation’ ring hollow now. Continuing the conversation simply meant deciding just as permanently 6 months later, only in the other direction. In fact, the argument then that the constitutional amendment was redundant and unneccessary sound a lot like the arguments now that there is no threat to religious freedom in the Minnesota Marriage bill. Are we willing to trust the same faulty argument twice?

With all this said, I think it’s crucial for Christians to keep focused more than ever on our role here and now. Don’t panic, don’t get depressed over the passage of a single bill. We often forget that our government and our church are not one. As much as we should try to set up a God-honoring government, it’s not our main focus. This isn’t our permanent home, and we shouldn’t be so consumed with shaping this world the way we want it to be that we forget that our first focus is people. We’re not called to legislate others into our own morality. We’re called to love them. I firmly believe God doesn’t care about our legislative victories and courtroom triumphs half as much as he cares about how we love other people.

This isn’t some corruption of our perfect Christian homeland. This isn’t our home. God is setting up the perfect home for us, and our job is to get as many people in as possible. At best, fixing up this world is like cleaning a hotel room – it’s a stop on the way to something better. Our job is unchanged, and while I worry that this bill might make that job more difficult, now is the perfect time to refocus on what our priority truly is.