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.”