Lil Nas X? Not Sorry!

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Social media apologies have become the standard celebrity response to internet outrage. But why do they feel so deeply inadequate? Jenna and Wesley dissect a new spate of public apologies from the last year. And they look to the activist and writer adrienne maree brown for an example of a “fully evolved” apology.

On Today’s Episode

Jenna and Wesley first discussed public apologies in 2019. Since then, they’ve been tracking their evolution. Here’s a peek at some of the entries in their taxonomy of apologies.

The Tipping Point Apology

According to Wesley, this type of apology comes “when there’s so much public outcry” that a celebrity “feels like they have to apologize for something long ago.” A recent example is Justin Timberlake’s apology to Britney Spears and Janet Jackson, which he posted to Instagram in February.

Discussed with Timberlake’s apology:

“Framing Britney Spears,” a New York Times documentary that premiered in February and set off a wave of criticism of Timberlake for how he treated Britney Spears after their breakup.

Timberlake’s jam “Cry Me a River” (2012), which is rumored to be about his breakup with Spears.

The infamous 2004 Super Bowl halftime show, featuring Timberlake and Janet Jackson. As the pop music critic Jon Pareles has written, after this incident, “her career, far more original than his, plummeted,” while his “continued to rise.”

The ‘Burn It Down’ Apology

This type of apology is followed by a dramatic exit — a mic drop. The best example of this was “like a 10-layer apology,” Jenna said, and starred Meghan Markle, Oprah Winfrey, Piers Morgan and Sharon Osbourne.

Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry on CBS (March 2021).

Piers Morgan and Alex Beresford’s heated conversation on “Good Morning Britain” (March 2021), which led to Morgan leaving the show.

Sharon Osbourne’s defense of Piers Morgan on Twitter and on a subsequent episode of “The Talk.”

Ms. Osbourne’s statement on Twitter, in which she apologized to “anyone of color that I offended and/or to anyone that feels confused or let down by what I said.” She has since left “The Talk,” where she worked for more than a decade.

The Fully Evolved Apology

adrienne maree brown is a writer who wrote a blog post last summer about the potentially harmful repercussions of cancel culture. Some readers told her they were offended and hurt by the post. Rather than becoming defensive, she was committed to listening to their concerns and integrating them into her understanding. She apologized and rewrote the blog post to fix her mistakes (and wrote about it in her book “We Will Not Cancel Us”).

The Cascade Apology

This is not a single apology, but a series of apologies set off by one another. It was recently exemplified by the “rapid-fire chain of events” (as Wesley put it) that involved Bon Appétit and Gimlet Media, the parent company of the podcast “Reply All.” It was “Netflix mini-series type level drama” for the media industry, Wesley said. It opened up a conversation in which employees at Bon Appétit and Gimlet could expose the discrimination and mistreatment they experienced at work.

Lil Nas X’s Nonapology

Lil Nas X, a.k.a. Montero Lamar Hill, wrote a new song, “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” with a video set partly in hell. He also came out with “Satan Shoes,” Nikes that cost $1,018 and supposedly contained drops of blood in the soles, which prompted a lawsuit from Nike and a backlash from the right.

Lil Nas knew people were going to expect him to apologize, but instead, he dropped a YouTube nonapology. It was the ultimate “internet trickery,” Jenna said.

Hosted by: Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morris
Produced by: Elyssa Dudley
Edited by: Sara Sarasohn and Sasha Weiss
Engineered by: Marion Lozano
Executive Producer, Shows: Wendy Dorr
Executive Editor, Newsroom Audio: Lisa Tobin
Assistant Managing Editor: Sam Dolnick
Special thanks: Nora Keller, Julia Simon, Mahima Chablani and Desiree Ibekwe

Wesley Morris is a critic at large. He was awarded the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for his criticism while at The Boston Globe. He has also worked at Grantland, The San Francisco Chronicle and The San Francisco Examiner. @wesley_morris

Jenna Wortham is a staff writer for The Times Magazine and co-editor of the book “Black Futures” with Kimberly Drew. @jennydeluxe

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