Album: Purpose (2015)
Charted: 1 1
Play Video


  • After a run of boorish behavior that included reckless driving, public urination and even an incident involving a black market monkey, Justin Bieber showed some contrition in 2015, apologizing for some of his misdeeds and subjecting himself to a Comedy Central roast. He sees this song as the coda. "It's kind of the stamp, the end-all of apologies that I'm giving to people, to the media," he told the Australian radio station Nova 93.7. "There needs to come a time when they just say, 'We get it,' and putting out a song saying 'I'm sorry' king of puts the icing on the cake. I'm ready to just move on."

    Bieber later recanted this explanation, telling GQ magazine that he wasn't actually apologizing to the public for his past mistakes through the tune. "People ran with that - that I was like, apologizing with that song and stuff," he said. "It really had nothing to do with that... It was about a girl."
  • Justin Bieber penned this apologetic song with songwriter Julia Michaels and Semi Precious Weapons' Justin Tranter. It finds the singer saying sorry to his lost love and asking for a second chance:

    Let me, oh let me redeem myself
    I know that I've let you down

    Julia Michaels wrote in an annotation on the Genius site: "We were just trying to capture that moment in a relationship or a particular moment in your life where you realize you made a mistake and you're finally ready to admit it and apologize."
  • Michaels and Tranter also co-wrote several tracks on Selena Gomez' Revival album. Gomez is, of course, Bieber's former girlfriend and this song of redemption may be addressed to her.
  • The song's smooth tropical house beat was supplied by Skrillex, with whom Bieber also made the hit single "Where Are U Now," along with Diplo. The Californian producer recalled to NME: "Me and Blood [formerly Blood Diamonds, who produced Grimes' 'Go '] just gave Justin the beat and he wrote the melody and cut the vocals."

    "He's still a pop star making pop music, but all the stuff I worked on with him had a sense of honesty about it. When you listen to his lyrics you can tell he's becoming an adult. All I did was just act as support for what Justin was saying and help keep it simple, and record good, memorable songs."

    "He thought 'Sorry' was gonna be too safe. I told him it has a very refined simplicity about it."
  • Julia Michaels spoke to Mike Veerman of the Mike on Much podcast about the process of creating this track. "We were actually asked to just write for pitch," she said. "I don't really know anything about him [Justin Bieber] but I tend to study people just in terms of their music and what they gravitate to, so I know that he gravitates to more emotional, literal music. So I just thought if we stick in that vein, we might have a chance. Sometimes ideas will just pop in my head and I don't really know where they come from. They just come in and 'Sorry' popped into my head. And then me and Justin Tranter, my co-writer, just thought, 'What's the best way to wrap around a concept for the title?' I think we wrote it in about an hour and then we went and had dinner. It was out three weeks later and we were just like, 'What is happening?' [Laughs]"

    She continued regarding the quick turnaround for this song and if anything was altered in it. "It was so surreal for both of us," she said. "The verses changed a bit. When we first wrote it, the verses had stutters in it. It was like [sings with staccato], 'You go-go-go and get mad-mad-mad at my honesty.' But someone at the label or somebody didn't like the stutters so then they had someone else come and write it, and they didn't like that and had us come in and re-write the verses. So instead of changing it all completely, we just put little, tiny filler words in there, so it's like, 'You gotta go and get angry at all of my honesty,' so we just kept the same thing.

    I think we re-wrote it two days later. It was that fast. They were like, 'We want this to come out.' We were like, 'Okay? Are you sure?' [Laughs]"
  • The video features the ladies of New Zealand's Royal Family and ReQuest dance crews. The clip was directed and choreographed by ReQuest's founder Parris Geobel, who also choreographed Jennifer Lopez's Dance Again World Tour and "Goin' In" visual.

    Geobel said: "[We wanted to] just bring more life to it. We were going for a vintage '90s vibe. Me and two of my friends pretty much styled everyone. We all did our own makeup and were spontaneous… Most of it was my wardrobe, actually. We just kind of put together what we had."
  • A black-and-white video featuring an acoustic version of the song was also released. It shows Bieber in the studio with Skrillex and co-producer Blood Diamond. Halfway through, the clip cuts to Bieber and Skrillex showing off some moves in a skateboard park.
  • Bieber was very impressed with Skrillex' production on this track. "He's not afraid to make something that's so different, it might take people a second to get used to," he told NME. "The melodies are really catchy, and some people would misinterpret that for being safe. But it's like sushi: the purest form. It's like the Beatles' "Let It Be." It's simple melodies, but so effective."
  • Asked by Billboard magazine how the song came about, Justin Tranter replied: "That was just me and Julia in a room doing what we do. The song is very special because it's challenging normal gender roles on radio - where we're ­allowing one of the biggest, hottest male pop stars in the world to be vulnerable and ask for forgiveness."
  • Casey Dienel, a singer-songwriter who records as White Hinterland, sued Justin Bieber and his producers for plagiarizing one of her cuts. She accused them of lifting without permission the main vocal riff from her 2014 track "Ring The Bell" for this song.

    Dienel stated in a Facebook post that she "poured my blood, sweat, and tears into writing and producing 'Ring the Bell'" and that "it came as a shock to hear my work used and exploited without permission."

    She added: "I offered Bieber's team an opportunity to have a private dialogue about the infringement, but they refused to even acknowledge my claim, despite the obviousness of the sample. Justin Bieber is the world's biggest artist, and I'm sure that he and his team will launch a full attack against me. But, in the end, I was left with no other option. I believe I have an obligation to stand up for my music and art."

    Skrillex responded to the claim by uploading a video showing how he manipulated the a cappella vocals of co-writer Julia Michaels and turned them into the vocals you hear on the song.

    Diplo claimed the incident "must have been an oversight." He told TMZ "I there's more producers... maybe like 10 writers altogether [who worked on the track]. Somebody added it without telling anybody... they should have fact checked it."

    It was announced in December 2017 that Casey Dienel had dropped his legal proceedings against Justin Bieber and Skrillex. There was no word as to whether the case was settled out of court or just dropped with no financial settlement.
  • This song's writers didn't hear its hit potential. "We didn't think anything of it," Julia Michaels told Entertainment Weekly.

    Bieber's label pegged it though, and insisted on pushing the song as a single.
  • This won for Video of the Year at the 2016 American Music Awards. Bieber also won Favorite Male Artist, and Purpose took Favorite Pop/Rock Album.
  • According to Universal Music, this song held the record for most-streamed song of all time worldwide until it was overtaken in July 2017 by "Despacito," a remix of which features Bieber. Universal claimed 4.38 billion streams for "Sorry" and 4.6 billion for "Despacito," although that total counts both the original version and remix.
  • "Sorry" was released just three weeks after Julia Michaels finished writing the tune. She told Q magazine: "We were like, 'Don't you want to simmer on this for a bit? Then it was everywhere. It was like an epidemic."
  • The pulsating boom-ch-boom-chk beat that drives the song is known as the dembow rhythm, named for the 1990 classic "Dem Bow" by Jamaican reggae artist Shabba Ranks. The syncopated groove found its way from dancehall and reggaeton music of the '90s to pop songs of the 2010s, showing up on hits like Sia's "Cheap Thrills," Drake's "One Dance," and Ed Sheeran's "Shape Of You."

Comments: 1

  • Sophie from BrisbaneRefreshing
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Women Who Rock

Women Who RockSong Writing

Evelyn McDonnell, editor of the book Women Who Rock, on why the Supremes are just as important as Bob Dylan.

Joe Elliott of Def Leppard

Joe Elliott of Def LeppardSongwriter Interviews

The Def Leppard frontman talks about their "lamentable" hit he never thought of as a single, and why he's juiced by his Mott The Hoople cover band.

Macabre Mother Goose: The Dark Side of Children's Songs

Macabre Mother Goose: The Dark Side of Children's SongsSong Writing

"London Bridge," "Ring Around the Rosie" and "It's Raining, It's Pouring" are just a few examples of shockingly morbid children's songs.

Keith Reid of Procol Harum

Keith Reid of Procol HarumSongwriter Interviews

As Procol Harum's lyricist, Keith wrote the words to "A Whiter Shade Of Pale." We delve into that song and find out how you can form a band when you don't sing or play an instrument.

Laura Nyro

Laura NyroSongwriting Legends

Laura Nyro talks about her complex, emotionally rich songwriting and how she supports women's culture through her art.

The Punk Photography of Chris Stein

The Punk Photography of Chris SteinSong Writing

Chris Stein of Blondie shares photos and stories from his book about the New York City punk scene.