1. Jackie Gleason, You’re In The Picture
It’s rare enough for an entertainer to apologize for a gaffe or a bomb, but on January 27, 1961, Jackie Gleason didn’t just say he was sorry for what he had done; he spent a half-hour explaining how it happened. On January 20, CBS debuted You’re In The Picture, a game show hosted by Gleason in which celebrities would stick their heads through an oversized picture and ask Gleason yes or no questions to try and figure out who they were supposed to be. The premise was promising—just a variation on an old party game for the “panel show” era—but the execution was embarrassingly poor, and the prideful Gleason was so stung by the savage reviews that he decided to scrap the show. But he still owed CBS 30 minutes of airtime each week, so the following Friday, Gleason spent his entire You’re In The Picture slot making fun of himself, walking the audience through the thought processes that led to a bomb so big it’d make “the H-bomb look like a 2-inch salute.” This was like the TV version of The Devil’s Candy, Julie Salamon’s account of the making of The Bonfire Of The Vanities: an explication of how everyday showbiz hubris leads otherwise smart and talented people to make something god-awful.
2. J.D. Shapiro, Battlefield Earth
John Travolta might still occasionally insist that people are clamoring for a sequel to his reviled L. Ron Hubbard adaptation Battlefield Earth, but in 2010 one of the film’s screenwriters, J.D. Shapiro, was happy not only to take the blame, but place that blame on what he called his “Willy Wonker.” In a New York Post editorial apologizing to anyone who went to see the movie, the writer also responsible for Robin Hood: Men In Tights said that he had originally investigated Scientology because he heard it was a great way to meet women. He spends most of the piece recounting his attempts to pick up dates at Scientology HQ, where he made enough of an impression to get the Battlefield Earth job. Shapiro insists that he wrote a gritty, rich screenplay with compelling characters, further elaborating, “What my screenplay didn’t have was slow motion at every turn, Dutch tilts, campy dialogue, aliens in Kiss boots, and everyone wearing Bob Marley wigs.” But a new batch of notes from Travolta’s camp pointed the film in the direction of the flop classic it is today, and Shapiro lost his job for refusing to go along with them. Still, he ends on a note of triumph: “Looking back at the movie with fresh eyes, I can’t help but be strangely proud of it. Because out of all the sucky movies, mine is the suckiest.”
3. Axl Rose, “One In A Million”
Most apologies come after the fact. But when Guns N’ Roses released G N’ R Lies in 1988, frontman Axl Rose felt the need to print a preemptive apology right on the album’s cover. “This song is very simple and extremely generic or generalized, my apologies to those who may take offense,” he writes of “One In A Million,” a track whose lyrics blast “polices and niggers” before avowing, “Immigrants and faggots / They make no sense to me / They come into our country / And think they’ll do as they please / Like start some mini-Iran / Or spread some fucking disease.” But his apology was too little, too early; the song caused an outcry that put Rose on the defensive, showing the world the first glimpse of the batshit Axl to come.
4. Soulja Boy, “Let’s Be Real”
Soulja Boy, thy name is irony. Last year, the young rapper—who has no qualms about trying to pick feuds with everyone form Nas to Fabolous—raised hackles with his song “Let’s Be Real,” which includes the lines “Fuck the FBI and fuck all the army troops / Fighting for what? / Bitch, be your own man / I’ll be flying through the clouds with green like I’m Peter Pan.” The anti-military comments chafed even harder coming from a kid who calls himself Soulja Boy, and the star was ultimately shamed into apologizing, saying in a three-paragraph statement that “my frustration got the best of me.” Unfortunately, no one shamed him into realizing that comparing yourself to Peter Pan isn’t exactly the best way to sound street.
5. Busta Rhymes, “Arab Money”
With the sheer, overwhelming volume of words that spitfire MC Busta Rhymes packs into each album, it’s no wonder some of those words would eventually spark controversy. The gravelly rapper spiked his 2008 song “Arab Money” with lines like, “Y’all already know I got the streets bust / While I make ya bow down and make salaat like a Muslim.” Justifiably, the Arab community took offense at this—and the song’s remix, which commits blasphemy by quoting the Quran. After vehemently defending and trying to clarify the song’s meaning, he became contrite during a phone conversation with Iraq-born rapper Narcicyst following the release of Narcicyst’s answer song “The Real Arab Money.” Granted, he reportedly apologized to Narcicyst for the “misunderstanding,” not the song itself, but still.
6. Darkthrone, Transilvanian Hunger
Perhaps it’s a cultural thing, but Scandinavian black-metal bands just aren’t that good at expressing their inner selves. In fact, Norway’s Darkthrone enlisted the infamous church-burning, bandmate-murdering, Nazi-sympathizing black-metal musician Varg Vikernes to write a few lyrics for the group’s 1994 album, Transilvanian Hunger. That resulted in a backmasked message, “In the name of God, let the churches burn,” as well as a statement on the album cover that reads, “Norwegian Aryan Black Metal.” This, along with a leaked statement saying, “If any man should attempt to criticize this LP, he should be thoroughly patronized for his obviously Jewish behavior,” caused Darkthrone’s label to force a public apology out of the group. But rather than being sincere about it, Darkthrone used the opportunity to try to justify their pejorative use of “Jew” as mere “slang.”
7. Jim Suptic of The Get Up Kids, Emo
Although respectable—or invisible—enough to evade widespread ridicule in the ’90s, the musical subgenre known as emo became a punching bag in the ’00s. And rightly so, though often at the expense of the better acts that made crappy ’00s emo possible. Many ’90s emo bands, like the massively influential The Get Up Kids, didn’t whine or suck or wear eyeliner at all, but when The Get Up Kids reformed in 2009, interviewers wanted know what the band thought of all its illegitimate, girlfriend’s-jeans-wearing offspring. The Kids’ leader, Jim Suptic, offered this backhanded apology in an interview with Drowned In Sound: “If this is the world we helped create, then I apologize… If a[n emo] band gets huge and they say we inspired them, great. The problem is most of them aren’t very good. What does that say about us? I don’t know. Maybe we sucked. We at least can play our instruments.”
8. Eminem, “Foolish Pride”
Eminem has never been shy about mouthing off to anyone and everyone, but his impish offensiveness took a turn for the racist on a song the rapper recorded pre-fame. The early-career track “Foolish Pride,” which resurfaced thanks to the Eminem-hating hip-hop magazine The Source, blasts black women, with the young Marshall Mathers declaring, “Black and whites, they sometimes mix / But black girls only want your money / ’Cause they’re dumb chicks,” and then, “Don’t date a black girl, take it as a diss.” In case anyone might miss his meaning, he follows that up with, “Black girls are dumb and white girls are good chicks.” On his 2004 song “Yellow Brick Road,” Eminem says he’s sorry for his youthful lapse with the line, “I singled out a whole race, and for that I apologize.” Too bad he had to chase that mea culpa with the postscript, “I was wrong, ’cause no matter what color a girl is, she’s still a ho.”
9. Iggy Azalea, “D.R.U.G.S.”
Giving credence to the idea that there can be only one Azalea/Azealia in hip-hop, rapper Azealia Banks took to Twitter earlier this year to call out a fellow MC, the white Iggy Azalea, for her song “D.R.U.G.S.” In it, Azalea boasts, “When the relay starts, I’m a runaway slave / Master.” To Azalea’s credit, she immediately issued what seemed to be a heartfelt statement, writing, “In all fairness, it was a tacky and careless thing to say and if you are offended, I am sorry. Sometimes we get so caught up in our art and creating or trying to push boundaries, we don’t stop to think how others may be hurt by it. In this situation, I am guilty of doing that and I regret not thinking things through more.”
10. Mandy Moore, So Real and I Wanna Be With You
Mandy Moore apparently spends a lot of her time in deep, soul-searching contemplation of her existential identity. Or at least regretting the shit she makes. In a 2004 interview with the Houston Chronicle, the actor and singer called her first two albums—1999’s So Real and 2000’s I Wanna Be With You—things that she doesn’t think are very real, nor things that she particularly wants to be with. “Crap, crap, crap,” she called them adding she was sorry “to anybody who bought them and wasted their money.” Her contrition, however, stopped short of issuing refunds.
11. The Simpsons, “A Streetcar Named Marge”
Before New Orleans become a touchier subject post-Katrina, The Simpsons thought it might make some jokes at The Big Easy’s expense in its 1992 episode “A Streetcar Named Marge.” Parodying A Streetcar Named Desire and Sweeney Todd, the episode’s musical-within-a-show, Oh, Streetcar!, opens with a song that contains the lines, “Long before the Superdome / Where the Saints of football play / Lived a city that the damned call home / Hear their hellish roundelay / New Orleans / Home of pirates, drunks, and whores / New Orleans / Tacky, overpriced souvenir stores.” Shooing its drunks and whores under the carpet, New Orleans bristled at the insult. Fox issued a formal apology that stated in part, “We regret that the song, taken out of context, has caused offense,” and the next week’s episode of The Simpsons, “Homer The Heretic,” featured a chalkboard gag in which Bart wrote, “I will not defame New Orleans.”
12. Mike Daisey, The Agony And The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs
When This American Life repackaged excerpts from monologist Mike Daisey’s one-man show The Agony And The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs in January 2012, it quickly became radio show’s most popular episode, racking up more than 800,000 downloads. Then, it came to TAL’s attention that Daisey had fudged some of his facts. In March of 2012, the program issued a retraction and ran an episode (“Retraction”) detailing the inconsistencies in Daisey’s account of his trip inside a Chinese factory that produced Apple products. Daisey himself fessed up, admitting that his monologue wasn’t, strictly speaking, “journalism.” “In my drive to tell this story and have it be heard, I lost my grounding,” Daisey wrote on his blog. “Things came out of my mouth that just weren’t true, and over time, I couldn’t even hear the difference myself.” It was an overdue apology, but one that at least saw Daisey getting over lazy defenses that his factual laxity served some grander artistic “truth.”
13. Beastie Boys, Licensed To Ill
The Beastie Boys’ 1986 debut album Licensed To Ill introduced the trio as raucous, raunchy guys with a predilection for partying and, unfortunately, homophobia and misogyny: The album was originally titled Don’t Be A Faggot and the tour supporting the album included girls dancing in cages onstage. But with maturity came wisdom, and the Beasties have since gone out of their way to make amends. In 1999, Adam Horovitz wrote a letter to Time Out New York in which he apologized for, “the shitty and ignorant things we said on our first record.” The band has also backtracked on the misogyny, often apologizing in public statements and planning a women-only mosh pit on their eventually cancelled 2000 co-headlining tour with Rage Against The Machine, a direct reaction to the sexual assaults that occurred at the infamous Woodstock ’99. But perhaps the most overt apology came from the late Adam Yauch on the song “Sure Shot” off of the band’s 1994 album Ill Communication: “I want to say a little something that’s long overdue/ The disrespect to women has got to be through/ To all the mothers and sisters and the wives and friends/ I want to offer my love and respect to the end.”
14. Michael Jackson, “They Don’t Care About Us”
The King Of Pop’s 1995 album, HIStory: Past, Present And Future, Book I, began as an oddly conceived package that paired an album’s worth of new material with a best-of collection while making neither available separately. This proved a mild annoyance, however, compared to the reaction to the track “They Don’t Care About Us,” in which Jackson sings, “Jew me, sue me, everybody do me / Kick me, kike me, don’t you black or white me.” The New York Times brought the offending lines to light in advance of the album’s release, leading an “angry and outraged” Jackson to bemoan the misinterpretation of a song he had intended as a statement about “the pain of prejudice and hate.” Jackson subsequently reached out to Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, formally apologizing (“I just want you to all to know how strongly I am committed to tolerance, peace and love”) and vowing to return to the studio and re-record the offending section of the song.
15. Square Enix, Final Fantasy XIV
The videogame developers at Square Enix may have bungled their lavish online game Final Fantasy XIV, but the ensuing apology was a tour de force of self-effacement. The game launched in late 2010 to universally poor reviews that criticized its bugs, arcane interface, and myriad signs of a work released before it was finished—like the airship ports from which no airships could travel. In response to a groundswell of fan rage, Square Enix released a three-pronged apology. The epic document includes a statement of regret from the development house’s CEO, who mourned the game’s failure to achieve the proper “level of enjoyability” in its initial state. Final Fantasy XIV’s producer, Hiromichi Tanaka, hastened to add, “I would like to apologize for our inability to fully satisfy our users.” To show that he meant it, in the next sentence, he resigned his post. But the weirdest aspect of the groveling was a sort of pre-apology from Tanaka’s replacement, who wrote, “I am aware that a great many people will think the responsibility of leading Final Fantasy XIV is far too large a task for someone so unknown. After all, even my very best may seem no more than a drop in the bucket.” Maybe next time, Square Enix should bypass game development altogether and skip straight to the apology—that seems to be the best part.