Musical Apologies


For many people, interactions with music are some of the most transformative experiences of their lives, from being ‘swept away’ by a great concert to the intensity of a private practice session. Thanks to technology, music is the soundtrack to our lives: we use it to enhance our moods, fuel our exercise, help us focus, and communicate to others. In studying music, we can draw on this ubiquity to ask questions about what (and how or for whom) music is meaningful. This entails linking how people use or make music (historical context), what people say or write about music (reception studies), how music is constructed (analysis), and how people actually ‘do’ music (performance studies); but the fundamental idea is that music is a valuable social and cultural practice that reveals something about ourselves.


One of the ways music is used to communicate is in order to express remorse or regret. But what does it mean to apologise through music? This set of resources takes the idea of apologising through music as a case study for exploring the social/cultural practice of music. We’ll look at the question on both the individual and social level and introduce methods and questions that will help you approach music critically.

Activity 1, “Musical Apologies”: This activity will provide background on research methods (including digital ethnography and reception studies) and questions that prepare you for thinking creatively about how to analyse musical apologies.

Activity 2 on “Performing Apologies” asks you to apply methods of analysing musical performance to two versions of Justin Bieber’s hit song “Sorry”. What characteristics make a song appropriate for an apology? Can we believe pop superstars when they sing their apologies?

Finally, in Activity 3, “Music and Conflict”, we take a look at the use of musical apologies as a way of resolving social conflict. How might singing ‘sorry’ influence the way we feel about those we have hurt or who have hurt us? What role can music play in conflict transformation? The final task in this activity asks you to construct your own research project on music and conflict.

Some of these activities may be challenging, but after you have worked through them you will have a better understanding of the possibilities afforded by studying music—and perhaps the next time you hear someone sing ‘sorry’ you’ll have a critical foundation from which to evaluate that apology.

Video Resource

Video Resource

Resource activities

Musical Apologies

What is a musical apology?


Performing Apologies

How do we analyse musical performances?


Music and Conflict

How can music be used to solve social conflict?


Reflective questions

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Task 1

What are the key arguments, concepts, points contained within it?

Task 2

What are you struggling to understand?

What could you do to improve your understanding of these concepts/terminology etc.?

Task 3

What further questions has this resource raised for you?

What else are you keen to discover about this topic and how could you go about learning more?

Can you make any links between this topic and your prior knowledge or school studies?

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Further reading