Times musicians were forced to apologize to fans

Playing monster guitar riffs or singing like an angel are both pretty sweet ways to earn a living — and lucrative at that. Yet being a professional rock star or pop sensation carries its own set of challenges. For example, along with the fame and fortune comes exposure and scrutiny. Millions of people want to know what these successful musicians are really like, so they frequently sit for interviews or get hounded by paparazzi during offstage time. The result is that these musically gifted individuals let their guard down on the record and act like the human beings that they are — and human beings are deeply flawed and often prone to very bad decisions or saying something controversial.

Big-time rock stars and luminous singers make mistakes and say or do things they shouldn't have, only to realize in retrospect — or under the lens of intense public backlash — that they messed up. Here are some times when musicians were in the wrong, fessed up, and told the whole world that they were sorry.

John Mayer looked inward after using the N-word

John Mayer is an objectively talented guitarist and successful musician who has sold millions of records and worked with a number of luminaries. He's almost as famous for his love life — the sensitive, high-voiced balladeer and king of the "weird guitar face" has dated a number of famous women, including Jennifer Love Hewitt, Jessica Simpson, Jennifer Aniston, Katy Perry, and Taylor Swift, according to the Evening Standard.

It was while discussing the ladies in his life that Mayer got into some serious trouble with the general public for his comments to Playboy (via Billboard) in 2010. "That girl is like crack cocaine to me," Mayer said of Simpson, going on to state that she made him want to quit his life, snort her like a drug, and sell his possessions to afford her services if she were an expensive prostitute. Then Mayer asserted that he only dates Caucasian women because his private parts are "sort of like a white supremacist," and in trying to explain his relationship to the African-American community, he casually made use of a certain word that begins with an "n." A day after his comments went viral, Mayer tweeted an apology, per Rolling Stone.

"I am sorry that I used the word," he said. "It was arrogant of me to think I could intellectualize using it, because I realize that there's no intellectualizing a word that is so emotionally charged."

Who wished ill will on his dead Who bandmates? Pete Townshend

The Who is one of the most enduring rock bands, but it's also one of the first to lose half of its members. Today, only singer Roger Daltrey and guitarist Pete Townshend remain from the original lineup — drummer Keith Moon died in 1978, and bassist John Entwistle passed in 2002.

The band has persisted because its chief creative and organizational force, Townshend, remains among the living. And that's why he didn't seem particularly broken up by the deaths of Moon and Entwistle during a 2019 interview with Rolling Stone. Regarding a 2019 Who tour's use of video screen images of the two deceased musicians, Townshend said, "It's not going to make Who fans very happy, but thank God they're gone." Come again? "Because they were f*cking difficult to play with. They never, ever managed to create bands for themselves. I think my musical discipline, my musical efficiency as a rhythm player, held the band together," Townshend explained.

For speaking so very ill of the dead, Townshend had to issue an apology. "No one can ever know how much I miss Keith and John, as people, as friends and as musicians," the guitarist wrote on Facebook. "To this day I am angry at Keith and John for dying. Sometimes it shows." Then, to Moon and Entwistle's family especially, Townshend said sorry "for carelessly providing the words that were used" in the article.

Maroon 5 apologized for a Maroon 5 concert

Rock stars are musicians — they aren't superheroes. Everybody has at least the occasional off day (or bad day) at work, even well-rehearsed, super-professional, reliably consistent pop-rock bands like Maroon 5. In February 2020, the "Payphone" group, fronted by superstar The Voice coach Adam Levine, performed at the Viña Del Mar International Song Festival in Chile. The show was not as smooth and entertaining as it could have been. CHV Noticias noted Levine's lack of stage energy, newspaper La Tercera (via the BBC) called the singer out for acting "cold, reluctant, and preoccupied," and in a video of the band leaving the stage after its televised performance, Levine can be heard grumbling about the band's set, quipping, "That was a TV show. That was not a concert." 

According to Entertainment Tonight, numerous fans noted their disappointment in the Maroon 5 show, and the next day, Levine said he was sorry via a Twitter video. "Being in a band, you play a lot of shows, and I am so passionate and excited about concerts and about being my best and about the band being our best, and being our best for you guys," Levine said. "Performing I take so seriously. Sometimes too seriously." He explained that some technical difficulties frustrated him and caused him to act the way he did, "which was unprofessional, and I apologize for that."

Bryan Adams went on a racist 'rona rant

Bryan Adams was unquestionably one of the biggest stars of the '80s and '90s. The Canadian rocker provided one pleasant, crowd-pleasing radio hit after another during that time, like "Summer of '69," "Heaven," "Run to You," and "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You." Adams hit big in 1993 with the apologetic power ballad "Please Forgive Me" and had to repeat that sentiment to the world at large in May 2020 after some comments he made about a terrible super-virus went super-viral in a terrible way.

According to NBC News, Adams wrote a social media post bemoaning how widespread event cancellation over coronavirus fears meant he couldn't perform a planned residency at London's Royal Albert Hall. "But thanks to some f*cking bat eating, wet market animal selling, virus making greedy b*stards, the whole world is now on hold, not to mention the thousands that have suffered or died from this virus." Adams was referring to the theory that the virus originated from people consuming pangolin meat purchased at a market in Wuhan, China. 

While many perceived his comments to be racially charged, Adams claimed otherwise. "Apologies to any and all that took offence to my posting yesterday," Adams wrote on Instagram. "No excuse, I just wanted to have a rant about the horrible animal cruelty in these wet-markets being the possible source of the virus, and promote veganism."

Ryan Adams hurt a lot of women

First earning acclaim in the '90s with his country-rock band Whiskeytown, Ryan Adams launched a prolific solo career in 2000. A perennial fixture of cool music blogs, Adams crossed over to glossy magazines like People in 2009 when he married former pop star Mandy Moore, and again in 2015 when they split up. 

A 2019 New York Times exposé lent insight into why the marriage failed: Moore says Adams crushed her attempts to record more adult music. "His controlling behavior essentially did block my ability to make new connections in the industry during a very pivotal and potentially lucrative time — my entire mid-to-late 20s," Moore said. They wrote songs together which he promised to record but never did, and he dissuaded her from working with producers to the point where she didn't record any music during their marriage. Adams' ex-fiancée Megan Butterworth said the musician abused her emotionally and intimidated her physically. And in 2013, Adams reportedly struck up an illicit online relationship with a teenager.

In 2020, Adams wrote an essay for The Daily Mail apologizing to the women who accused him of his various malicious deeds. "All I can say is that I'm sorry," Adams wrote. "I've gotten past the point where I would be apologizing just for the sake of being let off the hook and I know full well that any apology from me probably won't be accepted by those I've hurt."

Lady Gaga saw something wrong with her R. Kelly collaboration

In 2019, according to Billboard, R&B superstar R. Kelly was charged with ten counts of criminal sexual abuse. Kelly's alleged proclivities had never been much of a secret — in 1994, he married 14-year-old singer Aaliyah thanks to a falsified wedding certificate, and in 2002, photographic and videotape evidence of Kelly engaging in acts with underage girls surfaced. Kelly's reputation as a predator of young women preceded him, yet he kept making music with top talent, including Lady Gaga. In 2013, she invited Kelly to perform on "Do What U Want," a steamy song that hit #13 on the Billboard Hot 100.

It's a moment of cultural cognitive dissonance that Gaga would even consider collaborating with Kelly, as he's an accused offender and, according to ABC News, she's an assault survivor and vocal advocate for other survivors. Before Kelly's arrest (but just after the debut of the harrowing TV documentary Surviving R. Kelly, where numerous Kelly accusers spoke out), Lady Gaga posted an apology on her social media accounts, according to The New York Times. "I'm sorry, both for my poor judgment when I was young and for not speaking out sooner," she wrote. "My intention was to create something extremely defiant and provocative because I was angry and still hadn't processed the trauma that had occurred in my own life." Additionally, Gaga promised to have "Do What U Want" removed from major music streaming services.

Great White made some not-so-great pandemic decisions

Great White hit it big in 1989, taking a cover of Ian Hunter's "Once Bitten, Twice Shy" into Billboard's Top 5. Sadly, the band is probably more remembered for a horrific tragedy. In February 2003, Great White played The Station, a nightclub in Rhode Island, and some pyrotechnics started a fire in which 100 people perished, according to The Denver Post.

In 2015 — 12 years later — Great White singer Jack Russell told Portland radio station The Brew (via The Boston Globe) that his attorneys had told him not to apologize to avoid legal culpability. Then he announced he was going to make a documentary as a form of apology and charity. "It's really hard, you know, but it's going to give me a chance to apologize and say how I feel about it,” Russell said. "I never had the chance to say I was sorry.”

Russell got the chance again in July 2020, when the band played a show in North Dakota — during the spread of the coronavirus. While masks and social distancing were recommended, if not legally mandated, around the country, Great White played without any such health restrictions in place. After receiving criticism on social media, the band released a statement (via Deadline) in which they sort of apologized: "We would like to apologize to those who disagreed with our decision to fulfill our contractual agreement."

Camila Cabello said sorry for some old, bad blog posts

Camila Cabello took a nontraditional route to fame. Born in Cuba, she moved to Miami as a young child, and at 15, she auditioned for Fox's The X Factor, where she was rejected as a solo performer but placed into a pop quintet called Fifth Harmony. A few years later, she went solo, and in 2018, her monster hit "Havana" went all the way to #1. Then, in December 2019, according to Newsweek, a Twitter user named @motivatefenty discovered a series of posts Cabello shared on her Tumblr blog back in 2012, before she found her first taste of fame with Fifth Harmony. The news went viral because the posts were of a racist nature, including slurs, stereotyped images, and racially insensitive jokes. Other entries Cabello approved of by reposting included mocking Rihanna after she was assaulted by Chris Brown and questioning the virtue of Taylor Swift.

Cabello took to Twitter to denounce her past online activities. "When I was younger I used language that I am deeply ashamed of and will regret forever," she wrote. "I was uneducated and ignorant and once I became aware of the history and the weight and the true meaning behind this horrible and hurtful language, I was deeply embarrassed I ever used it." She added that she "apologized then" and would "apologize again now."

The Biebs atones

The 2011 movie Justin Bieber: Never Say Never was equal parts fan service and carefully controlled public relations project, presenting a mix of backstage footage of hugely popular teen idol Justin Bieber acting like a charming sweetie pie and the Biebs performing his songs of puppy love live to thousands of adoring fans. As a video captured during the filming of Never Say Never and obtained by The Sun (via Page Six) in 2014 could attest, Bieber could have used some healing PR after the movie came out. In front of a camera, the then-17-year-old singer told a joke — despite a friend urging him not to — that utilized a certain N-word to derisively describe African-Americans to onomatopoeic effect.

Shortly after the clip surfaced, Bieber released an apology in the form of a statement. "As a young man, I didn't understand the power of certain words and how they can hurt," Bieber said, as reported by CNN. "I thought it was OK to repeat hurtful words and jokes, but didn't realize at the time that it wasn't funny and that in fact my actions were continuing the ignorance." He promised not to "make the same mistake again," although in 2018, Bieber was sued by a man who said the singer attacked him and used racial epithets during the melee. In 2019, Bieber posted an Instagram message, apologizing again for "saying really hurtful things not knowing the power of my words."

Chris Brown was really sorry he almost killed Rihanna

Two of the biggest new stars on the music scene in 2005: 17-year-old Barbadian singer Rihanna (she hit #2 with "Pon de Replay") and 16-year-old R&B sensation Chris Brown (who topped the charts with "Run It!"). In just a few years' time, both would evolve into superstars. According to W Magazine, the stars got together romantically after meeting at the 2005 Vibe Awards, and from there, they were the prom king and prom queen of 2000s pop, until the relationship fell apart quickly and violently on the night before the 2009 Grammy Awards. 

According to a Rihanna interview with ABC News (via CNN), the two were in a car leaving a Grammys party when Brown received a suspect text from another woman. "I caught him in a lie, and he wouldn't tell the truth. And I wouldn't drop it," Rihanna said. "It escaped into him being violent towards me. And it was ugly." Indeed: Brown savagely beat his girlfriend.

Both musicians missed their Grammy performances, and Brown turned himself in to police and later pleaded guilty to assault. In June 2009, he released an apology video. "I'm not going to sit here and make any excuses, he said. "What I did was inexcusable." He added that he's "very sad and very ashamed" of his actions and that he apologized to Rihanna herself "countless times" but also felt the need to tell the world that he was "truly, truly sorry."

Jennifer Lopez apologized for entertaining a dictator

In 2013, singer, actress, and erstwhile "Jenny from the Block" performed a very special concert, according to The Guardian: She headlined a birthday party thrown at a Caspian Sea resort in honor of Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, the president of former Soviet republic Turkmenistan. Lopez performed a set of her familiar dance-pop hits and also sang "Happy Birthday" to the guest of honor. 

Lots of celebrities will play private parties (if the price is right), so what's the problem with this? According to Human Rights Watch, Turkmenistan is one of "the world's most isolated and oppressively governed countries," and, "All aspects of public life are controlled by President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov and his associates." Berdymukhamedov and company have also allegedly denied political prisoners access to "family, lawyers, and the outside world" and "denied their families information about their whereabouts and fate." 

Lopez apparently had no knowledge of any of that before she agreed to perform at a party honoring Turkmenistan and its controversial president. After receiving some criticism for her actions, Lopez's team released a statement to E! News. "The event was vetted by her representatives, had there been knowledge of human rights issues of any kind, Jennifer would not have attended," the statement read in part.

Meshuggah made apologizing a totally metal thing to do

Swedish metal band Meshuggah is one of the loudest, hardest, fastest, most extreme, and, well, most metal of all the metal bands. According to Revolver, the band (particularly guitarist Fredrik Thordenal), is credited with creating a metal subgenre back in the '90s called "djent," a verbal approximation of what a quickly played note in the form sounds like. It's since come to describe any kind of progressive, experimental, forward-thinking metal band, some of which are better than others, according to metal purists. 

In 2018, one of the group's guitarists, Martin Hagstrom, issued an apology on behalf of his bandmates for unleashing djent on the world, however it's defined. "First of all, we're very sorry for creating that genre; we didn't intend to — our bad," Hagstrom said at Finland's Tuska festival (via Blabbermouth). "I think it's a misconception, that djent thing. I think it's kind of hilarious." Why so funny? Because Thordenal was apparently wasted when he laid out the musical blueprint. "It was our lead guitar player, Fredrik, being drunk back in the day, talking to one of our old-school fans, trying to explain what type of guitar tone we were always trying to get." He described it as a "dj-dj-dj" sound, and it came from there.