A brief history of the Notes App apology
Three days ago, the Dalai Lama released a social media statement apologising for his inappropriate behaviour with a young boy. But how did the Notes App go from a celeb get-out-of-jail-free card to a legitimate crisis control tool?
The Notes App apology, a celeb’s weapon of choice when they’ve landed themselves in a scandal, has had a bit of a rebrand over the last few days. After a video emerged of the Dalai Lama kissing a young boy on the lips at a Buddhist event and asking him to suck his tongue, the internet was suitably outraged.
Shortly after, the Dalai Lama issued a Notes App-like statement via Twitter apologising for the incident, “to the boy and his family, as well as his many friends across the world, for the hurt his words may have caused.”
You might expect a news story of this magnitude to require a statement a little more, say, formal – perhaps a signed letter or a live appearance. But oh no. These days, a quick type on the iPhone is all it takes. Or does it?
Below, we chart the most notable Notes Appers over the years and assess how much they really meant those words. Expect: Ariana Grande’s doughnuts, Kendall Jenner’s hip-hop “spirit animal” and 2019’s gossip of the year.
2015: Ariana Grande
The crime: Licking doughnuts that she had no intention of purchasing before proclaiming, “I hate Americans! I hate America!”
The excuse: Naturally, her words and actions were “taken out of context”. She was, in fact, propelled to spread germs and vocalise her disgust at the American delicacy by her passion for healthy eating. “We need to do more to educate ourselves and our children about the dangers of unhealthy eating and the poison we put into our bodies,” she penned in a since-deleted Notes App apology posted on Twitter. Poo-admirer anti-vaxxer and fake doctor Gillian McKeith has been awfully quiet since.
The punishment: Countless news outlets branded Grande as unpatriotic and she lost a few fans. Namely, a flag-bearing little girl named Chrissy, who burned a picture of the singer on a barbecue, shrugged and said, “Say bye to your career!” A pop prophet she was not.
Sincerity scale: 3/10
2016: Taylor Swift
The crime: Taylor Swift flipped the switch here and used the Notes App to call out someone else’s offence. The accused were Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, who had posted a clip of a phone conversation in which Swift appears to approve of the line “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex /Why? I made that bitch famous,” in West’s track Famous.
The excuse: “Being falsely painted as a liar when I was never given the full story or played any part of the song is character assassination,” wrote Swift. At the time, West’s fans were convinced that Swift had engineered the situation to her own advantage, after she clapped back at the lyric during her Grammys acceptance speech. West: gentleman who asked for consent. Swift: snake.
The punishment: The public sided with Kimye and the #TaylorSwiftIsOverParty was in full swing. But it did provide her with a pretty good rebrand opportunity. Swift used her new image to launch her Bad Girl Tay Tay album Reputation a year later. In 2020, new footage emerged that suggests Swiftie was telling the truth all along.
Sincerity scale: 9/10
2017: Kendall Jenner
The crime: Releasing a line of T‑shirts with sister Kylie, which featured the Jenners’ faces plastered over photos of Notorious B.I.G. and Kendall’s “spirit animal” Tupac.
The excuse: Kenny conceded that the designs were “not well thought out”, emphasising that she and her sis are “huge fans of their music”. Jenner also said that the pair intended to “use this as an opportunity to learn from these mistakes”, which wasn’t entirely convincing considering the Kardashian-Jenners’ long legacy of cultural appropriation (wearing braids, blackfishing, the lot). The T‑shirt scandal blew up just three months after Jenner ended racial profiling and police brutality with a can of Pepsi, mind you.
The punishment: The T‑shirts got pulled and the snappers behind the original images filed lawsuits against the Jenners, along with Biggie’s estate. Kendall thought it was all a bit “frivolous”, though, and countersued photographer Al Pereira for $22,000 to cover her legal costs. The cheek.
Sincerity scale: 2/10
2017: James Charles
The crime: Tweeting “I can’t believe we’re going to Africa today omg what if we get Ebola” moments before the plane took off.
The excuse: When Charles landed on the continent, he went straight to the Notes App to announce that he would “NOT” be offering a “bullshit apology”. Instead, he went for a self-deprecating grovel, admitting that he “fucked up” and is aware his tweet was “extremely offensive and degrading”. Oh, and he was also super “eager to learn” more about the “country” of Africa.
The punishment: As Charles was, at the time, the face of CoverGirl, the brand quickly condemned his tweet on social media, but forgave him once the apology dropped. Mostly, the incident is remembered as the first of many public apologies that the influencer would go on to make – more on that later.
Sincerity scale: 7/10
2017: Ja Rule
The crime: Organising the fraudulent shitshow that was Fyre Festival.
The excuse: Well, it was “NOT [HIS] FAULT”, which kind of negates his apology to all the influencers left stranded in a Sandals car park in the Bahamas eating a piece of Dairylea on some flimsy bread. We’ll let him off, though, because Ja Rule also claimed to be working tirelessly to make sure everyone was “SAFE.” We’ll never know for sure, but there is a chance he too was hustled, scammed, bamboozled, hoodwinked, led astray. That’s what happens when you go into business with a con artist.
The punishment: A £80 million lawsuit, public humiliation and a Netflix documentary about his colossal failure.
Sincerity scale: 6/10
2018: Logan Paul
The crime: Posting a video of himself to his YouTube channel in 2018 (which had more than 15 million subscribers at the time) in Japan’s Aokigahara forest, a frequent suicide site, laughing and making jokes after coming across a dead body.
The excuse: Paul – laughably – claimed that he intended to raise awareness for suicide prevention, thinking that if his incredibly damaging stunt “saved just one life”, it’d be worth posting. He deleted the video, though only after it had already amassed six million views, before doubling down with an apology posted to YouTube, “So Sorry.”, which, at the time of writing, boasts 62 million views. In it, Paul seems to feign teary eyes, staring down the barrel of his camera as he pleads for forgiveness. The whole thing is strewn with suspiciously long pauses and hard swallows, and to be honest, it’s a mess. The next day, he took to Twitter once more, this time to announce a break from his daily vlogging routine.
The punishment: YouTube cut minimal business ties with Paul, which stopped him from receiving some (though certainly not all) revenue from views on his videos. It took them 10 days to respond to the controversy. Tokyo-based suicide prevention group Ova said Paul’s video raised “serious issues from the point of suicide prevention”, and fellow celebs such as Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul criticised him publicly. Saying all that, Paul is still one of the highest earning YouTubers in the world, with an estimated net worth of £36 million. How’s that for karma?
Sincerity scale: 1/10
2019: Justin Bieber
The crime: Back in 2019, Justin Bieber posted the rough equivalent of about 10-in‑1 Notes App apologies over Instagram, where he repented for a number of things, namely: “every bad decision you could have thought of”, drug abuse, disrespect towards women and general angry behaviour.
The excuse: To be fair to Biebs, and as he outlines in his sprawling Notes App statement, it hasn’t exactly been an easy ride for the 29-year-old. Shooting to first-of-its-kind viral fame at just 13 and having access to pretty much anything he wanted, whenever he wanted it, caused irreparable damage to his development and relationships. With no concept of responsibility, he buckled under the pressure of it all and went off the rails in the years that followed. In 2013, Bieber made a highly publicised attempt to take a pet monkey into Germany, before egging a neighbour’s house in California and pissing into a restaurant mop bucket while shouting “Fuck Bill Clinton”. The following year, he was arrested on DUI and resisting arrest charges. Suffice to say his reputation took a bit of a beating.
The punishment: On the whole, the internet responded positively to Bieber being so open about his mental health and have supported his decision to cancel (for the fifth time) the remainder of his Justice World Tour. If anything, the ceaseless scrutiny the guy finds himself under, with fans dissecting his every move, is punishment enough. We wish him all the best.
Sincerity scale: 8/10
2019: Tati Westbrook
The crime: We’re unsure whether this can even be classed as a crime, simply because it filled the internet’s gossip quota for an entire year – in a good way. No one does drama like YouTube’s beauty community, and this particular 2019 Notes App apology is just a small part of a much larger web of statements, receipts, videos, you name it, that make up a conspiracy to bring down Westbrook’s ex-pal and protégé James Charles.
The excuse: Posted following Westbrook’s 41-minute long YouTube video (the legendary, now-deleted “Bye Sister”), where she drags Charles and his alleged seedy manipulation tactics (like making business deals behind her back and coercing men into sexual acts) through the mud, this apology is all about trying to put out the viral fire it created and pleads for all the “never-ending bloodshed” to stop.
The punishment: At first, if anything, Westbrook was rewarded for her James Charles takedown. Live tickers were even posted to YouTube showing his follower count falling dramatically while hers rose, and rose… and rose. In the weeks that followed, however, it became apparent that Charles was hardly at home and crying into his pillow. Rather, he’d spent ample time putting his own video together, with carefully curated receipts countering almost every one of Westbrook’s initial claims. Just like clockwork, this was followed by her announcing a digital detox, before she deleted every video to do with the feud.
Sincerity scale: 4/10
2019: Justin Timberlake
The crime: Back in 2019, Justin Timberlake was papped getting a little too close to his co-star Alisha Wainwright, while the pair were taking a break from shooting Apple TV drama Palmer. Of course, JT is married to Jessica Biel and has been for the last decade, so the optics weren’t great.
The excuse: “A strong lapse in judgement”, according to Timberlake, who spent half his Notes App apology assuring us all that nothing happened between him and Wainwright. Cry me a river, eh?
The punishment: None at all, apparently. It seems Biel all but forgave Timberlake’s wandering hands and decided to keep moving forward with their very public relationship – if anything, their Instagram content has gotten more coupley than ever.
Sincerity scale: 5/10
2021: Justin Timberlake
The crime: He’s back, this time with a double whammy. First up: Janet Jackson’s infamous “wardrobe malfunction” during hers and Timberlake’s 2004 Super Bowl half-time show performance, where he pulled her top down and exposed one side of her chest, or at least her bejewelled nip, to more than 100 million viewers. The incident, which was clearly planned, had a massive impact on the public’s perception of Jackson and her career – her album sales suffered and she was forced to issue an apology video. She was also banned from performing at the Grammys. Timberlake faced no consequences at all, with no rescinded Grammy invite.
Take two: Timberlake and Britney Spears’s highly publicised relationship and subsequent breakup, where she was branded a slut for cheating on him, was a label he gladly leaned into and capitalised on. Following the 2021 release of Framing Britney Spears, a Netflix documentary exposing the pop star’s egregious treatment at the hands of the media and her dad Jamie Spears, Timberlake felt compelled to apologise for his role in perpetuating misogyny in the early 2000s music industry.
The excuse: None is given in the Notes App apology, which is incredibly vague. But we can only assume that Timberlake was blinded by how much his previous behaviour toward women benefited him culturally and financially.
The punishment: Once again, Timberlake received little to no blowback for this, largely because the events he’s apologising for happened so long ago. He massively exploited both situations and it’s a little convenient to be asking for forgiveness decades later, don’t you think?
Sincerity scale: 5/10