On March 31st, 2023, Tyler, the Creator, released the Estate Sale EP. The collection consisted of music that didn’t make the cut for Call Me If You Get Lost, Tyler’s last album. The feedback received towards the work was amazing; each song was heavily praised by fans. However, the visuals and messages of one song stood out among the rest.
“SORRY NOT SORRY" was released as the final song of the album. The song exploded on YouTube and Spotify, garnering millions of views and thousands of comments. Tyler the Creator fans enjoy his clear passion for music and how his lyrics have genuine messages embedded in them. However, it’s up to his listeners to decipher and find the meaning of his melodies.
The song, at its core, is a homage to Tyler’s growth. At the beginning of the song, he confronts his wrongs in the form of apologies. He reflects on his family relations, apologizing for how distant they were at times.
“I'm sorry that the four minutes where you see your son could feel like a chore. Sis', I'm sorry I'm your kin, sorry we ain't close as we should've been.”
The musician also references his old music group, Odd Future. He contemplates what it could’ve been if each member didn’t have their own separate ambitions.
“Sorry to my old friends, the stories we coulda wrote if our egos didn't take the pen.”
In addition to those two, Tyler confronts a big part of his identity. He speaks about his sexuality, writing the lyrics, “Who ain't need to know if I was by the lake switchin' tides, too.” Lake switching sides references his bisexuality. He goes on to sing about his lies, he lies to men and women alike about his relationships with them. After the initial apologies, Tyler speaks out about his boundaries as an artist. How fans should know their place as consumers and Tyler as the producer.
Amid all the genuine apologies for parts of his past, there are sarcastic and egotistical apologies as well.
An example is when Tyler raps, “Sorry that the talent, knowledge, passion isn't missin'. Sorry when I talk my sh*t and I could back it up with confidence.” The switch between these two apologies embodies the song perfectly. Tyler, the Creator, recognizes his wrongdoings and apologizes, but all of these mistakes brought him to the success he has now.
Odd Future breaking up, all the family time that was missed, and all those secrets contributed to him being in a situation where he could afford to flex his lifestyle. He doesn’t want to ignore all of his past because it has contributed to how successful he is now. It elucidates the whole title, “SORRY NOT SORRY” perfectly. Yes, he can say sorry for his past grievances, but ignoring them means ignoring the process that got him to where he is now.
The reason SORRY NOT SORRY stuck out for most listeners was because of its music video. The video starts with people entering what seems to be a theater, and we’re given a headshot of the people in the first row. The viewer sees two people wearing cultural Nigerian clothing, a reference to Tyler’s Nigerian blood. These characters are meant for his lyrics about oppression and racism; he knows he should fight against them. All the same, he acknowledges his privileges and status of wealth. Tyler talks about blood diamonds while he contributes to buying the jewelry. His fame and status have blinded him in the past, and he knows he should take responsibility. This goes along with the whole theme of his introspection.
“Sorry to my ancestors (I'm so sorry), I know I'm supposed to fight (I know)
But this ice shinin' brighter than a black man's plight, I'ma make it right
In the meantime, I'll give some advice while these blood diamonds gettin' cleaned off.”
The curtains open, and all six of Tyler, the Creator’s personas are revealed. For each album Tyler has created, a different personality and aesthetic were created. Each album represents different eras of Tyler’s music career. We see personas as far back as his first album, Goblin, from 2011. However, none of them sing at first. We’re shown a bare Tyler Okonma, with no costumes or gimmicks. It shows him as a person. It’s this version of Tyler that sings those apologies; his true self atones for his past.
From here, several of his past personas start to sing. The characters are accurate to their album’s feel. For example, Goblin’s Tyler was the edgiest in the past, making it clear why he has such a tense verse. As the music video moves along, one by one, Tyler kills off his numerous past selves. However, they die as his apologies in the song are sung. It’s not as if he's burying those versions of himself in secrecy, never to be spoken about again. It's as if he’s cleansing himself from them. He could finally let these past mistakes go for good.
In a way, he’s taking accountability. Killing the personas is like burying the hatchet. Tyler has matured and doesn't want to live as these characters everyone sees him as. He doesn't want this gimmick of personalities to continue. So when he kills each one, only Tyler Okonma is left. He knows these characters were stepping stones to getting to where he is now, but he’s ready for change.
“SORRY NOT SORRY” not only highlights Tyler, the Creator’s biggest regrets, but it’s a gorgeously orchestrated farewell to his past identities. When Tyler releases himself from his past, he has much more room to grow as a person.
A big reason why this song blew up so much was Tyler’s vulnerability. This idea of taking responsibility to achieve improvement is a beautiful message for all listeners. Seeing someone take that responsibility so publicly could inspire others to do the same. Not only does the song give Tyler’s listeners an insight into his mind, but the song inspires them to follow his steps toward growth. Tyler, the Creator’s piece “SORRY NOT SORRY” deserved all of the attention it received, and hopefully, through that, the song’s message could live forever.