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"Whatcha Say" is a song by Jason Derülo. In the lyrics, the narrator apologizes to his girlfriend for cheating on her, and we're supposed to hear the female voice on the chorus as the girlfriend's admonishments.

"Mmm whatcha say? Mmm that you only meant well? Well of course you did. Mmm whatcha say? (Whatcha say?) What did you say?"

That reading never made much sense to me. Why would he tell her he only meant well? "Baby, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean for you to find out like this. I'm so sorry. But I swear, I only meant well." No. That chorus is him. It's the voice in his head reminding him to feel remorse, telling him that he's really messed up this time. It was just supposed to be fun, he says. I only meant well, he says.

I used to try to explain my interpretation to people when the song was still on the radio all the time, but most of them, smiling, waiting patiently for me to finish, would tell me not to read too much into it.

Reading too much into it

But that's what I do when I like a song. In early 2010, when I used to listen to it on repeat, I would pretend I was the singer and that I was singing the lyrics to my past, eighteen-year-old self. Back then, my eccentricities had started getting out of hand and convinced me to start trying to fix myself. That scatterbrained, inattentive, unemotional young man was like the girlfriend in the song, and as I walked around with the chorus in my headphones I would apologize for three or four minutes for ever doubting him and thinking I'd found someone better. I'd only meant well.

I knew I was changing the song, but I felt justified every time the breakdown came in, the introduction to the last chorus. As the narrator got more and more desperate, and the drums came in and the chorus was about to start, he would sing the line, "I really need you in my life, 'cause things ain't right." On that last word, the auto-tune on the tenor's voice would transport him up into the soprano register, changing his sex like his producer had changed the sample from a ballad to a pop song, like his manager had changed the Haitian syllables of "Desrouleaux" into "Derülo" so that we listeners wouldn't have to worry about how to read it or what to say. And so I didn't feel bad, adapting the song, adjusting the levels so it would sound good on the weird speakers in my brain. It already sounded nothing like its parts, and all I did was add one more layer of production.

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