There's something about John Mayer. I can't put my finger on it exactly; it's less a set of specific traits and more a vibe — a wavelength both familiar yet mysterious and also undeniably hot.
John possesses an understanding of the zeitgeist, which is actually a rare quality for a white man of his age (43) who has been famous for decades. He is extremely online, which is evident in his meme-style captions and absurdist TikToks and also the times he's talked about it.
On Instagram, he flaunts his IRL friendship with the New Yorker's Naomi Fry, a writer as well as a name with such cultural cachet that Brooklynites would add it to their Hinge profiles to signal their own very-online-ness. He is objectively attractive and only made hotter with the hair of a Boy Meets World star, the wardrobe of a men's fashion editor, and full sleeves. I'd like to submit to the court as evidence this self-styled GQ photoshoot using clothing from Mayer's own closet.
He always manages to stay relevant, his content toeing the line between annoying (his Instagram Live show "Current Mood," the title itself a facetious reference to overused social media lingo, which he often co-hosts with Shawn Mendes) and so intentionally cringe-y I'm confused to the point of being appreciative (a TikTok in which he rates his favorite aquarium sizes). He's yet another self-aware boy who sings about waiting for the world to change, but instead of changing it himself he makes jokes to keep us entertained as we sail toward inevitable old age and death. He is the string quartet on the Titanic. And he leans into it.
His new album, Sob Rock, out Friday, epitomizes the tongue in cheek, on-trend humor of the internet: The '80s colorways, the clear nod to Toto's pop funk synth-y sounds, even the name appears intended to draw a laugh. Promotional materials read: "Make every drive a road trip." Dad-like earnestness is at once the selling point and the punchline.
You just get the feeling that John Mayer gets it. But that wasn't always the case.
In the mid-2000s his name might easily be uttered in the same breath as Hollywood's infamous Pussy Posse — Leonardo DiCaprio, Toby Maguire, and David Blaine's legendarily skeezy fraternity of womanizers.
John dated Jessica Simpson, Jennifer Aniston, Minka Kelly, Taylor Swift, and Katy Perry, and was treated in the press with a courtesy that was never extended to his exes. While Swift was subjected to post-breakup coverlines like "Why She Can't Find Love," Mayer's dating track record was chalked up to a bachelor with unquenchable thirst — a 2012 RollingStone cover read "The Dirty Mind and Lonely Heart of John Mayer." These editorial choices do not belong to Mayer, of course, but he is not without fault in the narrative. In the same RollingStone interview, he likened breaking up with Aniston to burning the American flag. "I basically murdered an ideal," he says, speaking as though Jennifer were not a person but a prized object. He continued on a strange dialogue in which he says he felt "cosmically" responsible for creating a link between Aniston and another woman, Dimple$, both of whom he'd slept with, as though he were the central figure in either woman's story.
When I share his funny Instagrams with friends, the messages are always prefaced with, “Ugh, I hate how much I love this.”
It's these actions I'm talking about when I say that I don't trust myself with loving John Mayer. I don't trust myself to remember his faults, to hold him accountable. Through the course of his career, Mayer has been criticized for being a douchebag toward women, for being the exact archetype of the glorified bad boy that we, in a post-#MeToo society, have begun to break down. When I share his funny Instagrams with friends, the messages are always prefaced with, "Ugh, I hate how much I love this." Because if John can get away with referring to his junk as a "white supremacist," with publicly discussing the very private details of his sex lives with multiple famous women without their consent (and I'm not talking about his lyrics, but interviews he's given), then what am I condoning? What does this crush say about me?
You could label this conundrum the burden carried by any person who dates cisgender heterosexual men: It's not my job to understand or forgive John's actions, or to make space for his career to continue to flourish despite his flaws; it's my job to work toward a society that is safer for marginalized people. It just so happens that we live in a world where a man whose career exemplifies white-male privilege is given a million chances, and his scorned exes are not. Simpson wrote about how uncomfortable his "obsession" (his word) with her body was in her 2020 memoir; Swift, who was 19 to Mayer's 32 when they dated in 2009, wrote of their relationship in a song, "Don't you think I was too young to be messed with?/ The girl in the dress cried the whole way home."
If you've ever met a Taylor Swift fan, they will tell you that Mayer is on a tier with the shittiest men in Hollywood history. But he's also one of many who've slipped between the fingers of cancel culture. Here's a successful white man who has admitted that he's kind of a dick to the women he dates. At the same time, he is fed to me via the algorithm as though none of his disgusting behavior ever played out in public. And you know what? I eat it up. I have a fat crush on John Fucking Mayer, but I also love and hear and see the women he has harmed.
It was Mayer himself who said, "you love who you love (who you love)." Though loving a famous person (for their work or their public persona) isn't the same thing as condoning their behavior, it's not that far off.
But the music. Being an artist is a thoroughly embarrassing occupation, especially if your medium lends itself to cheesy love songs and cliched ballads in which every other word is "baby." Yet Mayer has managed to write such aggressively douche-y lyrics like, "The prettiest girl in the room, she wants me / I know because she told me so" that they read not as fuckboi nonsense but a heartfelt plea to a lover he's not quite over. Is it genius? Or does he only get away with it because his voice is smooth as fondue?
My favorite refrain in the John Mayer dialogue, especially the dialogue that happens among young, newly minted Mayer fans, is "John Mayer is actually really good at guitar." And he is — he plays with Dead & Company alongside three original members of The Grateful Dead. People, and notably other white, cishet men, seem to cling to this fact as though it excuses their admiration of a man who is as known for a goofy internet presence as he is for being an international sex symbol and douchebag. Trust me — a person who has dated a musician for the past three years — when I say that his raw talent only makes him hotter.
Some may argue that he's grown. When Mayer joined TikTok earlier this year, his account was swarmed by Swifities who blasted his comments with allegations that he groomed Swift. He captioned a subsequent post, "POV: You're berating me and I'm hearing you out."
"Who do you love?" Mayer asks on "I Don't Trust Myself (with Loving You)" from his 2006 album Continuum, "me or the thought of me?"
Well, John, that's something I'm still figuring out.
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