In Defense of John Mayer

John Mayer
John Mayer Courtesy of Franck Ockenfels
Over the course of two decades, John Mayer has sold more than 20 million records, earned multiple Grammys, and traveled the world with top-grossing tours.

And yet, many people don’t like the man who will play the BB&T Center this Saturday. In the court of public opinion, Mayer has been found guilty of several crimes. We take up his case here in a perhaps vain attempt to clear his name of a brief list of charges.

Claim #1: John Mayer is a misogynist.

Gossip about John Mayer’s love life is now as commonplace as news of Morgan Freeman’s death on the internet. He has more famous ex-girlfriends than Donald Trump has ex-staff members. Jennifer Love Hewitt, Jessica Simpson, Minka Kelly, Jennifer Aniston, Katy Perry, and Taylor Swift have all been aboard the Mayer Express. But all exited before that train arrived at its final destination.

Then there’s the 2013 Reddit thread that contained supposedly true stories of famous hookups between fans and stars, Drake and Justin Bieber among them. The rumors surrounding Mayer involved an anal fixation and urine. Of the former, Mayer was reported to have said, “I’ve seen more buttholes than a proctologist,” something that sounds like the candid interviewee he is; and of the latter, he apparently asked to pee on a fan who immediately left crying.

It’s hardly surprising that a man whose entire career is built on acoustic romance and afternoon seduction might be a bit of a Lothario and perhaps even a pervert. His press statements indicate he has issues with commitment and is very open about sex (check out this rather bonkers Rolling Stone interview about his search for the “Joshua Tree of vaginas”). But rumor about what he does in the bedroom is not fact. Until we have hard evidence (giggity), there is no reason to believe he hates or disrespects women. Plus, even if it’s all true, he a) asked for permission and b) at least is not banging mailboxes or dressing up as a horny, latex puppy.

Claim #2: John Mayer is a racist.

Mayer has plenty of street cred; in the past he’s collaborated with Alicia Keys, Frank Ocean, Jhené Aiko, Kanye West, and legendary blues master B.B. King. Unfortunately, this led to Mayer believing too much of his own hype, getting too comfortable, and saying some truly stupid shit. In 2010, Mayer delivered the two most damaging interviews of his career to Rolling Stone and Playboy.

It was in the Playboy interview that he alienated himself from so many with some remarkably inane and tone-deaf comments.

"I am a very... I'm just very. V-E-R-Y," Mayer said. "And if you can't handle very, then I'm a douchebag. But I think the world needs a little very. That's why black people love me. Someone asked me the other day, 'What does it feel like now to have a hood pass?’ And by the way, it's sort of a contradiction in terms, because if you really had a hood pass, you could call it a nigger pass. Why are you pulling a punch and calling it a hood pass if you really have a hood pass? But I said, 'I can't have a hood pass. I've never walked into a restaurant, asked for a table and been told, 'We're full."

And this:

“My dick is sort of like a white supremacist; I've got a Benetton heart and a fuckin' David Duke cock. I'm going to start dating separately from my dick."

Christ. Even today, seven years later, in a world of pussy-grabbing presidents, those comments are jaw-dropping. We’re not going to defend that interview because the words he vomited that day were plain dumb. However, in the intervening years, Mayer has seemed honestly repentant, apologizing profusely in person and on social media and shying away from traditional media for two years in a bid to save himself from himself.

If you can get past the constipated faces he makes when playing, the searing melodies Mayer elicits from his Stratocasters are impressive.

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More recently, Mayer has been hit with accusations of cultural appropriation for the music video to “Still Feel Like Your Man.” We’re not talking about the sort of black cultural appropriation that is every rock 'n' roll song since the mid-20th century. People call the video flat-out racist against Asians and the Asian community.

The thing is, there is nothing malicious about the video. Some of it is in bad taste, but overall it’s silly.

The main reason for all the attention is that it’s John Mayer. Proper, intentional racism isn’t funny, but damn it, this video is unintentionally hilarious because it doesn’t realize the stereotypes it’s perpetuating (the dancing pandas are just too much). Mayer just needs someone to occasionally sit him down and say, “No, John, that’s a bad idea. Here’s why.”

Should we forget what he said in that Playboy interview? Definitely not. Should we forgive? Well, everyone makes mistakes.

Claim #3: John Mayer sucks.

Despite the fact that John Mayer can, on occasion, be somewhat insufferable as a human being with a continuous case of verbal diarrhea, he is indisputedly one hell of a musician.

Before his extended tutelage under B.B. King and before he ever shared a stage with Eric Clapton, Mayer had already established himself as a great guitarist. Since then, he’s evolved. Ask anyone who’s ever seen him live: The man can fucking shred. If you can get past the pained, constipated faces he sometimes makes when playing, the searing melodies Mayer elicits from his Stratocasters are objectively impressive.

Say what you will about the cloying, saccharine sweetness of his first hit single, “Your Body Is a Wonderland,” but across his first four albums, Mayer provided a blueprint for how to be both a pop heartthrob and a respected, intelligent, and supremely talented songwriter. His best received record, Continuum, is a weighty, immersive work of blues rock that touches upon big issues and not just love. Mayer muses over political and social ideas while never fully disconnecting from the confessional style that got him to where he is, at times agonizing over his own mortality.

Then 2010 happened. Mayer escaped to Montana, grew his hair out, and returned with Born and Raised and Paradise Valley, by far his weakest albums, mostly because in a bid to reinvent himself, he embraced country music and the Laurel Canyon sound. It all felt so damn phony.

Thankfully, his 2017 effort, The Search for Everything (a title that couldn’t be more apt for an eternally curious man like Mayer), finds the nearly 40-year-old returning to his former self. Songs such as “Still Feel Like Your Man,” “Love on the Weekend,” and “Moving On and Getting Over” remind us of Mayer’s knack for writing pop gems that alternate between breezy and sleek. They're ideal either for a sunny breakfast nook or a smoky dive bar.

Mayer remembered who he was and for all his faults, remains one of our most accomplished, respected musicians. The refrain that “John Mayer sucks” is unfairly dismissive and subjective. It's intentional ignorance. You can't ignore his talent outright. He's like Kanye or other difficult music personalities.

Focus on the quality of the art. The rest, including the boneheaded soundbites, is just noise.

John Mayer. 7 p.m. Saturday, August 12, at the BB&T Center, 1 Panther Pkwy., Sunrise; 800-745-3000;; Tickets cost $44 to $435 via
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Angel Melendez is an unabashed geek and a massive music nerd. A graduate of Florida Atlantic University and an accomplished failure at two other universities, Angel is a lush and an insufferable know-it-all, and has way better taste in music than you.
Contact: Angel Melendez