Music and celebrity can be a volatile mix. Taylor Swift first caught listeners’ ears with her sharply communicative storytelling and instantly hummable melodies, but by the time of 2010’s heart-tugging Speak Now, she was also the woman who Kanye West famously interrupted at an awards show; the hinted tabloid references on the album risked preventing the songs from taking on a life of their own. John Mayer’s came to fame for similar skills, but he didn’t become a household name until he started dating the likes of Jessica Simpsons and Jennifer Aniston — which all came crashing down on him when he confused that low-calorie world for one that would let him impersonate Lenny Bruce in a couple of disastrously insensitive and misguided 2010 interviews.
Mayer has rebounded musically, in the form of the easygoing country rock of current album chart-topper Born & Raised, but he still apparently hasn’t cured his longstanding habit of saying things that will make people get the wrong idea about his records. Although the now-Montana-based singer-songwriter has been making something of an apology tour lately, explaining to Ellen DeGeneres and CNN why he acted like a shock jock a couple of years ago, he’s evidently still smarting from Taylor Swift’s Speak Now standout “Dear John.” In the upcoming issue of Rolling Stone, he says he was “really humiliated” by the song, which surfaced shortly after Mayer’s interview scandals and many assumed was written about him.
Why does Mayer dislike “Dear John”? Let’s count the ways!
1. It’s unfairly hurtful. “It made me feel terrible,” he’s quoted as saying. “Because I didn’t deserve it. I’m pretty good at taking accountability now, and I never did anything to deserve that. It was a really lousy thing for her to do.”
2. It really did serve as a sort of “Dear John” notice. “I never got an e-mail. I never got a phone call,” he tells Rolling Stone. “I was really caught off-guard, and it really humiliated me at a time when I’d already been dressed down. I mean, how would you feel if, at the lowest you’ve ever been, someone kicked you even lower?
3. It’s a waste of Swift’s abilities. “I will say as a songwriter that I think it’s kind of cheap songwriting,” Mayer reportedly says. “I know she’s the biggest thing in the world, and I’m not trying to sink anybody’s ship, but I think it’s abusing your talent to rub your hands together and go, ‘Wait till he gets a load of this!’ That’s bullshit.”
First reaction: If Mayer is going to present himself as a “good man” now, to quote Born & Raised single “Shadow Days,” and an adult, he just can’t go around airing his dirty laundry in interviews like this anymore. Sure, it makes sense that he would’ve been hurt, but telling the press about it only reinforces an unfair but understandable media storyline of Mayer as a self-centered guy who pretends he’s sensitive to attract women. Let’s get this straight: It was wrong for Swift to express how hurt she might’ve been by Mayer, but it’s OK for Mayer to go around expressing how much he was hurt by her? Mayer tends to come across well in interviews only as far as you’re willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. He doesn’t have that many credits left in his account at this point.
The real trouble, however, is how much he underestimates “Dear John” as a song. Our reviewer, Mikael Wood, rightly said Speak Now “peaks” with the seven-minute pop-country track. As much as “Mean” now sounds like a future standard, we still agree: In its precisely detailed heartbreak, its powerfully deliberate pacing, and delicately Mayer-y blues-rock touches, “Dear John” is a gorgeously devastating takedown for the ages. Bet you think this song is about you.
As for Swift’s repeated question in the song, “Don’t you think I was too young to be messed with?”: “I don’t want to go into that,” Mayer tells Rolling Stone. These are words he should try using more often. As Swift also sings on “Dear John,” “You should’ve known.”