Music review: John Mayer's "Paper Doll"

Jun 18, 2013 at 2:42 p.m. ET

All right, which one of you celebrity ex-girlfriends took John Mayer shopping?

John Mayer releases new single

John Mayer's fresh new single, "Paper Doll," had to have been inspired by a shopping outing and a trip inside the women's dressing area. Not that this inspiration is a bad thing.

John Mayer has often spoken about the two-faced, shallow and fake world that is celebrity culture. As a matter of fact, it's those very rants that helped to alienate him from celebs and fans for quite a while. (Along with a few others.) To a certain extent, "Paper Doll" is more of the same. Lines such as, "You're like 22 girls in one" emphasize that same complaint. It's about a girl of many dresses, a wearer of many different kinds of shoes.

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It's a much softer complaint than his previous tries, though. It's kinder. It's about her act and about how he knows she can offer something better than that. There's even a line that recalls a song from one of his first few records: In "Comfortable" he sang of "grey sweatpants, no makeup." In "Paper Doll" he gently chastises the "heels that hurt" and laments that she "shoulda kept my undershirt."

Really, it's a very pretty song. And the prancercising lyric video that accompanies it is also great.


There is one thing to take issue with and that's its simplicity. I suppose all songs need not be fathoms deep and full of imagery. However, when compared to songs from his previous album, Born and Raised, it falls a little flat. It can't hold its own against "Walt Grace's Submarine Test, January 1967" or the title track. "Paper Doll" feels like a step backwards. It's as good a song as "Your Body Is a Wonderland" and will no doubt have the same effect for any guy who picks up his guitar and croons along for his girlfriend. But after the beauty and growth heard in Born and Raised, it just seems a little lacking.

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Of course, the song already has gossipers trying to guess who the song might be about. When Mayer sings of a scarf of "Moroccan red" tied up in her hair, listeners can't help but think of Taylor Swift. It's entirely possible it is about her, too. Perhaps a semi-sweet apology for whatever happened between them. I think, though, that it's important to remember than not all songs are influenced by just one person or just one moment. Mayer has dated a slew of celebrity girls who must abandon his undershirts for dresses that maybe try too hard. And, you know, us normal girls often find ourselves slipping into frocks that exist only to suit someone else.

The lyricism is simple and the music is a little old-school John, but the song has meaning. To try to tie it to just one girl seems a little like we've missed the point, no?

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Image courtesy of WENN