Is John Mayer Woke or Totally Culturally Appropriating?
John Mayer has always been… a lot. I’ll still argue that Room for Squares was a genuinely great record and a staple of early-aughts music. But somewhere between really overdoing the "Your Body Is a Wonderland" music video and everyone realizing he is totally that guy in college who would make you think he wanted to have sex, but instead take you home to serenade you for hours with his new genius chord progressions until you slept with his roommate or just left — and he probably didn’t even notice, he pretty much became the epitome of American low-key white boy, and that can be a little noxious.
Thankfully, Katy Perry breathed some of her pop cool into him when the two started dating and put out their song that some thought was a little too gooey but I thought was totally cute, “Who You Love.” Not to mention the video promoted a message of universal love across race, gender and sexuality.
Mayer is also reportedly at least part of why Taylor Swift (who also dated Mayer) and Katy Perry hate each other so much. Which, if that is true, is just hilarious and humbling for women everywhere, the realization that no matter how successful you are, fuck-boys will still fuck with your head.
Over the years, though, Mayer has ditched his Chuck Taylors and ill-fitting jeans for a more tailored GQ look, sometimes even throwing a Tibetan robe in, bordering on eccentric. He’s not straying from his new path, either, as he promotes his new record, which is reportedly a big messy love dedication to Katy Perry (which I can’t blame him for making; I kind of want to make an ode to Perry as well).
In the first video for “Still Feel Like Your Man,” Mayer is dancing through what is described as a “disco dojo.” Mayer told The New York Times — in an interview ironically titled, "John Mayer Knows He Messed Up. He Wants Another Chance" — that the song reminded him of a nonexistent musical genre, which he called “ancient Japanese R&B.” That same abstract concept inspired the video’s aesthetic. Even though he elaborated, “I’m on the right side of the line because it’s an idea for the video that has a very ethnic casting, and nobody who is white or non-Asian is playing an Asian person,” — a preemptive attempt to ward off accusations of cultural appropriation — he still clearly stands behind the work. And that's such a white boy thing to do — talk a big woke game, but still dick around with offensive concepts.
In the video, Mayer dances with pandas, women hide behind fans, butterflies flutter through a red lit lounge full of bamboo and sword fighting. It’s a lot, to say the least. (But like I said earlier, so is John Mayer). And I’m a bit conflicted, honestly. On one hand, it feels like another cultural misstep from a white boy who refuses to get woke because he doesn’t need to. But on the other hand, with how absurd his dancing is, how over-the-top the Asian references are and the disgusted eye rolling the Asian shot caller is doing from his throne at Mayer, it does feel kind of self-aware. Like, maybe he really is making fun of himself.
With the self-serious way he spoke of the song and video to The New York Times, though, it’s sadly probably the former. The song is still kind of a jam though. And I can’t believe I just said that.