JOHN MAYER at the Air Canada Centre (40 Bay), Wednesday (November 5). $43.75. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
john mayer makes me gag. It's not that I hate the guy - there's just something in the combination of his staggering popularity, implausible Frankenberry-meets-Dawson's Creek sex appeal and tepid whiteboy folk rock that rubs me the wrong way. It's kinda like James Taylor (to whom Mayer's often compared) - I can't slag Mayer's chops as a musician, but his tunes are so inoffensively sappy and his persona so smarmy, I just want to burst his bubble.
The entourage of publicists and handlers hovering around Mayer during our interview at the swank Metropolitan Hotel is another strike against him. I'm dealing with some over-groomed pretty boy who's gonna feed me lame-o sound bites, right?
But then he starts to talk, and I do a double take. In real life, Mayer's got a sardonic wit.
"Backstage, a lot of the hiphop guys told me they were fans," he says, poker-faced, as he tries to describe his big Grammy win for best pop performance by a male. "Which is cool. I've always known there was something about me that was totally hiphop, like it's all really about inner bling bling. I'd like to think that as a white guy you can't fuck with me, cuz I'm so unabashedly doin' my thing - you just have to appreciate it. If you think about it, that's kind of what hiphop is."
Is he being straight up or taking the piss out of himself? I'm a bit shaken up by the thought of Nelly humming Your Body Is A Wonderland while making breakfast, and I wonder if this is just Mayer's way of spinning himself for critics like me who keep pegging him as the next Dave Matthews.
Mayer hates the comparison. He claims he has a long-term plan for his career. He won't go into detail but assures me it will elude anyone who can't see past his breakout debut, Room For Squares (Aware/Columbia), and Heavier Things, his recent (and quite similar) follow-up.
Aside from a few new sonic twists - a keyboard riff here, a dance beat there - the main difference between the two discs is the lyrical subject matter. Where Room For Squares was chock full of wide-eyed wonder, Heavier Things is, well, a bit heavier. Songs like Home Life and Something's Missing sound like the work of a rock star disillusioned with his newfound fame, but Mayer insists people constantly misinterpret his metaphors as literal truths.
Take the melancholy Daughters, which seems like a public service announcement for building girls' self-esteem. It ain't that simple, says Mayer.
"Daughters is not about daughters or fathers or mothers. It's about a guy whose heart is broken by a girl and he realizes there's nothing he can do about it because her decision goes back to what happened before him. Like, when you meet somebody, you'd like to believe their life begins upon your hello to them, but you learn there are things that happened in people's pasts that you can't correct. So you shake your fist and go, 'Arrrrrgh! I hate your dad!'
"It's not the most noble thought in the world. I'm not gonna win the Nobel Prize for that song."
OK, so you've had your heart broken. Welcome to the club. But with all the teen girls throwing their panties onstage at his shows, Mayer must have some pretty sweet groupie anecdotes to soothe the pain.
"There really needs to be a new benchmark set for what 'groupie' means," he sighs. "Fifteen, 20 years ago, if you were offered a backstage pass you knew you were spending the night. Now when people are offered a backstage pass they think, 'Maybe I can get a picture with him!' There's so much of a social stigma - and goddamn 'em for it - which prevents women from going balls-out."
Then again, he might not be so receptive even if they were ready to rumble.
"It really all comes down to Internet message boards. The rapid transfer of information has killed fun for people on the road. I don't want to have indiscriminate sex enough to justify reading some story on some Web site afterwards, where it's seen as being as true as the New York Times. I don't have my go-to Tommy Lee story. I'm kind of unfun that way."