John Mayer Reconciling art and the artist

In an explicit attempt to reinstate his cultural relevance as a musician, John Mayer has finally dropped his seventh studio album The Search for Everything after a four-year hiatus. And opening at number two on the Billboard charts the same week Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. was released, the numbers prove that John Mayer, his controversial and problematic past aside, still gots it.

John Mayer first made a name for himself as one of this generation’s most original guitarists/singer-songwriters. Catchy melodies and unique guitar riffs paired with strikingly lucid lyrics about young life and love lent a simplistic authenticity the post-Y2K chaos and spoke to a disillusioned generation. Sure, he also sang about love and he could sing them well – Your Body Is a Wonderland and Slow Dancing In A Burning Room are crowd favourites. But it is his numbers on quarter-life crises and growing up that strike a reverberating chord with many of us going through the motions of young adulthood with a similar clout of doubt and uncertainty.

These songs are a consolation and solace to all young twenty-something-year-olds flushed with the existentialist dread. Their lyrics express so succinctly the symptoms and fears of an identity crisis, allowing us to reciprocate the weariness we have towards a future of uncertainty through passive aural meditation. Coupled with rhythmic tunes and soulful guitar phrases just complex enough for his songs to be edgy, John Mayer was accorded god status to a cohort of sensitive but inspired iPod toting converts – a loyal following that I am unabashedly a part of.

The 2000s recognised Mr. Mayer’s musicality and flair as an original artist that moved and reached out to a whole generation. Sold out shows, multi-platinum records, seven Grammys and acclaim from his critics and peers cemented his profession in the industry. Yet outside the studio, professionalism was something he lacked. Racist, sexist, homophobic comments and an overt sense of self-entitlement conjured a mental image of a sex-obsessed, insufferable douche, and his persona was never as well-received as his musical career with his stupid mouth. As his songs continued to make it on the Top Hits charts, interviews and tabloids also charted his list of ex-girlfriends that seemed to be increasing exponentially from 2006-2010, establishing his playboy status in Hollywood with a long laundry line of rumoured celebrity lovers from Jessica Simpson to Jennifer Aniston to Kim Kardashian (yeah, her).

Half of my heart feels like he’s old enough to be her dad.

But while some of his words can possibly make you die of severe second-hand embarrassment, there’s no doubt the man can write a damn good song. Which begs the age-old question – can the art be separated from the artist? Hollywood and its pervasive gossip columns didn’t seem to think so, and backlash towards his douchey drivel reached a zenith after his particularly high-profile relationship with Taylor Swift, leaving him exposed like the Elephant Man in the perpetual media circus.

And so he left, slipping out of the public’s eye. He released two country albums, with low-key, folksy tunes that appeal to old souls, and this came with a compellingly different narrative that centred on him making music instead of him making love. This period also reinforced his finesse not just as a stellar singer-songwriter, but as a dexterous guitarist too.

John Mayer revisits each stage of his musicianhood in his new compendium (12, not 23) of songs – a sentimental love letter to his music career, one could say.

The eclectic album features the familiar upbeat pop songs of his early music, punctuated with bluesy, R&B (and sometimes folksy) elements characteristic of his more contemplative compositions. Helpless and Emoji of a Wave (stupid, stupid name for a great, great song) are reminiscent of his Continuum phase, while Movin’ On and Getting Over is a refreshing funky new track that’ll make you do a shoulder roll or two. His attempts to wax poetic about life, albeit a little too telling, also mark a significant shift from his pre-2010 days. The Search for Everything is not just Mayer’s attempt to get back on the charts, but also an official declaration of maturity, as the singer-songwriter enters his fourth decade as a human being. It is his assertion to the world that he has finally grown up.

Mayer’s work – past, present, and future – may never be separated from gossip fodder thanks to his salacious past. One thing’s for sure though: while the man may be a self-proclaimed recovered ego addict (the guy really knows how to play it humble), we’re glad he’s still making music and taking things in his stride. He’s also really active on his social media accounts (Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat), and boy is he one kooky guy. Though this time, his eccentricities seem to be working in his favour as fans start embracing his quirkiness with his silly tweets and video stories. Oh, and he’s also a Fifth Harmony fan. Guess the art and the artist are pretty intertwined after all.

The Search for Everything may not enchant you like his earlier work on the first listen. But John Mayer’s new record is a creeper – you may find yourself pleasantly inclined to turn to it again and again, much like Emma Stone’s character and that “Pocketful of Sunshine” song in Easy A. And even if you don’t, his new music video will definitely be at the back of your mind with its Kungfu Panda/Hotline Bling/Yakuza-inspired theme. He’s no Maddie Ziegler, but what the hell – John Mayer’s dancing his way back into our lives, and you can’t miss out on that.

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