Track Review: John Mayer Gets Meta On “Paper Doll”

In what is certainly the most high-profile, soft-rock beef of recent years, John Mayer has finally shot-back with song at his younger former flame, Taylor Swift. It’s understandable if one were to have forgotten why Mayer might be pointing his pen at the country-pop darling, since it was all the way back in 2010 when she released her album Speak Now, and with it, the offending tune, “Dear John.” As was widely speculated upon its release, Swift is almost certainly singing about the well-known ladies man with whom she was romantically linked to for a small time.

In “Paper Doll,” the newly-released single from Mayer’s upcoming Paradise Valley, he all but assures us the tune is a rebuttal to Swift’s almost three year-old should’ve-known-better lament. Sure, such confirmation comes in large-part to the obvious lyrical elements – we’ll get to them in a bit – but, perhaps most tellingly, in that such a boring, loafing tune has been picked as the single to introduce the world to his newest album and the follow-up to the admirably grown-up Born and Raised from 2012.

It’s tough to imagine any other explanation, as the song’s gentle, folky beat, pseudo-jazzy guitar lilting and repetitive lyrics sung with barely a whimper make for the most sleep-inducing single of Mayer’s hot-and-cold career. Take away the almost forgotten break-up back-story and the song is as comatose as Mayer’s interviews have been since his well-publicized, foul-mouthed Rolling Stone and Playboy magazine melt-downs in the spring 2010.

So, to connect the completely unhidden dots, Mayer sings “Someone’s going to paint you another sky,” which matches up with “Dear John’s” Tiger Beat-style gut-punch of “You paint me a blue sky, and go back and turn it to rain.” Mayer also sings about a ton of different dresses. Instead of figuring he’s gained inspiration from a Macy’s catalog, it’s juicier to assume he’s replying to T-Swizzle’s self-pitying line “The girl in the dress cried the whole way home.” Oh, lest we forget, Mayer also repeatedly sings “You’re like 22 girls in one” which, can possibly be seen as some sort of reply to Swift’s tune “22” from her 2012 blockbuster release Red.

Whatever points Mayer might’ve won for displaying a slight bit of cleverness in the tune’s various responses to the deathly literal “Dear John,” he loses them and then some. Not only did it take him years to reply, but he didn’t bother to use his turn in the battle to craft a better song than Swift’s diary-driven storm-starter.