I can’t usually predict the future. But when John Mayer announced in a March 23 interview that his next music video would take place in a “disco dojo,” I immediately knew that I would have to write this article. Flash forward two weeks and here we are, entering the disco dojo that is Mayer’s “Still Feel Like Your Man.”
In his aforementioned New York Times profile, Mayer described the track as “ancient Japanese R&B,” while admitting that that “isn’t a thing.” Naturally, his fake, Asian-y genre called for an Orientalist-ish aesthetic: geisha makeup, bamboo, and dancing pandas. The video opens in some sort of hip club and/or brothel, where John Mayer is the only customer and an old Asian lady runs around with a live bird in her hair. He’s guided through this love dojo by a woman who, despite her fashion eyepatch, is still making serious eye(s) at Mayer. Like every single John Mayer music video, the A plot is how much women love John Mayer. The similarly absurd B plot is a choreographed dance that Mayer does while flanked by two grooving pandas. You can tell that Mayer was very influenced by Asian cultures, because he is doing fake kung fu and wearing drop-crotch joggers.
What is John Mayer trying to accomplish in this disco dojo? Presumably, he’s making one last appeal to his ex, who’s played by a veiled woman surrounded by butterflies. At one point in the video Mayer sits next to the object of his affection while she stares plaintively into the distance. He might still feel like her man, but Mayer’s butterfly bride no longer has the hots for him and is clearly waiting for her Uber. When I watch this scene, I think about every single boy who has tried to impress a girl by singing a John Mayer song directly into her face. Apparently, this move doesn’t even work for John Mayer. Rejected by his love interest, tired from his dancing, and doubtlessly creeped out by all of the pandas he hired, Mayer flees the dojo with a small wooden box. Back in the dojo elevator (?), he opens the box to find a single butterfly, which he releases to die a slow and painful death in a confined area. He smiles a wistful smile.
To be fair, the geisha-inspired women scattered throughout the dojo aren’t particularly scantily clad or sexually objectified on camera. “Still Feel Like Your Man” isn’t about John Mayer’s Asian fetish so much as his fetish for making really bad music videos.
Not since Kendall Jenner used Pepsi-Cola to solve racial tension has one brief clip been so dumb. So, not since 72 hours ago. But Mayer’s video isn’t offensive—according to John Mayer. “I think we were as sensitive as we could possibly be,” he has insisted. “It was discussed at every juncture,” adding, “Part of cultural appropriation is blindness…I’m on the right side of the line because it’s an idea for the video that has a very multiethnic casting, and nobody who is white or non-Asian is playing an Asian person.” An ancient Zen koan: if you appear to know what cultural appropriation is, and even use it correctly in a sentence, can people still accuse you of cultural appropriation?
The weirdest thing about this video, whether or not you find the potpourri of Asian tropes objectionable, is the fact that Mayer conceived of it as his comeback. It’s 2017, Ghost in the Shell just got its ass kicked by Boss Baby, and this dude thought that a dojo-inspired music video would be his return ticket to likability. Of course, when it comes to mass appeal, John Mayer’s biggest problem is not the fact that he based an entire music video concept around his desire to do a karate chop dance move next to a guy in a panda suit. John Mayer’s greatest obstacle has always been himself—more specifically, his lyrics, his opinions, his music, and that annoying pseudo-soulful face he makes when he sings.
Unlike “ancient Japanese R&B,” there is a real genre that this song falls into—songs about Katy Perry that don’t actually mention her by name. Mayer has admitted that his single is about the pop singer, who he describes as his only serious relationship in the past six years. With Mayer’s affected enunciation on this track, it sounds like he’s crooning “I still feel like you’re mad,” which, unlike this video, would actually make sense. The always-dating Mayer has a history of A-List exes, from Jennifer Aniston to Minka Kelly to Jessica Simpson. And these women don’t all have glowing things to say about John Mayer. Taylor Swift famously penned “Dear John” for her bad-boy ex, asking, “Don’t you think I was too young to be messed with?”
Naturally, Mayer is more likely to feel sorry for himself than to take responsibility for his actions. A few years after Swift released her tell-all track, he addressed it in a Rolling Stone interview, saying, “It made me feel terrible. Because I didn't deserve it. I'm pretty good at taking accountability now, and I never did anything to deserve that. It was a really lousy thing for her to do.” An interesting defensive play from a man who publicly called Jessica Simpson “sexual napalm,” and told the entire world that he has a “David Duke” cock.
All this is to say that, wherever you go, there you are. Mayer might be trying on a new, less-douchey demeanor and dancing around a dojo set, but he still writes lyrics like, “I still keep your shampoo in my shower in case you wanna wash your hair.” John Mayer will always be the universe’s pseudo-sensitive ex-boyfriend. Still, after watching Mayer burn through romantic relationships for over a decade, it’s hard to feel bad for him. You’re 39, man. Step away from Katy Perry’s Frédéric Fekkai, and try making a music video that doesn’t suck.