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Paper Doll

Interview on Studio Q
Aired on CBC Radio One, hosted by Jian Ghomeshi

JG: The Paper Doll thing, that was the single and there's all this debate about what that song is about. How do you feel about people trying to dissect lyrics like that?

JM: It's a different time, right? Like you'd be called an old fart if you were to say like, well, why can't we listen to records on vinyl? Or why can't we listen to records on CD? Why can't we take this music in this way, right? Well, why Spotify? Whatever happened to good old Pandora? And along those lines you could be considered the same thing for saying, why can't people just listen to the song? Why can't people just listen—

JG: That's your disclaimer?

JM: Yeah well sort of—it's actually not really a disclaimer it's kind of an explainer.

JG: Okay.

JM: So in saying that I want to be the same way and embrace—like if that's the way people like to be to have music introduced to them, taped to a little nugget of BS. That's sort of the method of delivery now for information where I come from. So if you're not hearing something based on a controversy, or based on a debate, or based on something polarizing, you may not hear it, right?

So like, "Roar" comes out, right? Katy [Perry] puts out the song called "Roar," and it can't just come out. It can't just come out. It has to be a debate about whether or not—and it's a really specious sort of a debate because it doesn't ever get to the fact, it never gets to the accusation. Never gets to, “well what are you saying, is it stolen?" "No it's not stolen.” So it's just enough BS to sort of add—it's an added value for people. I think about it this way, like people need an added value especially on the Internet where there has to be another multimedia facet to it. You can't just put a song out and go, “here's John Mayer's new song called 'Paper Doll,' listen to it.” People need some other manner of intrigue to make it feel like—

JG: But also because you're a big star. Isn't that part of it? Or Katy as well. I mean, because there’s a whole narrative around you.

JM: But the narrative now has to be some sort of—the propulsion for a product now, it has to be some other sort of head-scratching nail-biting intrigue. “Click and see what you think." It's no longer, “Do you like this song." It's “Do you think there are nefarious underpinnings —”

JG: Mixed with, I would argue, what I call the culture of outrage. Everything's about outrage now, Twitter, everything's—what can we find that everyone’s pissed off about.

JM: And if you look at it on that continuum right, then I'm just downright quaint if you're a songwriter and people are trying to wonder who the song is for. Now this is where it got even weirder, I can't say that it's a new thing that anybody wondered who a song is about. That's a hundred year question, who's that about, who's this about. The weird sort of little twist in it in the last five years is “who is the song for?” As if the song has one intended recipient, as if we don't have emails or phones that we're all sort of in laboratories now with broken hearts wringing our hands together going, “wait until that one person hears this in the car.”

It would be a gross abuse of talent to say, “well yeah I have millions of fans that I love and can't wait till they hear my new record, but out of the way for a minute. I got a message to say.” I don’t lob songs—I've never in my life written a song for somebody, or to somebody.

Interview with Ronan Farrow
Recovered Ego Addict MSNBC special

I put out a song called "Paper Doll." The song never got listened to as a song. It became a news story because of the lyrics. 

RF: But you must have known that that's what it was going to become when you wrote it. 

JM: I'm not in the business of telling people what the song's about. I never said anything about it but—and now I just go look, I can say the name "Taylor Swift," she's an artist, I'm an artist. Let's just everybody stop. Nobody's got an incurable cancer. We're rich people who get to live out our dreams, let's just stop it. I'm a musician who's bigger than one song or one record. So it's really more about the longevity of all the work that goes together, and I'm just not interested in the things that won't last forever.

Live in Sacramento, CA 2023
Solo Tour
I wonder if people don't like it because it sounds a little pissed off. I don't really like "pissed off," as a song. I think it was more "hurt," but is there something about it that's a little bitchy? There might be. I try not to get bitchiness in a song. It happens sometimes and it'll kill a song. I guess I don't do it very well: sarcastic bitch. But I didn't really see it—I guess it is sort of a little bit like [makes crying sound].