Passing Opinion Off As Fact Since 2009

Passing Opinion Off As Fact Since 2009

Saturday, August 28, 2010

John Mayer v. Jen Lekman = Someone stole from somebody

Please this to the first minute of each of the below:

Jens Lekman - "Friday Night At The Drive-In Bingo"

John Mayer - "The Heart of Life"

So which came first? Who should sue whom?

John Mayer's is the older of the two songs.

In actuality, I did not post those to unearth a conspiracy where Jens stole a melody from John. The fact is there are only so many notes to choose from, so things like this are bound to happen. Instead, I am interested in the relativity of taste. Here are some stats (I made up):

John Mayer has sold many more records than Jens Lekman
Jens Lekman’s albums have received much better reviews than John Mayer’s albums.
5% of John Mayer fans have heard of Jens Lekman (1% are fans)
100% of Jens Lekman fans have heard of John Mayer (1% are fans)

Meaning there exists a large population of people who know and do not like John Mayer, yet actively like Jens Lekman. What makes Jens “better” or at least more critically relevant when obviously at least at one point there is a slight overlap in output?

Personally, I am not too sure; I really liked Continuum and do not care much for Jens Lekman’s music. I think “Heart of Life” uses that melody to greater effect and, in general, “Friday Night At The Drive-In Bingo” is a tad cheesy and grating. Though both are talented pop songwriters, I think John Mayer is a tad bit more focused. I think the biggest difference in Jens favor is that John Mayer is WAY more famous.

Being famous drastically effects how your art is perceived on two very different levels.

1. Intimacy

People want to feel something when they listen to music and often with this type of music the feeling to be felt is closeness. They want believe the emotion the singer is singing is genuine and comparable to something they have experienced. For example, I listened to Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago and felt a kinship with Justin Vernon at the moment of recording. This remained to be the case when I saw him live, until BAM!!! he became fairly famous. It is harder to be close to an artist when there is thousands of others try to do so as well. Now multiply that effect time 20 and you have John Mayer. When Mr. Mayer sings:

“I hate to see you cry lying there in that position
There's things you need to hear
So turn off your tears and listen”

it is difficult to believe these lyrics are in reference to something real because as a listener you are incredibly removed. John sounds more detached emotionally simply due to the fact that we are so detached from him. More simply, if I heard this song in concert I would likely be hundreds a feet away from the person creating the aforementioned melody. The distance is constantly palpable.

2. Historically

John Mayer matters. He has been relevant for 8+ years and is skilled enough to be so for 8+8+8… He wins a lot of awards, like Grammy’s, which are all really dumb yet noteworthy. The old guard seems to like him fine. In 20 years John Mayer will be 50 and still loved by many more people than will ever had heard of Jens Lekman (or Arcade Fire for that matter). It is easy to surround oneself with a bubble of Internet chatter (John Mayer has not once been written about on Pitchfork); however, there are a lot of people listening to music and they have made it clear that John Mayer matters.

The problem is that it makes reviewing Mayer albums more important. There are greater demands put upon him as an artist when one has to consider that their eventual children’s children will hear the songs. A good reviewer should be aware that in 30 years the Aughts will be viewed, at least partially, as a time where John Mayer was the preeminent singer/songwriter. As said in reference to Continuum, “…the album is a devastatingly accomplished, fully realized effort that in every way exceeds expectations and positions Mayer as one of the most relevant artists of his generation.” This is a lot of pressure to put on a few chord strums.

John Mayer might be a douche (self-aware or not) but sadly his is talented. The h8ers would have to admit he was at least once as talented as Jens Lekman.

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