I Think About John Mayer’s ‘Daughters’ a Lot

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Getty Images

I Think About This a Lot” is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds.

Having never actually seen the movie Get Hard — a 2015 comedy starring Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart wherein Hart “prepares” Ferrell for prison — my instinctive review is “Hmm, sounds bad.” The two things I happen to know about the movie are enough to pass judgment without seeing it: the plot, for starters, and then the fact that seven-time Grammy Award–winning artist John Mayer shows up at the wedding between Ferrell and the 15-years-his-junior Alison Brie to perform the song “Daughters.” Before he begins, Mayer whispers, “You ever see a hundred women get wet at the same time? Watch this.” Hey, all right, no thank you!

In terms of songs that put me in the mood for sex, “Daughters” is several hundred entries below dead last. Despite this, I think about the song “Daughters,” which came out 17 long years ago, a lot. “Daughters” hit the airwaves at the same time as the unimpeachable “Since U Been Gone” and “1, 2 Step” in 2004, and I often wonder how we didn’t collectively march up to Mayer’s house, which we could have found by following the sound of ancient wind chimes floating above Laurel Canyon, and arrest him on sight. I regret not arresting John Mayer for his crimes to daughters and songwriting to this very day.

For many passive radio listeners at the time, “Daughters” probably seemed innocuous. It has all the hallmarks of a Mayer moneymaker: raspy vocals, soft open guitar tuning, earworm melodies, a catchy-ish hook. (The only thing it’s missing is a showy guitar solo.) But no matter how hard I’ve tried over the years to drown out Mayer’s lyrics in order to admire his beautiful, dumb pleading face, he makes it too hard. No human is powerful enough to unhear “girls become lovers who turn into mothers.” No person should be asked to tune out “on behalf of every man looking out for every girl, you are the guide and the weight of her world.”

“Well,” one can imagine Mayer having said back then, while dusting off his woven poncho. “That’s my internationally successful Billboard-chart-topping hit for the day.”

But despite being lauded as a 21st-century troubadour, Mayer does not, in fact, have a way with words. In an archived interview that I was able to convert to an mp3 thanks to the Wayback Machine, Mayer described the inspiration behind the song: “You start to realize that a girl’s first relationship with a guy is her father,” he begins, already nailing it. “And like any first relationship with a guy, if it goes badly, you have a lot of catch-up work you have to help this girl go through. And a lot of my friends and I have talked about it, in terms of men being fixer-uppers for people. It’s like we should just cut that out from the very beginning so when we meet girls, we can go straight to living with them and not have to set them up. There shouldn’t be any assembly required with that stuff, but there is.” I shudder to imagine which members of the Pussy Posse are represented by the word friends here.

And yet it gets worse: In a 2012 interview with Playboy, Mayer referred to his dick as a white supremacist and flagrantly used the N-word, also claiming that “maybe my struggle is similar to one Black dude’s.” According to Jessica Simpson, Mayer broke up with her nine times over email, then made her come over to listen to him play songs from his latest album. And if those incidents were not bad enough, he is also a Watch Guy — “I think you’re born a watch person,” he told the New York Times in 2015. “Even if you don’t own a watch for a while, you either get it or you don’t.” This childless man is whom we’re turning to for parenting advice?

There’s an ancient male proverb that gets thrown around a lot, most often on political pulpits and in celebrity mea culpas. It begins, “As the father of daughters,” after which point all daughters everywhere completely disregard what follows. I have still never heard what happens after Ted Cruz–ass politicians utter “As the father of daughters,” because by that point, I know in my heart that I’ve already heard enough. Not being able to escape the song “Daughters” from the year 2004 onward has told me everything I need to know about what musty men think about daughters: that they are either lovers or mothers. That their fathers are the guide and the weight of their worlds. And that’s all, folks.

One of the greatest mistakes of the year 2005 was awarding Mayer a Song of the Year Grammy for “Daughters,” even if Hoobastank’s “The Reason” was also a contender. Times were certainly different then. Daughters perhaps felt less empowered. Fathers were perhaps more emboldened. Mayers were given carte blanche to sing freely about whatever thought popped into their heads. “Now I’m starting to see, maybe it’s got nothing to do with me,” Mayer sings on “Daughters,” to which I’d retort — babe, it’s got a lot to do with you.

In his Grammy acceptance speech, Mayer momentarily seemed to understand what he’d done by writing “Daughters.” “I want to thank a bunch of people who told me this song was good for people to hear,” he said, “even though I said it probably wasn’t.” After this uncharacteristic moment of clarity, he dedicated the Grammy to his recently passed grandmother, who had “an awesome daughter — named my mom.”

I Think About John Mayer’s ‘Daughters’ a Lot