Pull up a chair, friends — and travel back in time with us to when John Mayer and Taylor Swift were briefly a thing.
The year was 2009. Barack Obama became our 44th president, Michael Jackson died of a propofol overdose, Kanye West interrupted a certain someone’s MTV VMAs acceptance speech — and known Hollywood heartbreaker Mayer tapped that certain someone, via the “tweet version of The Secret“ for a collaboration on his song “Half of My Heart.”
The duet was part of Mayer’s record Battle Studies, out in November 2009, which reflected on his split from another very famous person: Jennifer Aniston. The musical collab lit a new flame, with Swift, and the singer-songwriters started dating at some point at the end of 2009 — when she was 19 and he was 32. However, it was fleeting, with no full-fledged romance ever developing, ending in early 2010.
And seemingly with bad blood. While they seemed friendly enough initially — like when he presented her with an award at the Songwriters Hall of Fame in June 2010 and gushed about her talent — they both went on to process the bitter parting of ways in dueling songs thought to be about each other, including her “Dear John” (2010), and his “Paper Doll” (2013).
Their reflection on the blink-and-you-missed-it relationship continues. On the very day that Swift’s breakup from Joe Alwyn made headlines — this past Saturday — Mayer took the stage for his show in Sacramento, Calif., and wondered aloud if “Paper Doll” came off as too “bitchy” when it was released now 10 years ago.
“I wonder if people don’t like it because it sounds a little pissed off,” Mayer said during his solo show, per Rolling Stone. “I don’t like ‘pissed off’ as a song. I think it was more hurt. Is there something about it that’s a little bitchy? I try not to give bitchiness in the song, and that happens sometimes. I guess I don’t do it very well, sarcastic bitchy, but I didn’t really see it. I guess it is a little bit like, meh.”
With Mayer revisiting the topic, we decided to as well, looking back at what each one said about the other in their lyrical war of words…
“Dear John,” 2010
Whatever Mayer and Swift had going on was short-lived, after being linked in late 2009, sharing a cozy dinner in January 2010 and then fizzling soon after. While they hugged it out at the Songwriters Hall of Fame ceremony in June 2010, Mayer gave two very controversial interviews that year — to Playboy and Rolling Stone — that weren’t well received by the women in his life or the general public. Fast-forward to Oct. 25, 2010, when Swift released Speak Now, and it didn’t take a detective to figure out who the subject of her song “Dear John” was.
“Dear John, I see it all, now it was wrong / Don’t you think 19 is too young / To be played by your dark twisted games, when I loved you so? / I should’ve known,” she sang.
Swift said she “ignored” those who told her to “run as fast as you can,” presumably when getting involved with Mayer, whose exes also have included Jessica Simpson, Minka Kelly and Katy Perry. “I lived in your chess game” and became “the girl in the dress” who “cried the whole way home.” She accused him of having a “sick need to give love and take it away.”
She called her John “an expert at sorry / And keeping the lines blurry,” saying, “All the girls that you’ve run dry / Have tired, lifeless eyes /’Cause you burned them out / But I took your matches before fire could catch me.”
At the time, Swift told Yahoo about the album, “Every single song is like a road map to what that relationship stood for, with little markers that maybe everyone won’t know, but there are things that were little nuances of the relationship, little hints. And every single song is like that. Everyone will know, so I don’t really have to send out emails on this one.”
She used a different email analogy with People, saying, “A lot of times when people’s relationships end, they write an email to that person and say everything that they wish they would have said. A lot of times they don’t push send. This was a tough one to write and I guess putting it on the album was pushing send.”
Two year later, Mayer shared his feelings about the song. He slammed Swift for what he called “cheap songwriting,” in an interview with Rolling Stone, saying she “humiliated” him. “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.” He added, “I never got an email. I never got a phone call. I was really caught off guard. … [That’s] abusing your talent to rub your hands together and go, ‘Wait ’til he gets a load of this!’ That’s bulls***.”
She replied, in an interview with Glamour magazine, saying, “How presumptuous!” that he thought the song was about him. “I never disclose who my songs are about.”
“Paper Doll,” 2013
Swift also said, “If I’m gonna write songs about my exes, they can write about me,” and, “cheap songwriting” or not, Mayer responded with his own verses in the release of “Paper Doll” in June 2013 off his album Paradise Valley.
“Paper doll, come try it on / Step out of that black chiffon / Here’s a dress of gold and blue / Sure was fun being good to you,” he sang, disagreeing with her take on whatever happened.
He suggested that Swift didn’t know herself as he sang, “You’re like 22 girls in one / And none of them know what they’re runnin’ from / Was it just too far to fall? / For a little paper doll.”
And that she made herself out to be an angel when she wasn’t. “Cut the cord and pull some strings / And make yourself some angel wings / And if those angel wings don’t fly /Someone’s gonna paint you another sky.”
Not only did the song go viral, but the video as well. It starred then Internet star Prancercise guru Joanna Rohrback.
Asked on the Today show if the speculation from the press was right that the song was about someone, he replied, “Yeah, songwriters write songs because of people, about people. Anything someone else wrote is their reception of a song. I don’t get involved with [it]. It’s none of my business.”
But by 2015, he fessed up. “The song never got listened to as a song. It became a news story because of the lyrics,” he told MSNBC. “I’m not in the business of telling people what the song is about. I never said anything about it. 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.”
The self-professed “recovered ego addict” showed it wasn’t behind him the following year, however, when he tweeted, “Tuesday, December 13, may be the lamest day of the year, conceptually.” When fans called him out on the shade — it was Swift’s birthday — he wrote in a follow-up post, “NOPE. No. Nuh-uh. People I am 39. I am deleting those tweets. Come right at me for doing so. Absolutely no shade.”
After Swift re-released her album Red in 2021 — and with the re-release of Speak Now forthcoming — Mayer started getting death threats from Swifties still not over whatever he may have done to their idol. He responded to one, asking, “Do you really hope that I die?” After the person apologized, he replied, “It’s OK. I wanted to understand. So it’s a fun thing people are doing without taking into account that I might see it and be affected by it?”
“Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve,” 2022
The dis tracks didn’t stop. Just months ago, in October, when Swift dropped her 10th album, Midnights, it included bonus tracks and fans speculate one, “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve,” is another go at Mayer. It happened to be track 19 and about when she was 19 — the age which we previously established that she dated the older rocker.
In that song, Swift sang about about being 19 and in a relationship with a poisonous “grown man,” who later dismissed her as “a child.” She said she “danced with the devil” and called him “a crisis of my faith.” She said he made her “feel important,” but then he “tried to erase us.”
While older and wiser, “I regret you all the time” she sang, “I fight with you in my sleep,” adding, “Living for the thrill of hitting you where it hurts.”
Perhaps the deepest cut was the line, “Give me me back my girlhood, it was mine first.”
At the time, a source told Us Weekly, “John is trying his best to avoid the attention he’s been getting from Taylor’s new album. He’s not going to make any public comments directly related to her songs or album.”
On April 8, as news hit that Swift’s six-year relationship with Alwyn had ended, Mayer discussed “Paper Doll” on stage for the first time, with Rolling Stone noting it is “suspiciously timed.” Whether it was on purpose or not, it’s resurrected the dialogue about their past romance and the lyrics about one another that live on.