John Mayer's Playboy Interview Begs: Is There Such A Thing As TMI?

Mayer unquestionably went too far, but is it better to have an outspoken celebrity than an edgeless one?

In this era of super-social connectivity and 24-hour celebrity news, the filter between stars and the audience has shrunk to nothing.

By John Mayer's own admission, he went too far — way too far — with his use of the N-word in his recent, much-maligned Playboy interview, and his use of the word was indefensible.

However, part of Mayer's appeal is that he says outlandish things during interviews, on his Twitter and in his sporadic appearances on the stages of stand-up comedy clubs. The size of his Twitter following audience alone (Mayer has over 3 million people tracking him, which ranks him up there with stars like Ashton Kutcher and Britney Spears) suggests that his verbal unpredictability excites fans and leaves them hanging on his every tweet.

Since an initial round of apologetic tweets about the interview, Mayer's Twitter account had been silent at press time. In the meantime, he has sparked yet another conversation that features fair points on both sides. Is it better to have an honest rock star than an edgeless, overly managed automaton?

"I'd say it's better to have a rock star who isn't afraid to open his mouth, but it's a social contract," said Caryn Ganz of Rolling Stone, a magazine that has tracked Mayer's growth from minor singer/songwriter to celebrity guitar hero. "We know he's going to say some uncomfortable stuff, and he knows he's going to have to pay the price sometimes. He made a mistake with the racial comments, but in general, I appreciate his unmediated honesty."


Deputy Editor Steve Kandell concurs, but with a caveat. "I mean, of course it's more entertaining to watch someone put his foot in his mouth," he said. "Or, better yet, put his foot in his mouth, then set his foot on fire and hop around while shooting himself in his other foot." Kandell said that having no filter certainly makes stars more interesting, but he worries about fatigue. "It's human to be that much of an idiot, and right now, it's still entertaining. But by, I don't know, Monday? To me, all this is a bigger problem for what we do than the music industry's woes or the death of print. There's no one you want to read about."

But the big question is: Does wanting to read about an artist translate into interest in engaging in that artist's work? "I think being open and unfiltered generally helps the music and is good for album sales — up until you say something racist," says Lane Brown, editor of New York magazine's pop-culture blog Vulture. Referencing Kanye West's interruption of Taylor Swift's acceptance speech during last year's MTV Video Music Awards, he added, "That will be more difficult to come back from than interrupting an acceptance speech at an awards show."

Even if such notoriety doesn't translate directly into sales for somebody like Mayer, interest in him remains. "I don't know a soul who's ever listened to a John Mayer album, but I'll read about him," Kandell admitted.

Ganz concurred. "I don't listen to his music, but I respect him for having an opinion," she said. "He hasn't converted me, but he has almost certainly convinced people to buy his albums based on his ability to speak his mind."

For his part, Mayer has said he wants to pull back from the "soundbite game," limit his media appearances and cut down on Twitter. The coming weeks and months will reveal how he'll adjust.

Tell us what you think: Will you still be interested in John Mayer in the wake of this controversy? Do you prefer your pop stars open and honest, or are they better off leading more guarded lives?