Random Tracks: John Mayer’s “Waiting On The World To Change”

In my new column Random Tracks, I’m reviewing a random hit song from any point in the history of the Billboard Hot 100 going from the chart’s beginning in 1958. To help make my site more interactive, if you like what I’m doing comment and let me know what random hit song you want me to review. 

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John Mayer- “Waiting On The World To Change”

PEAK: #14 on March 3, 2007

SONG AT #1 THAT WEEK: Justin Timberlake’s “What Goes Around…Comes Around

Right now, we’re living in a world of chaos with incompetent leaders, a global pandemic, and societal ills being further exposed for everyone to see leading to massive amounts of protests and change. We’ve come to a point where straight-up apathy and being apolitical isn’t going to cut it anymore. We all must realize the role we play. 

On that note, it’s funny to think that just 13 years ago a song that proudly proclaims one’s apathy could be a hit as well as being one of that artists’ best song. 

Now there is context to the song and the time it came out in. As YouTube critic Lindsay Ellis recently explained in her video about protest music during the Bush presidency, after Bush’s 2004 re-election many people who had rallied against him began to resign in defeat. No matter how much work they had done the bad guys were still going to win so why bother trying to change the world when you don’t have the power to begin with. Ellis highlighted several songs during Bush’s second term that echoed this sentiment with “Waiting On The World To Change” arguably being the best-known song of the bunch. (Highly recommend you check out Lindsay’s video. It’s great!)

The idea of John Mayer making a political song must have seemed laughable at the time. Up to this point, Mayer had consistent success through the 2000s mainly with his brand of acoustic pop-rock songs and singing in a sleepy-like delivery about sex and girls. Mayer had begun to change that by 2006 with the release of his third album Continuum attempting to go in a more electric rock-based direction. The album was another hit peaking at #2 on Billboard stuck behind Justin Timberlake’s FutureSex/LoveSounds. In another change of direction, Mayer released a song about how many of us feel helpless with the problems of the world.

In interviews at the time, Mayer shared the feeling of discontent that many have toward their government and leaders, “It’s saying, ‘Well, I’ll just watch American Idol because I know that if I were engaged in changing anything for the better, or the better as I see it, it would go unnoticed or be completely ineffective.’ A lot of people have that feeling.” In another interview, Mayer talked about his decision to write a political song noting that you can’t avoid topics like war and terrorism. 

As with many mainstream political songs, Mayer keeps things as vague as possible. In the song, Mayer sings about how young people like him are often misunderstood by the older generation for their lack of involvement when in fact they are involved but feel powerless in changing the system noting how the media controls society and that the system isn’t fair to them. As he sings on the chorus, instead of actively fighting for change the young generation is just going to ride it out until something or someone magical comes along that changes the world in their favor. Toward the end, Mayer sings about how the young generation will one day rule the world but that’ll have to wait. YouTube critic Todd in the Shadows said on Twitter that John Mayer might have well called this song “Waiting For The Assholes To Die” which is also a good description.

This being 2007, Mayer doesn’t make references to the political and social troubles of the day. He does sing about how if his people ruled the world they would bring home soldiers fighting in war in a time when America was in the midst of the ongoing War on Terror and the heavily unpopular Iraq War. Again, Mayer doesn’t specify it leaving it open to interpretation. 

Outside of its political context, “Waiting On The World To Change” as a song is OK. By that I mean it’s by far one of John Mayer’s better songs. Unlike his prior hits, Mayer brings more energy to his performance than his usual sleepy sensitive lover shtick. He manages to pull off the frustrated and defeated tone of the song’s message. Compared with other political songs, there’s no urgency to act here but rather a resigned sigh of a song. We get mellow sounding guitars and what sounds like a xylophone. In terms of the music, I like the jazzy breakdown on the bridge and the bluesy guitar solo that comes in afterward. It’s a professionally made piece of music. The players do their thing and it’s perfectly fine for what it is.

In the song’s music video directed by Phillip Andelman, we see Mayer walking along the East River with the Lower Manhattan skyline in the backdrop. In between scenes of Mayer are scenes of various graffiti artists spray painting vaguely revolutionary messages around the city. That should tell you the nature of the song. It’s not a raise your fist song but a walk around feeling defeated song with protest coming in the form of hot topic performative art. 

While the message of proclaiming one’s disengagement from politics isn’t exactly applicable in today’s world where there’s more of an urgency to deal with world issues, many young people indeed feel helpless in politics as shown by our lower than average voter turnout numbers. Even when you try to fight for what’s right, the assholes are still going to get into power. And considering the climate of the era with people feeling defeated and tired of Bush and the wars, a song like this must have spoken to the situation. I can’t speak from my own experience since I was almost 8 when the song was popular a time when I was mostly interested in watching Nickelodeon and Wheel of Fortune but it makes sense. 

“Waiting On The World To Change” hasn’t exactly aged well but it still manages to express our common feelings while also being a serviceable song. 

GRADE: 6/10

BONUS BEATS: The YouTube channel DMExplains recently did a parody of “Waiting On The World To Change” titled “Waiting For Zoom To Load” in regards to the troubles with the online video service. Here’s the video:

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