Not long after HQ became a viral hit, it morphed into an overzealous advertising platform. In March, Nike bought an entire HQ episode and influenced everything from the game’s questions to the contents of the day’s grand prize. Recently, the show has become a pitstop on the celebrity promo circuit. In January, Jimmy Kimmel guest-hosted a game and plugged his ABC show. And in April, Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson stood in front of host Scott Rogowsky making small talk and hyping his spring action flick, Rampage.
John Mayer joined the club on Sunday night. But unlike the brands and stars who squeezed into Rogowsky’s vertical frame before him, he had nothing to promote but his image as an aging pop star. To be clear, the 40-year-old musician has some stuff going on in his life. This past weekend, he played two back-to-back shows at Citi Field with Dead & Company, a group he tours with that contains members of the Grateful Dead. In May, he debuted a midlife crisis–inspired song and music video that led Vulture to posit that he was entering a “giving-up phase” of his life. Mayer also, of course, remains one of Instagram’s most dedicated celebrity commenters. But he barely mentioned any of those things in his HQ appearance. He mostly stared blankly at the screen, attempted to harmonize with Rogowsky, and made a few self-deprecating jokes about his appearance and career. It made for a very weird show.
Let’s break it down. To begin, Rogowsky introduced Mayer as his dad, a shtick that fit into a Father’s Day theme, but otherwise made very little sense. He was wearing a baggy gray shirt (he loves shirts), a jacket, and that telling diamond-encrusted Big Lebowski necklace he bought himself for his 40th birthday. The two hugged, and from that moment on, Mayer’s facial expression didn’t change. He may have been presented as Rogowsky’s dad, but he was more an ambassador for the pained human experience.
Rogowsky, doing his part to emphasize the holiday and his guest’s accomplishments, referred to Mayer as “the father of Connecticut cool,” “the father of Fairfield funk,” and “the father of the Bridgeport sound.” He alluded to Mayer’s shows at Citi Field, but not in a “go buy tickets” sort of way.
Then, the game began. HQ veterans know that Rogowsky is sometimes unnecessarily over the top in his presentation, and in this case, that excitement only amplified Mayer’s monotone, sarcastic, and quite possibly stoned performance. The singer pronounced the word “onomatopoeia” as “onomata-paella.” When Rogowsky referenced all of Mayer’s beautiful, famous exes, Mayer brought up his body: “I have a belly now. Weight gets distributed differently when you’re 40.”
The strangest moment of the trivia session, by far, occured when Rogowsky presented an image that the audience could supposedly use as a last-minute “Father’s Day card.” On it, Rogowsky and Mayer are Photoshopped into an embrace next to the phrase “you look so good it hurts sometimes,” from Mayer’s “Your Body Is a Wonderland.” Mayer attempted to offer some context: “I’ve always wanted ‘Your Body Is a Wonderland’ to be a missive from fathers to their daughters, so much so I wrote another song about it called ‘Daughters,’ which is actually about wanting to make love to ladies,” Mayer rambled. “It’s a strange back-and-forth I have going on. I wouldn’t recommend going back into the textual work of my lyrics, I’m a onetime pop star. But now what I want to do is take over this guy’s job.”
Once the show ended and the prize money was distributed, the two capped off their introductory skit with a reveal: Mayer was not Rogowsky’s actual father. At that moment Rogowsky’s actual dad walked into the very cramped camera shot. The two smiled and shook hands, and a little later the three began singing Neil Young”s “Old Man.”
While all of this was happening, Mayer mostly stared blankly into the camera. “John is like this is what my life has come to at 40,” one commenter wrote. “John you’re better than this!!!” another pleaded. On the surface, the theme of this HQ episode was “Father’s Day,” but with this parting image it was much more clearly: “John Mayer Is Still Single and Growing Old Alone.” The whole spot was the kind of brutally self-aware appearance that a famous person makes only when they have completely given up on being relevant. Part of Mayer’s new brand, it seems, is to abandon branding completely. It was oddly admirable, if not a little awkward. And one thing is for sure: It was by far the most entertaining celebrity cameo this dystopian trivia game has ever seen.