ON paper, John Mayer seems like the perfect rock star. With his brooding good looks and blue-eyed-soul pedigree, surefire pop instincts and man-of-the-people humility, the pop balladeer has sold 9 million records and collected three Grammy statuettes.
But leading up to this year's Recording Academy awards, his five nominations -- in high-stakes categories including album of the year, pop vocal album and rock album -- left many people scratching their heads. Sure, soccer moms, guitar nerds and adult contemporary radio love the guy. But many hipsters, bloggers and indie rock cognoscenti dismiss Mayer's music with a scornful pejorative: safe.
So just how did the singer-songwriter, 29, become this year's dark horse Grammy contender?
An eye for the ladies
Being photographed in lip-lock with the likes of Jennifer Love Hewitt and his reported current girlfriend, Jessica Simpson, keeps Mayer squarely in the pop-culture camera lens -- which can't hurt in the album promotion department either.
Though his boyishly studious mien and folksy love songs are like catnip to the minivan set, even hard-core rappers can ride to Mayer's introspective pop. Just ask Hova: "I like John Mayer," Jay-Z told MTV. "Smooth. You can throw it on in the car, you know, get lost in your thoughts."
Handy with the ax
Mayer's electric guitar work has won him critical hosannas from such Grammy night favorites as B.B. King and Eric Clapton (the cover of the new Rolling Stone even calls Mayer Slowhand Jr.). But more important, Mayer's fretwork captivates the studio musicians in the academy's voting pool.
The guy has done a variety of innovative in-store promotions over the years, demonstrating his willingness to hustle from the ground up. Guess who's going to pull in company town votes?
49th annual Grammy Awards
When: 5 p.m. Sunday
Where: Staples Center
TV: CBS, 8 p.m. (tape delayed for West Coast)
Scheduled acts: Mary J. Blige, Dixie Chicks, Gnarls Barkley, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Justin Timberlake, Corinne Bailey Rae
Notable pairings: Shakira and Wyclef Jean; Smokey Robinson, Lionel Richie and Chris Brown; Rascal Flatts and Carrie Underwood
A reunion of the band the Police, with Sting, Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers