Mario, Usher, Lil Jon, and John Mayer

Mario, "Let Me Love You"

Usher, "Caught Up"

Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz featuring Usher and Ludacris, "Lovers and Friends"

John Mayer, "Daughters"


Songs in which a moderately creepy guy tries to wrest or finesse a foxy lady from the arms of a majorly creepy guy typically aren't my bag. There are exceptions, but I'd rather hear from the woman or the major creep. At least I'd rather the suitor be more interesting than teenage R&B crooner Mario, whose "Let Me Love You" refuses to honor my request to go to its bedroom and think about what it just did. "Baby I just don't get it/Do you enjoy being hurt?" goes the first line, to which I say, "Yes, Mario, I must indeed have masochistic tendencies, I've listened to your song like 30 fuckin' times." I think it's the pro forma bridge that bugs me the most--if that's all you got, friend, just skip the bridge! I'll concede that "Let Me Love You," a scrubbed-up relative of R. Kelly's late-'90s string of great moody ballads ("When a Woman's Fed Up," "Be Careful"), does cough up an effectively whining guitar hook. But like Usher, Mario sings every word like he really, really doesn't mean it.

Usher gets away with his phoniness because his phrasing is bananas, and he usually has better tunes to work with, and he's pretty hot on fast numbers. When I hear "Caught Up," the 24th single from last year's Confessions, I think, Man, Michael Jackson has gotten pretty good again since he started calling himself Usher. "Caught Up" doesn't quite compensate for "Yeah!" hitmakers Lil Jon, Usher, and Ludacris's "Lovers and Friends" (alternate title: "No!"), the trio's icky take on an old Michael Sterling tune. I'm pretty sure that Usher thinks this tune is romantic, which suggests that he's not very bright. The nadir comes when Luda raps, "You know you like it like that/You don't have to fight back/Here's a pillow, bite that." Sure, dom-sub role-playing can be a gas, but that's date-rape language, and you know it!

For what it's worth, Ludacris is up-front about his sexism. Wolf-in-sheep's-clothing and alleged smart guy John Mayer, however, seems to think that singing with John Sebastian's nice-guy breathiness will make sweet his insufferably patronizing "Daughters," another hit that I hoped would be gone by now. Here are some of the song's lyrics, with my commentary in brackets: "Boys, you can break/You'll find out how much they can take [Women, on the other hand, have a very low tolerance for pain--just consider how they carry on about how much childbirth "hurts"]/Boys will be strong/And boys soldier on [Support our troops!]/But boys would be gone without the warmth from a woman's good, good heart [Ah, what a sweetie]/On behalf of every man/Looking out for every girl [Gee, Biff, I sure hope Ike wins the election]/You are the god and the weight of her world [I love poetry!].

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