Hello, and welcome to Radio Rants. Who’s bringing it today?
Meghan Trainor is basically American Lorde. She was born into a music family that nurtured her talent from a young age, she’s been writing songs since before she could see movies with dirty words, a label took interest in her, hooked her up with a no-name producer, and now she has a catchy, socially conscious but message-woozy number one hit. The comparisons end as soon as you hit play, though: whereas Lorde is icy, hip-hop tinged electropop, Trainor is all bright and shiny doo-wop heavy pop-soul. I’d probably watch a show about them living out their wacky lives/careers while being roommates or something together, though. It’d be entertaining (“Lorde, I need to do my laundry before this date.” “Oh, I just started…can you wait until I finish my dark colors?” “How long will that take?” “…Five hours?” [laugh track] I am a music blogger, not a comedy writer).
Anyway, “All About That Bass“. The song leads with the “You know I’m all about that bass/’bout that bass“ hook, which lands on the correct side of the catchy/annoying spectrum, before launching into a fairly standard verse for 2014 pop music. The beat ostensibly borrows from an older genre, but comes with an active beat that’s more modern. And, as mandated for a song called “All About That Bass“, there’s a gimmicky over-produced double-bass riff that adds depressingly little to the song. There’s actually a lot going on in the chorus, though; that doo-wop thing comes in through a more active vocal melody and backing vocals, with subtle jangle-y guitars that make what could be a boilerplate chorus stick. The effect is felt more fully the second time around, when some jaunty piano chords and a horn line creep into the mix. It’s not a super noticeable transformation, and still rather pedestrian, but by the time everything’s firing in the song’s finale, it’s a pretty solid pop jam.
Trainor’s pretty colorful as a vocalist. Her voice strikes a good balance of personality and chops that she can make an on-the-nose lyric decrying Photoshop sound graceful in front of snappy pop soul, and she gets to show a bit more range than most (see: her riffs toward the end of the song). I’m not sure how far it’ll take her in pop, where distinction can be an asset as well as a liability, but as long as she writes songs that become incidental hits like “All About That Bass“, she should be fine.
So, what kind of bass are we talking here?
“Yeah, it’s pretty clear I ain’t no size two/But I can shake it, shake it, like I’m supposed to do” Ah, so we’re about to be in The Summer of Ass: Pumpkin Spice edition. Also, I hate docking someone on this, but Meghan Trainor singing “I ain’t no size two” isn’t revolutionary next to Mary Lambert’s “Body Love”.
“Cause I got that boom boom that all the boys chase/And all the right junk and all the right place” I get what Trainor’s going for here on the body-positivity vibe, but it smacks of “Your body is fine (accordingtomen)!”, and that kind of misses the mark. And why’s a white girl from Nantucket, Massachusetts dropping “that boom boom”?
“I see the magazine working that Photoshop/We know that shit ain’t real/C’mon now make it stop/If you got beauty building, just raise’em up/Cause every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top” Ok, that’s pretty cool. And the way the song is pitched puts all the emphasis on that last line. I like it.
“Yeah my mama she told me don’t worry about your size/She says, ‘Boys like a little more booty to hold at night'” Trainor, I see the intent here, but stop kneecapping your empowerment jam with this “boys still like it” ish. You don’t need to add it as a qualifier.
“I’m bringin’ booty back/Go ahead and tell them skinny bitches that/No, I’m just playing” There’s a lot you could argue here about this line being anti-thin and what that could mean…but this sounds more like a throwaway lyric, ala “Walk into the club like ‘What up, I got a big cock'”. I don’t hold much against it.
And that holds for “All About That Bass” overall. Again, it’s a little tame, but it’s likeable as a song. The lyrics get like, a C+ for good ideas on bad delivery, but at least it’s coming from a place that (I assume) is meant to be positive. S’alright.
I heard about “All About That Bass” before I heard it; for awhile, it was making the rounds online as the new go-to for thinkpieces on Important Issues In Pop Songs, where it got reamed for, again, bad delivery. And that’s been weighing on my mind lately.
About a year ago, something weird happened to the way we discuss pop songs. In an era that birthed “Blurred Lines” and “We Can’t Stop”, decrying bad pop music wasn’t just a matter of taste, it became a political stance; bad pop music wasn’t just bad because it was shitty, it was bad because it represented a moral or ethical failing. I get using the moral-outrage-as-criticism model against truly reprehensible songs (again, “Blurred Lines” and “We Can’t Stop”), but it doesn’t apply across the board to any song that stumbles on its message. It’s especially jarring to see Trainor and “All About That Bass” get nailed to the wall because most of the criticism against it boils down to “It should do more“. Absolutely, the song sends mixed messages, but “love yourself” is ultimately a good message, and by getting it kind of right, we have a place to start the discussion of its shakier elements (Jillian Mapes at Flavorwire makes this argument way better than I ever could). Just because it doesn’t drop a badass TedTalk into an otherwise clunky song doesn’t meant it deserves to get written off.
End of the day, Trainor’s worst crime is thinking she’s smarter than she is (again, American Lorde). Ok, that and some so-so mixing. Maybe next time throw a little more bass in the mix; this song is like, all treble.