Meghan Trainor strode sassily into the summer of 2014 with her No. 1 smash “All About That Bass,” winning widespread acclaim for its body-positive call to self-acceptance, regardless of one’s size. Along the way, she became a patron saint for women who don’t fit our culture’s often unrealistic ideas of they should look like.
In my review of that track, I applauded the catchy throwback’s affirmation that someone’s identity shouldn’t be dictated by poor body image. At the same time, I expressed frustration over how Trainor paired that healthy message with the decidedly less helpful insinuation that a woman’s worth still depended so much upon her ability to please a man sexually.
“All About That Bass” proved to be a classic case of mixed messages. And it’s hardly the only track on Meghan Trainor’s sassy, sexed-up debut album, Title, with that problem.
” All About That Bass” encourages women to think of themselves as “perfect from the bottom to the top.” Meghan then blasts magazines for making it harder for everyone by “workin’ that Photoshop.”
“Title” finds Meghan asking a man to avoid the “friend zone” and commit to her (“Don’t call me your friend/ … Give me that title, title/ … You gotta show me off, off/But you embarrassed, if that’s the case, I’m all gone”). The title in question here is never spelled out. At the very least, Meghan’s asking a guy to treat her like an “official” girlfriend. And maybe she’s even fishing for a “Mrs.”
A litany of things Miss Trainor wants from her would-be spouse shows up on “Dear Future Husband.” She asks for affection and intentional devotion (“Take me on a date/I deserve a break/And don’t forget the flowers every anniversary”), counsels him to be patient when she’s overwhelmed (“You gotta know how to treat me like a lady/Even when I’m acting crazy/Tell me everything’s alright”), and suggests that affirmation and apologies after conflict lead to a satisfying marital sex life (“Dear future husband/If you wanna get that special lovin’/Tell me I’m beautiful each and every night/After every fight/Just apologize/And maybe then I’ll let you try to rock my body right”). She also tells him plainly, “Make time for me/Don’t leave me lonely.”
“Close Your Eyes” revisits the theme that it’s who you are inside—not what you look like on the outside—that counts. “Like I’m Gonna Lose You” channels anxiety about losing someone into determination to make the most of every moment (“I realized/We’re not promised tomorrow/So I’m gonna love you like I’m gonna lose you/ … Wherever we’re standing/I won’t take you for granted”). “What If I” praises a guy for not moving too fast (“No, you ain’t tryna get in my bed on the very first night”). ” Lips Are Movin” kicks a deceitful guy to the curb. “The Best Part (Interlude)” affirms, “I got a heart full of rhythm that beats with no pain.”
Healthy body-image messages on “All About That Bass” are hard to unhook from the song’s sex-oriented context. “I can shake, shake it/Like I’m supposed to,” Trainor sings, “‘Cause I got that boom boom that all the boys chase.” And she riffs on Justin Timberlake’s “Sexy Back” with, “I’m bringing booty back/Go ahead and tell them skinny b–ches that.” Likewise, “Title” gets tangled up in telling a would-be beau that making a relationship official is linked to having sex: “Baby, don’t call me your friend/If I hear that word again/You might never get a chance to see me naked in your bed.”
“3am” is all about a woman’s desperate, drunken booty call to an ex (“I’m looking at my phone and wondering if you’re home/I’m kinda tipsy, I ain’t tryna sleep alone/ … 3 a.m., I might be looking for a late night friend/ … This always happens when I’m wasted/I know, I know, I know/It’s so wrong”). On “Bang Dem Sticks,” Meghan brags about how hot her drummer is and playfully tells female fans he’s off limits. Enough double entendres about “banging” and “sticks” creep in for Meghan to feel the need to protest that she’s not being naughty (“But there we go again with the double stroke/And I ain’t talking dirty, I ain’t making no jokes, nuh-uh, nuh-uh”).
“Walkashame” finds Meghan defending getting drunk and having casual sex (“Well, please don’t judge/It was mad late/I had a lot to drink”) and suggesting everyone does it (“Don’t act like you haven’t been there/ … We all make mistakes in the drunk world”). And she hands her duplicitous dude his walking papers on “Lips Are Movin,” but not before giving him some “bass.”
“Dear Future Husband” plays with a rhyming allusion to oral sex and implies that this couple hasn’t waited for marriage to explore the physical side of their relationship (“I’ll be sleeping on the left side of the bed/Open doors for me and you might get some … kisses/Don’t have a dirty mind/Just be a classy guy/Buy me a ring”).
Tracks include a couple of s-words, a bleeped f-word, “b–ches” and “a–.”
Meghan Trainor wants listeners to embrace who they are no matter how they’re shaped, and she expresses some healthy hopes about marriage, insisting that any man who would pursue her must respect and cherish her.
I’ll say this again though: Even as she challenges our culture’s objectification of women’s bodies, Meghan embraces another of our culture’s deeply damaging messages about how a woman’s worth should somehow depend on her sexual prowess and ability to please a man. Sex also gets recklessly connected to alcohol on Title, as Meghan insists that clouded judgment and casual one-night stands aren’t a big deal because everyone does it.
That makes Meghan’s doo-woppy major label debut a confounding combo of old-fashioned values (not to mention retro sounds) and all-too-familiar 21st-century carnality.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews.