I seldom take YouTube’s suggestions, but the candy-colored thumbnail for Meghan Trainor’s debut single caught my eye. I decided to indulge. And indulge I did, for this track, which boasts a bump-worthy bass and doo-wop vocal flair, is the auditory equivalent of the multi-colored cupcakes in its pastel-perfect music video; that is, to say, it hits the sonic sweet spot.
That’s before even considering the lyrics – and the feisty, zeitgeist-y message they convey.
It appears that, while simultaneously curing the midsummer malaise of the Billboard Top Ten and resurrecting a ’50s-esque style rejected by multiple labels before being heard by L.A. Reid, Meghan Trainor has produced the world’s first-ever “body confidence” hit.
Given the song’s message, the timing of its release is so opportune that it feels nearly overdue. Body confidence is a persistent gone-viral trend. From Dove’s “Real Beauty” ad to a college student’s web comic depicting shape-shaming, our newsfeeds are chock-full of over-shared multimedia content concerning female bodily insecurity.
This song, to me, seemed ripe to be embraced by body love bloggers and pop fans alike – and Trainor, subsequently, seemed to be helping in bringing body positivity to the musical masses. Sure enough, the song’s first TV feature was the Today Show’s “Music That Matters” segment, and it hit number one on iTunes within its first week.
A commercially palatable song echoing Internet cries for bodily acceptance: what’s not to love? After all, the closest thing we’ve currently got to an anthem in celebration of female curvaceous-ness is Jason Derulo’s “Wiggle.” The music industry, it seemed, was seriously holding out on us.
But in the midst of all this peachy-keen positivity – and in the middle of jamming to the song on repeat – I discovered a problem. Although this song – and Trainor’s image – seemed to break away from ultra-thin beauty standard, there was still something about it that seemed to conform.
“Yeah, it’s pretty clear / I ain’t no size two / But I can shake it, shake it / Like I’m supposed to do.”
I‘m no size two myself, and I enjoy the occasional shake sesh as much as the next gal. But, wait – who exactly said I’m supposed to move my body that way?
“ ‘Cause I got … All the right junk in all the right places.”
Catchy enough. But who identifies the right junk, and its proper location?
“Yeah my momma she told me, ‘Don’t worry about your size’ …”
Solid advice, Mom.
“She says ‘Boys like a little more booty to hold at night’…”
Aha! So that’s who this bootylicious bash is held for! Boys? Really? Maybe the boys didn’t ask for it, but it certainly seems that we’re aiming to please them. Suddenly this doesn’t sound like such a mold-breaking song.
The fact of the matter is that our culture is one of commendation. An infinitesimal increase in body positivity in mainstream music is worth rewarding with buzz, even if that progress is not so different from other songs that promote pleasing men with female appearance. Although that’s not exactly the same issue, telling women that they need to please men with their appearances is just as much a contributor to female bodily insecurity as media fallacies of unattainable thinness.
“I’m bringing booty back / Go on and tell them skinny bitches that … ”
Trainor is correct in saying she’s “bringing booty back” rather than introducing the concept, at least in mainstream music.
Hot on her heels is Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda,” featuring a single-line sample from Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” that, in context, seems more like orders from a funky drill sergeant than an actual hook (“My anaconda don’t want none unless you’ve got buns, hun”), and serves as a reminder that the concept of “booty” has indeed had perennial pop music moments since the early ’90s.
“Anaconda” features a male-dictated ultimatum about the body of a female he might want to have sex with and a female endorsing that notion by rapping about her derrière. Excellent. Now it seems less like we’re making progress on this body positivity thing and more like we’re adding to the laundry list of desirable female bodily attributes – and even if “dat ass” is not a new entry on this list, it’s certainly one worth noting in this discussion.
Also worth noting is Trainor’s “skinny bitches” jab. A playful put-down of another body type – fabricated by “workin’ that Photoshop” or not – is not completely body positive, even if the image of Photoshopped models is the one most commonly associated with the wrongness of mainstream media portrayals.
And sure, some can’t-argue-with-that, confidence-boosting lines ring true: “I know you think you’re fat / But I’m here to tell you every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top”; there’s enough to champion about this particular pièce de pop résistance.
But here’s the overarching question that this track and discussions about body politics, provoke:
Why, in an age of multifaceted online dialogue – about music, body image, and everything in between – is the female body – skinny, fat, or indistinguishably in between – still such a cultural commodity?
If this song is a massive hit, benefiting from our likes, shares, and commentary, and reaching millions with its (somewhat) positive message of body acceptance, there’s still one fact that can’t be ignored: someone is making money from it.
Yes, someone is profiting from our collective bodily insecurity. They’re profiting the same way they would if we’d purchased something that advocated an unattainable yet widely aspired-to body image rather than the more relatable one that “All About That Bass” embodies.
Don’t get me wrong: I love this song for deliciously disrupting the monotony of the Top Ten’s all-too-overplayed songs. I hope it becomes the coup d’état hit of the summer, dethroning some stale sounds that are no longer worthy of chart domination.
And, at the very least, we now have a better response to the rhetorical booty call in “Wiggle”:
“You know what to do with that big, fat butt …”
Write a doo-wop song about it that kicks some auditory ass.
The Associated Press. “Meghan Trainor Has Hit with Body Acceptance Song.” The Kansas City Star. N.p., 8 Aug. 2014. Web. 14 Aug. 2014. <http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/music-news-reviews/article1172540.html>
Cantor, Brian. “Meghan Trainor’s ‘All About That Bass’ Hits #1 on Itunes.” Headline Planet. N.p., 5 Aug. 2014. Web. 14 Aug. 2014. <http://headlineplanet.com/home/2014/08/05/meghan-trainors-bass-hits-1-itunes/>.
Meghan Trainor – All About That Bass. YouTube. YouTube, LLC, 11 June 2014. Web. 14 Aug. 2014. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7PCkvCPvDXk>.