Pop Song Review: Meghan Trainor – “All About That Bass”

I’m fully aware that most of my pop song reviews since I started writing them have covered releases by women, which might give off the impression that I’m being sexist in my approach and my criticisms (which I assure you I’m not). On the other hand, the pop charts are made up mostly of releases by women these days and I’m just picking on the big-hitters anyway, so if the big-hitters are all women then surely that’s a good thing, right? Enough to outweigh any potential prejudice on my part? Let’s say it is.

Anyway, today I’m reviewing “All About That Bass” by newcomer Meghan Trainor, another woman. I swear I’m not doing this on purpose.

First impressions: Okay, this isn’t too bad – it’s got a charming bounce to it, a bit of a strut, with a slight Sixties tinge to it if I’m not mistaken. Shame about those weird talk-sing vocals, though. Well, they get better.

The music: A slick, bouncy, bubblegum pop song with an interesting mixture of modern and retro elements… not bad. Like I said before there is a faintly Sixties-ish vibe to this song: the bass, the chord progression, the horns… it all smacks of mid-twentieth century pop music. Wikipedia actually puts the song in the “doo-wop” and “blue-eyed soul” genres, which I personally think might be pushing it a bit but I can certainly hear their influence. The production is too polished to fully pull off that retro feel, but it comes close.

I can’t say I’m keen on Trainor’s speak-sing style of vocals here. It’s not quite singing, it’s not quite rap… what exactly is it? Is it something new? Is Trainor changing the way we all think about singing in pop music? Are we standing on the edge of a revolution? Nickelback were right all along! The chorus melody is fairly catchy, though that might be down to simple repetition (she’s quite persistent about her preference for bass), but there are parts where the monotone of her delivery clashes with the music and the dissonance is, let’s say, disconcerting.

Eventually, though, she does start singing proper and, you know what, she’s got a pretty terrific voice. She has the same retro-soul thing going for her that Ariana Grande’s been milking for a while now; but where Grande’s voice is too cutesy and breathy for my tastes, Trainor’s voice is much smoother and stronger. The problem here, though, is that Trainor’s personality is so forceful and ebullient that the music tends to becomes background noise and isn’t particularly memorable a a result. I remember the chorus and I kinda remember the bridge, but after listening to this three times I still struggle to remember how the verses went – and that, to me, is not a good sign.

On a last note here, as it turns out, the bass work is actually pretty good. Just saying.

The lyrics: Every time I think about the lyrics to this song I’m reminded of this Kevin Bridges routine:

“All About That Bass” actually has quite a nice message to convey: women of the world, you need to stop worrying about your body image, because you’re fine just the way you are – like that but, you know, sassier. “Yeah it’s pretty clear, I ain’t no size two / But I can shake it, shake it like I’m supposed to.” That’s the first verse line, so Trainor sets her manifesto out early on, and that directness is what gives these lyrics their charm. There are some gems in here, too: “I see the magazine working that Photoshop / We know that shit ain’t real, come on now, make it stop” is a fantastic line.

“Every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top,” less so – this is where the message starts to get a little pandering and hackneyed. People don’t want to be told they’re perfect because nobody’s perfect and telling them they are doesn’t help – it feels like you’re papering over cracks you don’t understand. If I’m perfect, why is my life so rubbish? How about as a substitute, “well, you’re not exactly perfect, because nobody is, but you’re about as good as anybody else and you shouldn’t really be comparing yourself with others anyway, because that’s just going to make you miserable – as the Desiderata says, ‘if you compare yourself with others you may become vain and bitter: for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.'” I know my version doesn’t exactly fit with the rhythm, but I’m not the one getting paid to write this stuff.

Also, more than a few people have raised an issue with the term “skinny bitches,” which sounds as if she’s not only sticking up for larger women but actively attacking smaller women too. Trainor has tried to explain that she was actually being sympathetic to women who think that they’re too skinny, which is fair enough, but it doesn’t change the fact that “bitch” is not a nice word to call a woman, even if it is used by a woman. We should never forget this.

Then the chorus comes in: “I’m all about that bass, ’bout that bass, no treble.” Er, all right then. I know pop singers are pretty much obliged to comment on “dah bass” these days, and I admire that Trainor went one further and dropped a treble mention in there, but isn’t this a little out of step with the rest of the song? I mean, this message, right here, this has nothing to do with appreciating your body, does it? The lyrics never provide a tangible connection between the two, so the song’s message essentially becomes “you’re beautiful no matter what size you are – I freaking hate treble.” How jarring is that?

This line actually started to annoy me after a while because of how out of place it is. Problem is, though, that as meaningless as the chorus lyrics are, they’re tied to what is probably the catchiest and most memorable part of this song: the chorus melody. So as meaningful as the verse lyrics might be, their potency is lessened because most idiots will only remember the “all about that bass” part and think it’s just another mundane party song about “dah bass” in “duh club” – which, funnily enough, reminds me of another Kevin Bridges routine:

Verdict: I’m ambivalent about this – it’s got a good message, if a little pandering, but the chorus takes attention away from it; Trainor sings well when she’s actually singing; and it’s fun enough to listen to, but not really all that memorable or innovative. I guess I like it, though – I think a 3 out of 5 will do for this one. It’s decent enough and I’m sure she’s got even better stuff yet to come.

Today’s double-up is Def Leppard’s “You’re So Beautiful” which… I guess it’s not the same message, exactly, but it’s still a nice one. Who doesn’t like being told that they’re beautiful?

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