meghan trainor

Pop Song Review: Charlie Puth, “Marvin Gaye” (feat. Meghan Trainor)

Piggy-backing on more popular artists: like snail gel masks and proper bantz, it’s what all the hip young kids are into these days, specifically hip young pop artists looking for an easy road to a wider audience. Case in point, today’s pop song review is “Marvin Gaye” by professional hang-on-wasn’t-he-the-one-playing-piano-in-that-Fast-&-Furious-7-song-yes-I-think-he-was, Charlie Puth, featuring Meghan Trainor who, as far as I’m aware, has not sung for any car movies to date. But the century is young.

First impressions: Oh, it’s that song. You know the one.

The music: Like a lot of Meghan Trainor’s music, “Marvin Gaye” is an upbeat, midtempo pop song whose retro-Fifties sound and aesthetic fits in well with her catalogue so far. The problem: this isn’t a Meghan Trainor song, or not technically at least. No, this is a Charlie Puth song, a performer you know so little about you’re not even sure how to pronounce his last name.

What I’m getting at here is that Mr. Puth (Mr. Pooth?) doesn’t have much of a musical personality or resumé beyond being the chorus guy on Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again.” Now admittedly that song did do very well in the charts, so on achievements alone he’s doing okay for himself, but it’s still only one song in which his contribution basically amounted to plonking out a few piano chords while doing a passable Sam Smith impression.

Speaking of that impression, I can’t say it fits the music too well here. You can tell Puth is doing his best to rein in his vocals, presumably so as not to overpower the melody, but as a result he never sounds like he’s particularly enjoying himself, which you kinda need to in order for a song this exuberant to really work. Instead he goes for this husky, yearning baritone (is it a baritone? Sounds like a baritone) that’s all out of place. He does at least employ a higher register for the chorus, but it still sounds like he’s being coerced into his performance by a hefty-sized producer with a knuckle-duster.

Is it me or is the beat really askew in Trainor’s verse, too? Puth’s verse has a decent plod to it that, while not too exciting, is at least consistent. I can nod my head to it. But then Trainor’s verse comes in and I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing. I mean, sure, her voice fits the music more than Puth’s does, but for a woman who sang that she was “all about that bass” there sure isn’t much of it around when she’s taking her turn at the mike.

So, some positives? Well, the chorus hook is memorable, if not terribly catchy, and the production is generally quite smooth. And, er, the video has some pretty people in it. I… look, I’m sorry, guys, but this sounds like something that was written for a Disney movie. It’s simplistic, competently produced and just pleasing enough to the ears that you won’t even realise you’re sick of it until it’s lodged in your brain like an ice pick.

And by the way, if this is supposed to be some sort of tribute to the man, it’s a weird one. I haven’t actually heard a lot of Marvin Gaye’s music beyond the hits, but the little I have heard this doesn’t sound anything like. Marvin Gaye sang sensual R&B slow jams, not bouncy bubblegum pop with a vague whiff of doo-wop.

The lyrics: “You got the healing that I want.” Oh jeez, is that what this song’s going to be? A series of Marvin Gaye puns? If it is, I’m out. I’m out, people. There’s the door, right over there, and these boots? Pfft, well, they’re just doin’ what they do. Bootz, start a-walkin’! I’m-a coming, door! I’m-a… okay, fine, let’s give it a chance.

“We got this king size to ourselves / Don’t have to share with no one else.” I… that… what does this mean? “Don’t have to share with no one else”? Was that ever a possibility? What couple shares their bed with… I’m overthinking this, aren’t I?

“Don’t keep your secrets to yourself / It’s kama sutra show and tell.” Show and tell: a school exercise, common at elementary level, in which one pupil presents a personal item to their class and discusses it for a few minutes. The Kama Sutra: a popular ancient Hindu book of sex positions popular with married couples looking to spice up their love lives. These two things are a lot like sushi and ice cream: separately, fine enough, but put them together and you create something… unspeakable.

“And when you leave me all alone / I’m like a stray without a home / I’m like a dog without a bone / I just want you for my own.” Bet you really burnt the midnight oil on that one, didn’t you, guys?

“Just like they say it in the song / Until the dawn, let’s Marvin Gaye and get it on.”

Geddit? Because Marvin Gaye sang “Let’s Get It On.”

So yes, this might just top Fall Out Boy’s “Centuries” for Dumbest Pop Song Lyrics of 2015, but is there really any point in analysing it further? It’s a doofy line in a doofy song. But let’s poke it a little bit. This line is the chorus hook of the song. It’s where the perfect cadence – you know, that bit at the end of the chorus where it sounds really good and satisfying – is created by the final two notes. This is the part of the song that your ears are waiting for, the part that makes the build-up of the verse and chorus worthwhile for them, and it’s hinged on a reference to another, better song. A gold star for anyone who can point out why this might not have been a great idea.

So from what I can see, the songwriters came up with one bad joke and built a song about it. How much money did they funnel into this? That much, huh? Jeez, that’s depressing. And how much did it make back? That much? Seriously? Where’s that door again?

Also, “just like they say it in the song” is a weird line. It’s just clunky and awkward to say, let alone sing. So… yeah. Let that one sink in.

Verdict: Again, here’s another song that isn’t overly good or overly bad but is more or less just there. It’s catchy enough but you wouldn’t miss it if they took it off the radio tomorrow, and while it might have a small nostalgic following years down the line I think even Heart FM might find it a little too sugary for their future playlist. The healthiest afterlife this song can have is as “that song that tried to make Marvin Gaye into a verb and failed.” A meh out of 5.

Today’s double-up would logically be some Marvin Gaye, but instead I’m going to go for a song that has about as much to do with the man as this song does: “Vincent Price” by Deep Purple, which at least makes the most of its own tongue-in-cheek premise. It also has a sexy nun doing a pole dance, so top that, Charlie Puth.

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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?