Every so often, an artist bursts onto the scene, seemingly out of nowhere, with a song so catchy that it dominates the charts for weeks on end. Before too long, that song will have muscled its way onto playlists at every party, wedding and club dance floor – and, love it or hate it, there will be no denying its success (or the fact that you and everyone you know can sing along, word for word).
But the pop music world moves fast, and it can be a fickle friend to many musicians on the rise. To make it big, an artist not only has to navigate the onslaught of social media commentary, relentless publicity engagements and repeat performances of that hit song, but also must provide proof of staying power to the critics and sceptics wagering on short-lived success.
Enter Meghan Trainor, who doo-wopped her way to pop superstardom with her 2014 track, “All About That Bass”. As an accomplished 19-year-old singer-songwriter from Nantucket, Trainor was no stranger to creating smash hits for others, like Rascal Flatts and Sabrina Carpenter. But when “Bass” failed to be picked up by any of the labels, record executive L.A. Reid named Trainor the woman for the job after she performed it for him with nothing more than her voice and a ukulele. He immediately signed Trainor to Epic Records and, just like that, a star was born – sort of.
At face value, Trainor’s success was undeniable. “All About That Bass” topped the US Billboard Hot 100 for a whopping eight weeks, along with numerous other global charts. The single went on to sell over 11 million copies worldwide, making it one of the best selling singles ever released. And, to date, the accompanying video has fetched an astonishing 1.5 billion views.
But, despite her meteoric rise to the top with “Bass” – soon followed by the release of more chart-toppers like “Lips Are Moving” and “Dear Future Husband” – certain critics continued to question Trainor’s long-term prowess. To some, her bubble-gum aesthetic toed an uncomfortable line between pure, unadulterated pop at best and gimmicky at worst. On the one hand, “Bass” attracted praise for taking aim at unrealistic beauty standards (“I see the magazine workin’ that Photoshop / We know that shit ain’t real, come on now, make it stop”) but was also slated for appearing to shame petite girls (“I’m bringing booty back / Go ‘head and tell them skinny bitches that”). And her attempt to highlight the importance of realizing one’s own self-worth with “Dear Future Husband” fell somewhat short, when some criticized it for reinforcing outdated gender stereotypes.
Fast-forward to 2016, and it’s clear from Trainor’s latest effort, Thank You, that nothing is keeping her down. The opening track, “Watch Me Do”, wastes no time in silencing the critics – “I’m the shhh, be quiet / I’ve been on a low-hater diet” – while tracks like “I Love Me” confidently declare Trainor as a woman in charge: “They gon’ say all kinds of things / They’ll make jokes about my name / They gon’ try to clip my wings, but I’m gon’ fly, I’m gon’ fly”.
Trainor’s signature message of self-empowerment remains on Thank You with songs like “NO” and “Better”, but gone is the cutesy factor that made Title somewhat divisive among critics. In its place is a bolder Trainor whose retro sound has evolved into something distinctly of the moment, despite its 90s R&B influences and soulful flavour. Gone too are the blonde locks. Instead, Trainor now sports red tresses that speak to her new, sassier sound: “You know, my second album [was released] kind of close to my first album and I wanted people to know the difference. So I was like, alright let’s give ‘em a boom!”
My friends and family always knew that I had been writing different genres my whole career, so it wasn’t weird to us, but I know it was different for the older generation of fans who thought I was only a doo-wop girl.
While the change in direction might come as a surprise to some listeners, Trainor didn’t give it a second thought. She explains, “My friends and family always knew that I had been writing different genres my whole career, so it wasn’t weird to us, but I know it was different for the older generation of fans who thought I was only a doo-wop girl.”
Trainor credits her broad musical interests to her family: “I was lucky enough to have an older father and a younger mom – so with my mom, we would listen to *NSYNC, and with my dad we would listen to Ray Charles. I had the best of all genres – I got to hear them all – and I think you can really hear that in my music.”
It was also her family who helped Trainor forge a career in music, starting at just 13 years old. “My dad knew I was serious when I came home one day and I was like, ‘I need to record myself – I need a system. Can you help me?’ He looked online and read everything he could to learn how to produce yourself.” Reflecting on how far she’s come since then, Trainor laughs, “I wasn’t good, so it’s amazing when I think back to how much they really supported me. They must have just really thought I was adorable, or very sweet and innocent.”
At 16, I was that girl who wore sweat pants and a sweatshirt in hundred-degree weather because it was loose and baggy. You can see in pictures that my smile was so fake, and I hated myself.
In the years that followed, Trainor received numerous accolades for her skills as a songwriter, winning several major competitions and carving an enviable reputation in the music publishing world. But, despite her many successes, Trainor continued to struggle with deep-rooted feelings of insecurity. She recalls, “At 16, I was that girl who wore sweat pants and a sweatshirt in hundred-degree weather because it was loose and baggy. You can see in pictures that my smile was so fake, and I hated myself.” It’s a far cry from the “All About That Bass” Trainor, who seems to ooze body confidence: “Yeah it’s pretty clear, I ain’t no size two / But I can shake it shake it like I’m supposed to do.” So, what changed?
In actuality, it took releasing “Bass” to help Trainor find the confidence she lacked – not the other way around. She recounts, “A few months after the video came out, I was sitting in my room crying, thinking, ‘Oh my God, the world’s going to see me like this’. I was embarrassed because I was used to being seen in all black, but they loved me and supported me in what I was saying.” She adds, “I was putting on this character so I could trick my brain into believing it.”
The process taught Trainor a valuable lesson about the power of words: “If you look at pictures and go ‘ick’ or ‘eww’, you’re going to believe that. You’re hearing it from your mouth and it’s going right to your ears – you’re going to believe that and you’re going to feel awful. You’ve got to talk about the positive stuff.”
It’s a lesson that manifests across every facet of Trainor’s artistic persona, from the lyrics she writes to her vocal anti-Photoshop stance, which most recently came to the fore on the heels of the “Me Too” video release. When fans pointed out that Trainor’s waist appeared manipulated, she promptly insisted the video be taken down – a bold move that made headlines around the world. She explains, “It was not a job I requested. I told them like, ‘Yo, I got mole hair on my face and I have a pimple, so can you smooth that out?’ But there was never a moment where I said ‘Tighten that waist up.’ So to have it come out and be like, man, they [Photo] ‘shopped me even more and it looks like I purposely did it… I cried.”
She continues, “But the best part is that everyone rallied around and was like, ‘Go you – we’re rooting for you, and we’re sorry that keeps happening to you.’ So I felt very loved and very safe with my fans, and the support from everyone was incr
Trainor’s appreciation for her fans (or Megatronz, as they’re known) runs deep – and she feels a certain responsibility to create music that empowers everyone, regardless of gender, age or sexual preference. “My number one goal as a songwriter, no matter what I’m talking about, is that it needs to relate to every single person out there. I try to stay away from ‘he’ and ‘she’, and I try to say ‘we’ a lot – or if I’m saying ‘you’ or ‘me’, like ‘I won’t let you down’, I’m talking to myself, because I figure everyone can say that to themselves in the mirror.”
Trainor’s brand of feel-good pop might not be for everyone, but it’s certainly hitting the right note for millions of fans across the globe. 2016 has seen Trainor complete the hugely successful “Untouchable” tour that included two sold-out shows at Radio City Music Hall; go viral after an appearance on Jimmy Fallon; and win a Grammy Award for Best New Artist. It’s been a quick, almost surreal rise to the top – something Trainor is quick to acknowledge: “My brother’s on tour and he’s always looking at me like, what are we doing here? It’s crazy. It happened so fast so I still don’t feel that famous. When I get recognized it’s always weird.”
Despite the adoration she has for her fans, Trainor admits her newfound notoriety has its downsides, namely the privacy factor. She says, “Everyone’s got to know every single detail about your life. If you sneeze they talk about it. If I’m with a male, we’re together.”
It seems there’s no turning back for Trainor, whose pop star status is now firmly established. But how will she stay relatable to those fans that have come to love her everyday, girl-next-door vibe? And how will she grapple with fame, and all the good and bad that comes with it? “My friends and family keep me grounded,” says Trainor. She surrounds herself with a team of “angels”, made up of her nearest and dearest, and she still makes a point of asking to include messages like, “Hi mom, I know you’re reading this – I love you so much,” in magazine write-ups like this.
With millions of Megatronz cheering her on, and critics finding fewer and fewer reasons to question her longevity, Trainor is fast becoming known as one of the biggest names in pop music today – and the (un-Photoshopped) face of listeners everywhere looking for something real.
For full feature and additional photos visit our digital issue (issue 7) here.
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