It’s the irresistible pop confection that launched a thousand think pieces; a three-minute doo-wop ditty about body positivity that is, it seems, to reactionary feminist sites like Jezebel as “Cop Killer” was to Dan Quayle. The song in question is “All About That Bass,” an L.A. Reid shepherded anthem courtesy of 20-year-old parvenu Meghan Trainor. Since dropping in June, its chorus—“Because you know I’m all about that bass, ‘bout that bass, no treble”—has been inescapable, riding a wave of ‘round the clock radio airplay, as well as a pastel-painted, rump-shakin’ video, to the top of the song charts on both sides of the Atlantic.
But with great—and sudden—success comes great backlash. The contrarians of the world went full Oliver Stone on the innocuous tune, branding it “problematic” and “anti-feminist.” The evidence, you see, are a handful of lines in the song: “I’m bringing booty back / Go ahead and tell them skinny bitches that,” and “Yeah my mama she told me don’t worry about your size / She says, ‘Boys like a little more booty to hold at night.’” Her detractors thus branded her a hypocrite for shaming “skinny bitches” and succumbing to the male gaze, respectively.
Trainor, a blond, curvy Nantucket native, hasn’t let the haters get her down. In fact, she finds all the pushback more than a little ridiculous.
“They say the song is about putting skinny girls down or that girls need guys’ approval, but I just wrote a little three-minute pop song about how I felt about my body,” says Trainor. “I just write the way I talk, and I write about things I’ve experienced.”
The way Trainor talks can best be categorized as a cultural hodgepodge. On “All About That Bass,” she’s adopted a Caribbean-reggae delivery, and in conversation, strikes you as one of those white kids whose excited speech occasionally dips into Martin/“Damn, Gina!” territory. She’s still a bit confused by the backlash; especially since Nicki Minaj failed to receive nearly the same level of vitriol over her recent single “Anaconda,” a big-booty celebration about sexing drug dealers that contains the far less murky line: “Fuck you if you skinny bitches.”
“People are always put off by something that's fresh and new,” says Trainor. “When I first heard Rihanna I thought, ‘I’m not feeling this,’ and then I listened to her more and was all about it.”
Trainor’s meteoric rise from novice songwriter to unlikely pop sensation is a doozy. A self-described “musical girl,” she’s the daughter of a couple who own a boutique, Jewel of the Isle, that specializes in Nantucket-themed diamond-encrusted jewelry. Since her parents weren’t too musically inclined, it still puzzles Trainor how she took a shine to it. As a young baby, her mother would sing her lullabies and “get totally freaked out” when she started singing them back in harmony. By the age of 11, she started writing her own songs.
Growing up, Trainor was very self-conscious about her curves, often wishing she could be svelte like her high school friends. The thought of wearing shorts and swimsuits preyed on her nerves.
“I definitely had issues with my body,” says Trainor. “I’d look at my butt in pants in the mirror and be upset, and my friends would comfort me and say, ‘You look great.’” She pauses. “But now I look at my butt in the mirror and go, ‘Yeahhhh I can work with this.’”
The guys were also a major letdown. “I could get guys, but I always thought I was dating them and then I’d see them around with some other girl on their arm,” she recalls. “So… I guess we were just hangout buddies, or something. I was never taken out on any dates.”
At 17, she attended the Durango Songwriters Expo, a summit where 30 music industry professionals mentor 200 some-odd attendees. By then, she’d self-released a pair of albums, I’ll Sing With You and Only 17. At Durango, Trainor was introduced to Carla Wallace of music publisher Big Yellow Dog Music, and signed with them just prior to her 18th birthday.
Big Yellow Dog Music, located in Nashville, wasn’t exactly the right fit. Yes, Trainor managed to pen a few songs for Rascal Flatts, but she was more interested in crafting pop tunes. “I was writing all these country songs, but I thought, ‘This isn’t really my kind of music,’” she says. “My uncle is Caribbean so the dream was always to write for Rihanna. It still is, really.”
About a year-and-a-half ago, Trainor was introduced to songwriter/producer Kevin Kadish through a mutual friend signed with Columbia. She looked through his list of potential song titles and came across one called “Treble & Bass.” The posterior metaphor clicked, and she began rapping about being “no size 2.” Forty minutes later, the duo had written “All About That Bass.”
Since Trainor was still a songwriter first, the tune was circled by about a dozen singers—including Beyoncé—but no one bit.
“Beyoncé wasn't about it at the time, it just wasn't what she was into,” says Trainor. “And then Kevin told me, ‘Meghan, why don't you sing it? You've got the voice and the stuff. This could be your song.”
So, she recorded a demo of the track, which landed her an audition with Epic Records honcho L.A. Reid, a kingmaker responsible for championing acts like Outkast, Pink, Alicia Keys, and Justin Bieber. Trainor brought along a ukulele to her audition and blew him away. She sang for him on a Saturday, and by Tuesday, Reid had an Epic A&R rep fly down to Nashville to sign her in person.
Trainor recalls her father being concerned after watching a video interview with L.A. Reid online where the music exec discussed the importance of having “the look.” He told her, “I don’t know if you have that.” But Reid encouraged her to be herself, and when the song began getting airplay, his only advice for her presentation-wise was, “You’ve got this.”
“All About That Bass” was released as a digital download on June 2, and later as one of two tracks on her EP Title, out Sept. 9. The song’s since sold close to 3 million copies in the U.S., and its zesty music video, directed by Fatima Johnson (Aaliyah’s “Try Again”), has racked up over 124 million YouTube views.
She’s currently shooting the music video (also directed by Johnson) for her follow-up single, “Title,” about a crappy guy who refuses to make things official. Her debut album, she says, is ready to go with 14 tracks in the bag, including 10 co-written and produced by Kadish. There are fun songs in the vein of “All About That Bass” like “Walk of Shame” and a tune about drunk-texting, as well as a handful of ballads including one close to her heart, “What If I?” The title comes from an incident this past summer when a rocker took Trainor out on her first real date and asked at the end of it, “What if I kissed you tomorrow?”
He isn’t the only dude who’s shown interest, either. Many of the aforementioned guys who did her dirty in high school have tried to reconnect of late. “My prom date got ahold of my number and called me recently and congratulated me on everything that's going on,” says Trainor. “I asked him what he was up to and he said he's still living in our hometown.” She laughs. “I was just like Oooook. Click.”