“All About That Bass” by Meghan Trainor
Attempts at social consciousness aside, “All About That Bass” by Meghan Trainor ultimately fails as a continuation of the female, vocal-centered pop tradition. Its cardinal sin is that of being boring in a genre that demands newness within strict boundaries and digestible parameters. What the listener instead is subjected to over the course of the unending three minutes and ten seconds is nothing more than a grotesque and laden pastiche of female pop vocalists from the 1950s and 60s. Go ahead and call me Killjoy; upon first listen, the song has everything you might want from it, given the first verse and lead-in to the chorus: punchy vocals, a “message” of sorts, nods to 50s and 60s swing pop, and a classic, predictable beat structure. But every subsequent listen goaded me further into believing that the song, lyrically, merely trades one set of priorities and objectifications for another, still reveling in a world of the vain concern for one’s looks as the metaphor by which to find/reclaim self-assurance and gratification. As always, the woman is posited only in relationship to how she’s perceived by others, specifically men; her body is always on display and needs to be explained to the outside world. The video only further entrenches us in a plastic, heteronormative world, with modest knee-length, go-go style dresses in all manner of pastels, pink walls, sweater vests, and girls playing with dolls. If the video subjugated these clichés instead of merely presenting them for their cartoonish visual aesthetics, perhaps it might imbue the song with some ironic winking eye. Instead paraded before us is a facile Old Navy commercial “celebrating” curvature. By all means, I don’t believe all songs must be completely self-aware, but for a song to take such a bold claim and hard line through its lyrics means that it wants to be taken, perhaps, for more than just another pop construction. In a larger sense, the song could easily, by removing just a few lines, parody the church of the body which we all attend or at least not be Janus-faced in its own logic about women. Though it’s catchy the first time or two, this track is certainly not the summer jam for which I, or anyone else, is looking; one would think a celebration song would somehow feel more fun for everyone.
Jonathan May watches too much television, but he’s just playing catch-up from a childhood spent in Zimbabwe. You can read his poetry at owenmay.com, follow him on Twitter at @jonowenmay, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org