The Week In Pop

The Week In Pop: So, What Else Does “All About That Bass” Singer Meghan Trainor Have To Offer?

“All About That Bass” is a great song. It is not a cool song, but hopefully by now we all realize cool is not the same thing as great. Meghan Trainor’s breakout single, which celebrates the sex appeal of larger women, is also not quite as smart or important as Trainor thinks it is — but again, neither of those are prerequisites for greatness. That bass, as it were, is a big part of the tune’s appeal, so effectively does it pivot across the beat and groove against the syncopated handclaps. As demonstrated in Trainor’s unfortunately trebly Tonight Show performance, the low end is, appropriately, what holds the rest of the song together. Still, there’s more to like about it, not least of which is the pleasant swagger in Trainor’s deadpan delivery, a playfulness that also manifests itself in the tuneful wordless ad-libs that dot the outro. Purposeful details like the “Sexyback” reference and the pitched-down, echoing “bass, bass, bass” at the end of the chorus mark the song as a smart modern update on the doo-wop hits that were its obvious inspiration. And the video, for all its foibles, is both cute and effective. As a pop song designed to infect your consciousness and delight the masses, it’s great. You will dance to it at weddings, and you will love it.

Sure, Trainor is Amy Winehouse’s chipper sorority girl antithesis, and it’s only fair that her fumbling attempts at feminism have been so feverishly dissected. Trainor’s intentions were surely body-positive, but all reasonable people agree that a woman’s worth should not hinge on male approval, so any critique Trainor shoulders for sending mixed messages seem fair. Still, I agree with the “better than nothing” position Jillian Mapes staked out in her smart Flavorwire essay this week. I’d like to explore the 20-year-old Nantucket native’s musical merits and long-term potential here because I’m not sure I could tackle her music’s sticky gender politics better than Mapes already did:

Not all junior high girls are going to be interested in Kathleen Hanna or read Rookie, let alone begin to understand what feminism is. Not all of them are even going to sit through the Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie spoken-word intro to Beyoncé’s “Flawless.” But if they listen to Top 40 radio, they will hear “All About That Bass,” which will soon dethrone Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” as the Hot 100’s reigning champ. If one young girl musters confidence because of Meghan Trainor, I can’t — for the sake of my younger self — despise her outright.

Trainor’s song did, in fact, dethrone “Shake It Off” this week. “All About That Bass” is a #1 song now, one that will always scream “2014!” for many people. Trainor’s place in music history is secure, but is she doomed to one-hit-wonderdom? Title, the four-song EP she released this week, suggests she might have a shot at outlasting “All About That Bass” if only she finds some new subject matter to sing about.

Title’s title track builds on the doo-wop foundations of “All About That Bass,” successfully blending that song’s sassy horns and background vocals with ukulele folk-pop and island percussion that neatly morphs into a programmed beat. The handclaps are back too, and her producers fleeced the track with subtle modern sound effects like the ones that were audible around the fringes of “All About That Bass.” DJ scratching and rewind sounds aren’t particularly forward-looking flourishes, but the resulting track sounds sharp and vibrant, very much the modern-retro pastiche Trainor is going for. Less attractive is Trainor’s rap verse(!), which makes Iggy Azalea seem like hip-hop’s most cherished and respectful ambassador and Karmin seem like a frightening bellwether of what’s to come. As for the allegedly problematic lyrical content, I don’t see how Trainor demanding some commitment from the man in her life is any different from noted FEMINIST Beyoncé declaring, “If you liked it, then you should have put a ring on it.”

Dear Future Husband” is where the returns start to diminish. Not so much on the musical axis — the song is another in a series of slick productions, with a drum track that kicks harder than many 2014 rock bands, zippy piano, and even more ebullient brass. But after “Title,” a song about Trainor’s demands for her future spouse already feels interchangeable, which shouldn’t happen on a release with only four songs. “Close Your Eyes,” the EP’s closest thing to a ballad, continues the impressive production and stylistic unity. The pitch-shifted voices in the background are especially effective, and Trainor gives a nuanced, fluttery vocal performance. And while it’s easily the least memorable tune here — particularly its love-song-by-numbers lyrical content — I could easily see it making a dent on the charts, same as the rest of Title’s tracks. She probably can’t wring four hits out of this project, but any of them could blow up with the right push. (For what it’s worth “Dear Future Husband” is the next single, so brace yourself — both for the song’s potential ubiquity and for another round of analysis.)

Trainor broke into the music business as a songwriter, and it shows. She and collaborators Kevin Kadish and Katy Green understand how to craft a hit, both in terms of punchy major-key music and cheeky, meme-able lyrical turns. She’s a capable singer too, able to project lots of character and emotion within a relatively limited range. And with the massive success of “All About That Bass,” she’s opened herself a window to express her talents. My hope is that by the time her full-length album drops, she finds some new ideas to express. “All About That Bass” wasn’t a wildly original concept, especially during the so-called “Summer Of Ass,” when Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” video communicated similar sentiments far more provocatively. She lacks Minaj’s seemingly infinite cool points, but Trainor’s signature hit nonetheless infused an existing idea with fresh perspective, a standard her other songs haven’t lived up to yet. Whether she finds that spark again will go a long way toward establishing Trainor herself, and not just “All About That Bass,” as part of the permanent pop cultural fabric.

CHART WATCH

As stated above, “All About That Bass” ass-scends to #1 on the Hot 100 this week, bumping “Shake It Off” down to #2. Then it’s a double dose of Nicki Minaj, with “Anaconda” at #3 and the Jessie J/Ariana Grande/Minaj hit “Bang Bang” at #4. Iggy Azalea and Rita Ora’s “Black Widow” is up to #5, completing an all-female top 5. Sam Smith is the highest-ranking dude on the singles chart this week with “Stay With Me” at #6, followed by MAGIC!’s “Rude” at #7. Grande’s Zedd-featuring EDM track “Break Free” is at #8, followed by Maroon 5’s middling “Maps” at #9 and Sia’s resilient “Chandelier” at #10.

Speaking of Maroon 5, they rule the albums chart this week with 164,000 copies of V. Billboard notes that the band’s previous effort, 2012’s Overexposed, sold 222,000 in its first week, but V’s total does beat the 142,000 for 2010’s Hands All Over. That said, none of them compare with Maroon 5’s other #1, 2007’s It Won’t Be Soon Before Long, which sold a whopping 429,000 in its first week. Jeezy’s Seen It All: The Autobiography enters at #2 on the strength of 121,000 in sales, while the Guardians Of The Galaxy soundtrack stays strong at #3 with 53,000. Last week’s #1, Grande’s My Everything, is down to #4 with 42,000, a steep 75 percent decline.

The biggest story on the Billboard 200, though, is Bob Marley’s dorm-room staple Legend, which rode a Google Play discount all the way to #5 with 41,000 in sales 30 years after its original release. The hits collection has sold steadily over the years, previously peaking at #18 in 2012, so this isn’t exactly shocking news, but it’s yet another weird reality of the 2014 albums economy. As for the rest of the top 10: Counting Crows debut at #6 with 32,000 for Somewhere Under Wonderland, then it’s the Frozen soundtrack still going strong at #7 with 31,000 and Smith’s In The Lonely Hour also flexing its endurance at #8 with 30,000. Now 51 is at #9 with 28,000, and Wiz Khalifa’s Blacc Hollywood rounds things out at #10 with 20,000.

TRACK CITY

One Direction – “Fireproof”
This totally sounds like a late-period Belle & Sebastian song. Not sure whether that says more about One Direction or Belle & Sebastian, but I like where those 1D boys are headed.

One Direction – “Fireproof”

You + Me – “You And Me”
What is this, non-artisanal She & Him? You + Me is Pink and City And Colour frontman Dallas Green. Their signature song is about as memorable as the band name, which is to say, not very.

Alicia Keys – “We Are Here”
I’m feeling mighty ambivalent about Alicia Keys uttering the words, “Let’s talk about Chi-town/ Let’s talk about Gaza.” I can’t fault Keys for addressing the world’s many woes rather than, say, singing about concrete jungles where dreams are made. She’s trying her best to offer something meaningful here. When you’re a musician, especially a musician with a platform like Keys, what more powerful tool do you have to offer than music? But it’s also hard to imagine a song this rote ending millennia of human pride and selfishness.

Nico & Vinz – “In Your Arms”
Otherwise known as “Am I Wrong: The Ballad.”

Kid Ink – “Body Language” (Feat. Usher & Tinashe)
We’re starting to hear other producers imitating DJ Mustard’s de rigueur production formula. In this case it’s Stargate and Cashmere Cat, who do a decent job but slightly soften the edges of the sound in a way that rings false. Still, Usher and Tinashe singing together on the hook is a major upgrade from Chris Brown on Kid Ink’s last two hits. As for Ink, when was the last time we heard a rapper this anonymous on the pop charts? Even Flo Rida is overflowing with personality compared to this guy.

Calvin Harris – “Blame” (Feat. John Newman)
This one sounds a little too close to Alex Clare’s “Too Close.”

Walk The Moon – “Shut Up + Dance”
Idolator wisely compares this Ohio band’s latest with Bleachers, and although “Shut Up + Dance” is of a similar quality level, it’s got a little too much untz-untz for my liking. Good to see them fully embracing their pop destiny, though.

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • After Taylor Swift revealed that her new song “Bad Blood” is about a rival pop star, Katy Perry subtweeted the shit out of her. [Idolator]
  • Drake will appear on Usher’s now-delayed UR. [MTV]
  • Justin Bieber was booed while stripping at Fashion Rocks. [Mashable]
  • Speaking of stripping, apparently 5 Seconds Of Summer rehearse in the nude. [Gossip Cop]
  • Fox is developing an entire TV series out of the Carrie Underwood song “Two Black Cadillacs.” [E!]
  • Demi Lovato was Janessa Slater’s latest victim on Vanessa Bayer’s web series Sound Advice. [Above Average]
  • Avicii has canceled all upcoming performances due to his worsening health. [Dancing Astronaut]
  • Britney Spears was game enough to participate in Jimmy Fallon’s “pros and cons of dating Britney Spears” sketch. [YouTube]
  • Kiesza’s debut album Sound Of A Woman is out 10/21. [San Francisco Bay Guardian]

HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME