“All About That Bass” had one-hit wonder written all over it. The sound, concept, and visual aesthetic were all gimmicky as hell, and even though they were effective gimmicks, they didn’t seem like the mark of an artist who was built to last. When the track was becoming an endlessly dominant #1 hit, I praised its smart construction, but I also wondered whether Trainor had anything to offer besides winking modern updates on the Motown sound.
My thinking was that, if you could stomach its flawed logic and cringe-inducing corniness, “All About That Bass” was at base a fun song, maybe even an impressive song. But when you pile on nine lesser versions of the same idea, it stops seeming clever and starts to seem like the plague — or at least like biting into an entire package of Kraft singles. I figured she’d release a couple non-starter singles and we’d never hear from her again.
If only! Trainor has become a staple of the pop industrial complex. Her debut album, Title, debuted at #1 and remained in the top 10 for months on its way to platinum certification. It produced three more hit singles — the #4 “Lips Are Movin’,” the #14 “Dear Future Husband,” and #8 John Legend duet “Like I’m Gonna Lose You.” She also teamed with Charlie Puth on the execrable #21 hit “Marvin Gaye” (hook: “Let’s Marvin Gaye and get it on”) and made out with him on stage for some reason. In the two years since Trainor hit it big, she has been a mainstay at music-industry awards shows, one of those artists who’s always either nominated for something or invited to participate in whatever garbage medley the producers think will drive ratings. And last months at the Grammys, she won Best New Artist. She’s going nowhere. We’d better get used to her.
This week Trainor announced that her second album, Thank You, will be out in May. Along with the news came “NO,” a throwback to a different era of R&B history than the one she played around with on her debut album. Imagine Britney Spears attempting “Jumpin’, Jumpin'”-vintage Destiny’s Child and you get the gist. It’s as catchy as you’d expect — which is to say, not as catchy as “All About That Bass” but surely catchy enough to worm its way onto radio playlists for the next six months. Beyond the fact that Trainor’s attempt at a rap cadence is the kind of charade that makes Iggy Azalea look like an underrated talent, the song doesn’t really work as fuel for Trainor’s many haters. The worst reaction I can imagine is a shrug.
Nor will “NO” send the progressive internet into an outrage. Like “All About That Bass,” this latest single attempts to convey a strong female empowerment message, but this time Trainor pulls it off without the need for a carefully worded defense. Actually, “NO” corrects some of the questionable notions espoused by “All About That Bass”; instead of assuring women that men will love them no matter what size they are, Trainor proclaims, “If I want a man, then I’ll get a man, but it’s never my priority.” She’s making consent the foundation of her album’s lead single. At a time like this, who can reasonably complain about that?
Still, despite my generally apologetic posture toward “NO,” the song nonetheless contributes to that unshakeable “ugh” sensation that’s been building in parallel with Trainor’s career. It’s a lesser version of the feeling Kanye West gets when the wrong person wins an award: this sense that mediocrity is rewarded while excellence is ignored. There’s abundant exciting pop music to go around, yet most of the albums that lodge themselves in the top 10 for weeks on end are the ones that blandly execute the most unadventurous ideas imaginable. In a vacuum, someone like Trainor is ¯\_(?)_/¯, but in an ecosystem overrun by the likes of Ed Sheeran and Adele and Sam Smith, she triggers the gag reflex.
Think about it this way: “NO” was produced by Ricky “Wallpaper.” Reed, a guy known for his work with Jason Derulo, Twenty One Pilots, Lunchmoney Lewis, Icona Pop, and Rob Thomas. He also did Fifth Harmony’s unfuckwitable “BO$$,” for which I am forever in his debt, but mostly Wallpaper.’s music lives up to his nickname. He has a way of making bright, exuberant, high-fructose pop songs more tolerable than they have any right to be, but they’re still bright, exuberant, high-fructose pop songs. One hit single at a time, he’s helping turn pop radio into a hollower, less interesting place — which sucks because, again, this is a guy capable of creating something as awesome as “BO$$.”
Like most of what Reed produces, “NO” is mediocre, but inoffensively so. It’s irritating not because of outright obnoxiousness but because it fails to ascend above acceptable. It is another Kraft single atop the stack that’s ceaselessly shoveled down our throats, forever and ever oh man. You can only stomach so much processed cheese before you puke.
Alert the Stereogum comments section! The 1975’s nerve-touching I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it, one of the best and most interesting albums of the year so far, has debuted at #1. Billboard reports that the album tallied 108,000 equivalent units and 98,000 in pure sales to become the British pop band’s first US chart-topper. Those numbers represent a big leap from the group’s self-titled debut album, which debuted and peaked at #28.
After Adele’s 25 at #2 and Rihanna’s ANTI at #3 comes Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ This Unruly Mess I’ve Made, debuting at #4 with 61,000 units/51,000 sales. By comparison, 2012’s star-making The Heist sold 78,000 in its first week and debuted at #2. After Justin Bieber’s Purpose at #5 comes Kelly Clarkson’s Piece By Piece, which rockets back up from #120 to #6 after Clarkson’s tearful American Idol performance. Intriguingly, Clarkson’s album notched 44,000 units on only 19,000 in sales — more on that momentarily.
Chris Stapleton’s Traveller and Twenty One Pilots’ Blurryface are up next, and then our final top-10 debut. Anthrax’s For All Kings logged 34,000 units, almost all via sales, to enter the chart at #9. Joey + Rory’s Hymns rounds out the top 10, though I wouldn’t be surprised if sales get a boost next week due to the heartbreaking death of band member Joey Feek.
Over on the Hot 100 singles chart, Rihanna and Drake’s “Work” rules for a third straight week. Bieber’s “Love Yourself” and Twenty One Pilots’ “Stressed Out” hold steady at #2 and #3. Flo Rida’s “My House” reaches a new peak at #4, bumping Bieber’s “Sorry” down to #5, while ZAYN’s “Pillowtalk” (#6) and G-Eazy/Bebe Rexha’s “Me, Myself & I” (#7) maintain their positions.
The first real shakeup of the week comes at #8. We mentioned that Clarkson climbed back to the upper reaches of the albums chart this week. As Billboard reports, that’s because the day after performing a slowed-down piano arrangement of “Piece By Piece” on Idol, she released that version of the song as a single and added it to her album as a bonus track. It was a smashing success.
Danish pub-rock balladeer Lukas Graham climbs to #9 with “7 Years” this week, and we’ll surely have more to say about him soon enough. DNCE’s “Cake By The Ocean” falls to #10. Notably, Fifth Harmony and Ty Dolla $ihn’s “Work From Home” debuts at #12 and likely will hit the top 10 soon.
ZAYN – “Like I Would”
Honestly, this could pass for a One Direction dance remix if not for some slightly more overt sexual references. Not exactly the radical depature Zayn Malik was advertising.
Years & Years – “Desire” (Feat. Tove Lo)
This is okay, but when Tove Lo is involved I expect something better than okay.
Blake Shelton – “Came Here To Forget”
Unsurprisingly, if you didn’t know the context, Shelton’s song about hooking up with Gwen Stefani after the end of their respective marriages could pass for another ballad off the Nashville assembly line. It’s something country does better than any other genre, projecting personal stories to widescreen scope until they feel universal. How many divorcées in dive bars are going to fall in love to this song?
Jordan Smith – “Stand In The Light”
Smith is a contestant from The Voice who has gone on to an extremely successful career in contemporary Christian music. His song does not make me want to revisit the CCM world or start watching The Voice.
3OH!3 – “MAD AT YOU”
My first thought was, “Fuck these fucking guys.” Then the chorus hit, and I thought, “Hmmm. Maybe don’t fuck these guys?” Then came the lyric, “I’ve got OCD when it comes to that pussy,” and I settled on, “Fuck these motherfuckers forever.”
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Check out a one-minute preview of Ariana Grande’s “Dangerous Woman.” [Billboard]
- Lady Gaga will be back for another season of American Horror Story. [THR]
- Chrissy Teigen discussed the Kanye West/Taylor Swift feud on Watch What Happens Live, saying “It’s not over.” [Us]
- In other Swift news, she’ll headline the Formula One Grand Prix in Austin this fall. [TaylorSwift.com]
- And one more: In high school, Swift used to hand out cans of mace. Very generous! [Us]
- Rob Thomas (the singer) will guest star on iZombie from Rob Thomas (the TV producer). [TV Insider]
- ZAYN shared the tracklist for his debut solo album Mind Of Mine. [Twitter]
- Here’s a teaser for Iggy Azalea’s new single “Team.” [Twitter]
- Kesha was honored with a Visibility Award by the Human Rights Campaign for using her platform to advance and advocate for the LGBT movement. [Jezebel]
- Speaking of Kesha, her mom spoke to Billboard about the singer’s lawsuit against Dr. Luke and the “random” donation from Taylor Swift. [Billboard]
- DirecTV is launching an EDM TV network next week. [Beatport]
- Mariah Carey is reportedly filming a reality TV series. [Us]
- Justin Bieber’s new skatewear-inspired tour merch has caught the eyes of discerning hypebeasts. [Complex]
HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME
— Elmo (@elmo) March 2, 2016