As soon as I heard All About That Bass, I loved it, and I bumped whoever I was planning to feature in Future Pop the next Monday to put Meghan Trainor in their place. But in my write-up I had to express a concern: Did her label, Epic, intend to use her weight to create a novelty hit? Would the success of All About That Bass actually be a groundbreaking moment, or were they setting Meghan up for a fall? If she became a one hit wonder that would be seen as a joke in years to come, it could do more damage than good for larger ladies hoping to pursue a pop career in the future.
(Note: Meghan is actually about average size for a British woman and smaller than the average American, but for the sake of this article we will say she is representing larger women, as she is bigger than the typical female pop star and she says herself, “it’s pretty clear, I ain’t no size two”)
Over the next few months, All About That Bass became a worldwide hit. During this time, there were moments which made me feel my concern about her future had sadly been justified. For example, in an interview, Meghan named a song called Dear Future Husband as her next single. Soon this track, along with others from her debut EP Title, were premiered online. No matter how much I wanted to like these songs, to believe that she could prove my suspicions wrong, I had to admit they were very weak. If released as the follow-up to All About That Bass, Dear Future Husband would have ensured Meghan would be a one-hit-wonder. It sounded like an Olly Murs b-side. Hearing a disappointing new song from an artist you like is never fun, but in this case it was depressing.
However, there was a twist. If Epic had thought they had nothing more than a novelty hit on their hands, they were wrong. All About That Bass didn’t just fly up the charts and right back out again. In fact, it spent eight weeks at no.1 in the US and four in the UK. It topped the charts in 58 countries worldwide. Although All About That Bass has the criteria for a novelty hit, a very specific, topical theme with strong catchy hooks, it has such a great melody that I believe it could have been a hit even with different lyrics.
That theory has been proven by the success of Meghan’s follow-up single. As All About That Bass kept their profits healthy, it seemed like Epic started to see Meghan as an artist who could have a long-term career, competing on an equal playing field with her slimmer contemporaries. Once they realised that the public didn’t just see her as “the fat girl,” and there was anticipation for more music, Dear Future Husband was out of the picture as single two. It was replaced by a top quality pop song, Lips are Movin. It’s a track that could have been released by an artist of any size or shape, featuring no reference to Meghan’s weight. It has a fun, easily communicated lyrical concept, which is an attribute that helps to make pop songs memorable and enjoyable, but it’s definitely not a novelty song. It’s similar enough to All About That Bass to give Meghan a signature sound, but different enough to show she’s not a one-trick pony.
Lips are Movin was released today in the UK and is currently no.2 on the iTunes chart. It has peaked at no.4 on the US Billboard Hot 100. Considering that even the biggest name artists can’t be confident of getting a US top 10 hit every time they release a single, this is a real achievement. A few days ago Meghan was on The Ellen Show as a guest, and she actually got to sit on the sofa. She was there to talk about her life as a successful artist, not just wheeled out to perform her novelty hit to get viewing figures, like PSY and Ylvis were in previous years. This was when I realised she’d crossed a boundary, and it was so nice to see.
The success of Lips are Movin shows that All About That Bass could have been a hit if it had different lyrics, but that would only be the case if the public still got to hear it. Lips are Movin was added to radio playlists because of the hit single that preceded it. All About That Bass was a song by an unknown artist who didn’t fit the pop star mould, and the song itself is pure pop – much poppier than what commercial radio stations usually play. It wouldn’t have been played on the radio if it hadn’t already been an online viral hit, and that wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t stood out due to its subject matter and video.
I have a theory about pure pop music: The public love it… when they get to hear it. By “pure pop,” I don’t mean Clean Bandit or Sam Smith or 5 Seconds of Summer; I mean songs that could not be considered anything but pop. They’re pure, because they’re not filtered by the need to be presented as something other than pop to make people think they’re cool. Call Me Maybe and Ugly Heart are two examples that spring to mind, and All About That Bass is certainly in this category. These songs have to get through a lot of barriers in order to reach the audience that would enjoy them. Pure pop music doesn’t have its own niche radio stations – it’s competing for exposure on the biggest stations, such as Radio 1 and Capital FM in the UK, which are the most competitive to get onto. On the rare occasion that a pure pop song makes it onto mainstream radio, it sounds refreshing and uplifting to listeners, and it’s almost always a hit. If All About That Bass had different lyrics, it probably wouldn’t have been noticed by the playlist overlords at all – in fact, Meghan would probably never have even been signed. But if she had and it had somehow been playlisted, I’m sure it would have been a hit.
There is another variable which I think could have led to a different outcome for All About That Bass. Imagine if it had been about body confidence, but had no reference to her “booty” or “bass.” Would Meghan have got a record deal? Would All About That Bass have gone viral? I’m not convinced. In fact, I wonder if the average listener even thinks of All About That Bass as a body confidence anthem, or just another symptom of what Vogue labelled “the Era of the Big Booty.” The perception of an ideal female figure has been changing for the past decade, with celebrities like Beyoncé and Kim Kardashian leading the trend, and the transition seemed to reach completion in 2014, marked by a number of notable hit songs. With Anaconda, Nicki Minaj played up to her own reputation for having a sizeable derriere, and Jennifer Lopez and Iggy Azalea jumped on the bandwagon with Booty. Looking back over 2014 as we now can, it seems more logical to view All About That Bass as a more clean-cut, poppy angle on the booty trend than a standalone body confidence anthem.
If we see it now as just another “booty song,” All About That Bass hasn’t really acted as the celebration of plus size beauty that it could have been. But that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t had a positive effect. There’s no doubt that there are women and girls around the world, and even some men I’m sure, singing along to All About That Bass and feeling better about their body shape. She might have had to jump on a passing bandwagon to do it, but Meghan has sold a message of body confidence to over six million people. That’s nothing to be sniffed at! And this week, as her album sits at no.1 in the US iTunes chart, and Lips are Movin becomes another international hit, we can say that one of the biggest pop stars in the world is someone who represents an image you don’t usually see in a pop video. That’s got to be a good thing.
Meghan Trainor probably won’t have a career spanning decades. She will probably never have another hit as big as All About That Bass. But the world isn’t going to change overnight, and if nothing else, we now have proof that the public don’t care how much their pop stars weigh – it’s actually the industry’s assumption that they care which is preventing other artists who don’t “look the part” from getting the opportunity to break through.