Release Date: May 13, 2016
Record label: Epic
Genre(s): Pop, Pop/Rock, Dance-Pop, Teen Pop, Contemporary Pop/Rock
Displaying a professional savvy her cheerfully naïve persona belies, Meghan Trainor ditches the retro sensibilities that fueled her debut album, Title, on its swiftly released successor, Thank You. By no means has Trainor abandoned her theatricality -- whenever she slides into a purportedly soulful slurred vocal, she lets slip her stagy artifice -- but drama club exuberance is as inherent to Meghan's persona as Katy Perry's cheerleader pinup is to hers. The key to Thank You is that she's swapped out Glee-ful retro pageantry in favor of modern R&B shepherded by executive producer Ricky Reed.
When “NO”, the lead single from Thank You, came out back in March, it was an indicator that Meghan Trainor would be changing things up for her second album. A slow, soulful intro finds Trainor patronizing a male admirer: “I think it’s so cute / And it’s so sweet / How you let your friends encourage you to try and talk to me / But let me stop you there / Oh, before you speak…”. Then the beat kicks in and the chorus hits and suddenly it’s the late ‘90s and Trainor is channeling Destiny’s Child and other pop/R&B acts from the turn of the century.
A brief history of the term “breasteses” in 21st-century pop, presented without commentary: Kanye West, “Breathe In Breathe Out” (2004): “Coulda sworn her breasteses was sending me messages” Lady Sovereign’s “Love Me or Hate Me” (2006): “I ain’t got the biggest breasteses / But I write all the besteses” Jay Z, on Beyoncé’s “Drunk in Love” (2013): “Your breasteses is my breakfast” M. Trainor, “Watch Me Do” (2016): “I ain’t saying I’m the besteses / But I got nice curves, nice breasteses” You’re forgiven if you thought Fergie popped the B-word at one point too; the duTchess gets the honorary degree on this one. But Meghan Trainor raps better than Stacy Ferguson and Gwen Stefani combined, so we’ll let her have it.
After the mega-selling All About That Bass, Meghan Trainor’s second major-label album is supposedly influenced by Elvis, Aretha Franklin and, er, Olly Murs. One can imagine the King purring the acoustic Just a Friend in one of his bad films, but there’s lots of trademark Trainor: butt-wobbling, retro R&B and ostensible female-empowerment anthems that on closer inspection pander to the male gaze. In Woman Up – a reworking of Ashley Roberts’ 2014 flop, by the same writing-production team – the 22-year-old suggests, “Put your favourite heels on, ’cos they make you feel strong.” On her recent hit No she rebuts unwanted male advances with a swing of her hips.
Though she's changed her hair color and updated her sound from retro to dated, Meghan Trainor continues to peddle a myopic, commercialized brand of feminism on her sophomore effort, Thank You. Lead single “No” masquerades as a suffragette's anthem, espousing the almighty power of “no” as if mercilessly rejecting an unsolicited suitor were the ultimate expression of female agency, while songs like “Watch Me Do,” “Me Too,” and “I Love Me” are vacant exercises in positivity, confusing delusional self-importance with self-worth. “Woman Up,” a rewrite of a 2014 song by former Pussycat Doll Ashley Roberts, abandons the original's characterization of a powerful woman as a “survivor,” a “fighter” who lives by her own rules, and swaps it for one who merely “don't need a man.
Much of Thank You – the follow-up to 2015’s 2m-selling Title – finds Meghan Trainor ditching her All About That Bass doo-wop shtick in favour of 90s chart R&B. Unfortunately, the core problem remains – Trainor just isn’t a convincing pop star. While the Britney-lite lead single No has its moments, most of the other songs are identity-free filler.
There’s artistic evolution, and then there’s artistic uncertainty. The two go hand in hand, to be sure. Any attempt to explore new territory is fraught with missteps and blind alleys, but that’s what the studio is for. Musicians often cycle through numerous efforts that never see the light of day, en route to a confident and self-expressive release that captures something essential about their voice.
When Meghan Trainor sashayed into the Top 40 two years ago, she came armed with two things that most aspiring pop stars dream of having: an unerring grasp of pop hookcraft and a clearly-defined attitude-slash-brand. “All About That Bass,” “Dear Future Husband,” and “Lips Are Movin” all foregrounded a musical sensibility rooted in pre-Beatles ’60s pop and rock ’n’ roll and a lyrical sensibility that put a premium on sass and a personal (if problematically flawed) spin on girl power. Like her or loathe her, you knew what her deal was.
Pop stardom is confusing, messy, thankless work, equal parts exultation and excoriation. Just ask Justin Bieber, playing to sold-out arenas of shrieking young women one day, feeding squirrels and walking barefoot through a city that’s not his home the next, then posting notes online about how fans who want pictures with him will no longer be allowed them, lest he lose whatever is left of his soul. Not every pop star suffers such meltdowns, but the scrutiny is persistent.