I’m a sucker for a catchy riff. It gets in my head and for a while that particular song is all I will play. At university I drove my flatmates mad for a fortnight with constant playing of Xanadu by Olivia Newton John and ELO. I’m not sure why I became so obsessed with that song at that time. It wasn’t like I had heard it for the first time- I used to watch Xanadu at least once a month on VHS when growing up. For some reason, at this point in the third year of my degree I decided that my life was missing a little bit of 80s roller-skating magic.
A few weeks back I drove my husband crazy with constant playing of Taylor Swift’s Shake it Off. He was very relieved when I finally stopped playing it on a loop but then a new song entered my consciousness and now I think he thinks back to the heady days of Taylor Swift with a longing. Yes, since I first heard Meghan Trainor’s All About That Bass there hasn’t been a day in this house go by without me declaring that “it’s pretty clear I ain’t no size 2 / but I can shake it shake it like I’m supposed to do.”
As a woman with a sizeable rump (my husband tells me affectionately that I make the rockin’ world go round) I first felt really empowered by this song. It’s great to hear a song proclaiming that it’s fine for a woman to love her curves and feel sexy. I was once in a bar and feeling a bit down about my size and shape. Anyway, I was in a queue for the toilets when the woman behind me declared what a good ‘booty’ I had (‘Booty’ doesn’t sound right in a British accent BTW… I much prefer ‘arse’) and how the floral print on the dress I was wearing sat in just the right place to show it off. I know confidence comes from within but that gave me absolute boost. Hearing Meghan Trainor’s song for the first time brought back that confidence boost and made me feel happier with my body and particularly with my bum.
It’s fantastic to hear a song decrying the evils of photoshop. Trainor announces that we know it’s not real and it’s not helpful for young women (or women of any age) to be constantly presented with these fake images of womanhood and femininity. It was amazing to hear a song telling us that “every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top” especially when it’s just so catchy.
After a few times of listening I realised I couldn’t get the song out of my head, and as the words got more ingrained into my skull it became more apparent how problematic some of the lyrics are:
Cause I got that boom boom that all the boys chase
All the right junk in all the right places
Yeah, my mama she told me don’t worry about your size
She says boys like a little more booty to hold at night
You know I won’t be no stick figure silicone Barbie doll
So if that’s what you’re into then go ahead and move along
OK, be proud of your size and feel sexy, that’s great… but in this song sexiness is defined solely by the male gaze. It’s not so much about self-acceptance but about how men actually prefer a little more meat on their women. It’s fantastic to give girls the message that they should be happy how they are but this song explains that they should be happy because actually men find bigger women sexually attractive. Yes, it is a real boost when you know that your partner finds you sexually attractive but this in itself is not self-confidence.
Also it seems that Trainor’s confidence boost for big girls is at the detriment of the confidence of our less curvy sisters:
I’m bringing booty back
Go ahead and tell them skinny bitches that
I know she follows this line with “Nah, I’m just playing” but isn’t this just as harmful a message? I personally have a struggle with my weight and can put it on really easily but I have close friends who have the opposite problem, who would love to have a little more ‘meat on their bones’ but their metabolism doesn’t work that way. How is this helpful to those girls who are bullied for having ‘chicken legs’? Fat and thin both have their problems and our own personal body confidence should not be at the expense of other women. We want to teach our young people to support each other, not treat each other like the eve’s in Only Ever Yours- shaming them for being too fat, too thin or for what they put in their digestive system.
The thing is (wincing slightly here) I do really still like the song. It’s in my vocal range, unlike most pop songs these days, meaning that I can sing along without awkwardly swapping registers all the time and singing an octave below. Also it makes me proud of my big arse (I tried the word ‘booty’ here but I can’t pull it off… even written down) as long as I know that I’m sexy because I feel that way and not because “all the boys chase” me.
I’m not going to hold Trainor up as a great role model for young girls though. Yes, she has a great voice, wears pastel colours well and has a retro charm but the lyrics in her other songs are also a bit (understatement) worrying. Dear Future Husband (oh God help us!!!) seems to want to posit itself as promoting equality (I won’t say feminist values because Ms Trainor has already distanced herself from this) but doesn’t quite get there.
You got that 9 to 5
But, baby, so do I
So don’t be thinking I’ll be home and baking apple pies
This sounds great! We both have jobs. I’m not just going to cook because I’m the woman. However…
Take me on a date
I deserve a break
And don’t forget the flowers every anniversary
‘Cause if you’ll treat me right
I’ll be the perfect wife
Buy-buying what you need
Erm, why can’t he buy the groceries too? Why can’t this job be shared? Where is it written that the “perfect wife” does the shopping? My husband got the raw end of the deal then! Also, is being a husband just about the spending- “take me on a date”, “don’t forget the flowers”? Yes, it’s nice to treat each other from time to time but it’s not just the male job to do this. Also, isn’t it a cliche to think that flowers are the way to a woman’s heart?
Dear future husband,
If you wanna get that special lovin’
Tell me I’m beautiful each and every night
After every fight
And maybe then I’ll let you try and rock my body right
Oh, flipping ‘eck! This is where I feel it gets really worrying. If you’re a good lad and apologise even when you are in the wrong I’ll reward you with sex. It’s patronising and really over-simplifying marriage. I understand that she’s young and I understand that this is a song about a future fantasy but it’s a very unrealistic look at a modern relationship.
To be honest, I’m really only scratching the surface of what is problematic with these lyrics- “Buy me a ring / Buy-buy me a ring, babe” but the more I listen, the angrier I get. I don’t feel that even the bubbly pop 50s sound redeems this song (especially when Olly Murs did it so much better with Dance With Me Tonight).
I’m going to stick to “bringing [arse] back.”