If 2013 was the “Year Of The Selfie”, 2014 is the “Year Of The Booty”, then my bet is on 2015 to be the “Year Of The Average-To-Small Penis”. Maybe when we run out of body parts to obsess over we’ll be forced to enter a calendar that features the “Year Of Humility” and the “Year Of Team Management Skills”, but we’re still a far cry from a world where appearance ranks second best, so bums it is, then.
From Nicki Minaj to Iggy Azalea and J-Lo, this is clearly the year that the music industry unanimously decided batty fat was the hot ticket to quick sales (“big figures” pun, anybody?). Vogue even went with the headline “Dawn Of The Butt” recently, and when a fashion powerhouse which mainly features people whose cellulite is only visible when it has been grafted onto their face embraces the curve – albeit as a fleeting trend – it is undeniable: the butt means business, literally. But behind every great butt is a great PR strategy, which is where Meghan Trainor comes in.
For a song that bolsters bigness, Meghan Trainor’s pro-arse anthem “All About That Bass” appeared out of relatively thin air. Released in the US on June 30, the “Big Girl, You Are Beautiful” of the Candy Crush generation currently has around 122 million views and managed to rack up an impressive 1.17 million streams in the last week of September alone. It wasn’t released in the UK until October 5, but because digital streams are now factored into the UK charts (with 100 streams equal to one single sale) “All About That Bass” entered at #33 before it was even available to buy, making it the first song to reach the UK Top 40 without a single physical or digital sale. Unsurprisingly, the inclusion of sales figures the following week then pushed it straight to #1.
It’s 2014 and absolutely nobody is shocked by the very modern phenomenon that is somebody becoming internationally famous overnight, but while the celebrity status of people like Rebecca Black and the Chris Crocker is confined firmly within a collection of soundbites and screencaps, Meghan Trainor has managed to legitimately break into the UK market, which isn’t that easy for a non-UK artist to do (hence why we got her single three months after its American debut). US chart music is packed full of sassy southern belles but “All About That Bass” is the first Southern-sounding record to successfully chart in the UK since Kid Rock’s “All Summer Long” (although Meghan herself is faking, she was raised in New England). How has this previously unknown 20-year-old somehow made it from small-town obscurity to the top of the UK charts within the space of a summer?
As is the case with anything that appears to drop from nowhere and crush everything around it, “All About That Bass” actually took its sweet old time to be released. Rarely does somebody go from nothing to number one without a quietly calculated combination of shrewd PR and good timing. The song was written by Trainor herself, but she spent months trying to flog it to everybody in the music industry, which was of course fruitless because to pull off this song without sounding like a condescending prick you have to be packing some bounce, and nobody in the music industry is beyond a size 2 except Adele, whose personal brand does not lend itself to rap-infused breakdowns. Eventually, Epic Records picked up on it and Trainor performed the single herself.
It’s a bit uncomfortable really because she’s not exactly “fat”. Nobody in the video is, apart from the one comically obese guy enlisted to dance fabulously. At a push, they’re the demographic of women who might purchase a slimming girdle or some body shaping tights. It’s all very Bridget Jones and, as such, many have flagged it up as problematic. As Trainor has said herself, the song and the video go pretty much hand-in-hand in terms of appeal. She has written a song that tries to spell out Beth Ditto’s entire existence, and the commercial appeal of specific songs that say “HEY! IT’S OK TO BE THIS TYPE OF WAY!” tends to eclipse the commercial appeal of artists who say that every day in everything they do.
Not that comparing pop stars gets anyone anywhere, but of all the artists praising the power of the curve lately, of course the one to go straight to #1 in both the UK and the US is a white girl dressed in all-pastel colours busting the kind of choreography year 2 schoolgirls would invent on the playground. Why? Because it’s fun, it’s safe and it’s easily palatable. It doesn’t require any thought because, despite being the national anthem for so-called body positivity, the only thing challenging about “All About That Bass” is the fact that Trainor is not unreasonably thin; she’s just a normal sized woman. And that is obviously great because she’s helping to provide a much-needed balance to a culture of impossible standards, regardless of whether or not she intended to do so (remember that the song was never meant for her). But saying that it’s cool to be curvy isn’t much of a sincere message when it’s constantly qualified by statements like “Boys like a little more booty to hold at night” and “I got that boom boom that all the boys chase/ And all the right junk in all the right places”.
There’s no real point in disputing the feminist politics of a woman who has openly rejected feminism, but ultimately the reasons “All That Bass” went to #1 are no different to those that propelled “Blurred Lines” to the same spot. Both are minimal yet undeniably catchy pop songs that fall completely in line with the status quo approach to women’s bodies as something to be judged and sexualised. At best, it’s an uplifting message about loving yo’self or whatever and that’s cool, but it sucks that time and time again the only messages about women we are willing to celebrate or take seriously are the ones that come from white, middle class women that most parents (and men) feel comfortable with (read: not threatened by). “All That Bass” is musically great, just as “Blurred Lines” is musically great (sorry everyone), but content-wise both are equally guilty of flippantly re-enforcing a point of view that is easily sold, because it’s exactly what people want to hear.
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