Six years ago, Meghan Trainor couldn’t have imagined herself in the position she’s in now — a powerful, highly-fixated upon feminist icon in contemporary music. “I don’t consider myself a feminist, but I’m down for my first opportunity to say something to the world to be so meaningful,” an impressionable 20-year-old Trainor revealed to Billboard in a 2014 interview.
With everyone questioning her intentions, a young Trainor had to grow into her damage control strategy through some serious soul searching, as have other artists in the past. For example, Taylor Swift rejected the feminist label as the “scarlet letter” of career smears but has now learned to hone its power. Feminism’s “show-out” culture in the entertainment industry seems more for publicity’s sake. To my dismay, Trainor’s third studio album, Treat Myself, caves under the pressure of that belief, delivering the usual lip service branding agencies employ to beef up the portfolios of their sexy, feminine clientele.
But this isn’t to Trainor’s discredit. She’s enjoyed a highly successful and profitable career. The music industry today demands that younger generations be able to jump from singer to songwriter and often into producer mode at the drop of a hat. To do that well enough, you have to be genuinely multitalented. Trainor sold her talents from the outset, having written tunes for some of country and pop’s best like Rascal Flatts and Fifth Harmony. She also built relationships with the frontwomen who came before her, like Nicole Schwarzenegger from the Pussycat Dolls, whom Trainor features on her song “Genetics” off Treat Myself, and Jennifer Lopez, who sang and performed “Ain’t Your Mama”, a song that Trainor herself wrote for the Latin popstar. The pop icon also historically either writes or co-writes all of her music, and Treat Myself is filled with original songwriting credits.
In the eyes of the entertainment industry, Trainor is a spartan; she represents the best of a new generation of music entrepreneurs but can run laps around them in any death race because of the time she’s invested. She also entered at a time when the Me Too movement was a major talking point in the media, draining accusers, victims, and abusers, and a doe-eyed, optimistic outlook was needed to cross that bridge. That year Ke$ha sued her producer, Dr. Luke, for sexual assault and emotional trauma, a brave act which garnered waves of support from fans and protesters, inspiring others to step forward. A judge ruled in favor of Dr. Luke, holding Ke$ha to the contract she signed with Sony and proving once again that recording artists have very little control over their work when push comes to shove with big business.
The 26-year-old “All About That Bass” singer, however, managed to wedge herself into a lane that appeased both corporate and commercial audiences. Trainor minds her Ps and Qs, and for the most part, so does her music. Treat Myself is ladened with the same girl gang hoots and hollers and fluffernutter hooks that popularized preceding albums Title and Thank You, but with a little more urban beat thrown in. For the album’s introductory track, “Wave”, Trainor bunkered down with producer Mike Sabath (Lizzo, J. Balvin, and Selena Gomez) over a three-year period to create a song that departs drastically from her traditional doo-wop sound.
In the music video released in October, she wears a nude-colored leotard, baring her soul with dance motions of short, military precision. Then, during scenes that cut in and out, she’s pictured dancing on top of a pile of people rocking back and forth, forming a human wave, catching and releasing her body in rhythm with quivering synths. Under the direction of Matthew Cullen, Trainor evocatively stages a physical representation of the enduring power of a shipwrecked romance shared between two partners. It’s the most honest song on the album, next to “Workin’ on It”, featuring Lennon Stella and Sasha Sloan, where Trainor writes intimately about her struggles with self-acceptance.
There are some tracks on the album that don’t deviate sonically as much as they do lyrically, for instance, Trainor’s collaboration with Nicki Minaj on “Nice to Meet Ya”, where the tables have turned. A woman is in charge, and a man’s professional career is on the line: “If you want it all, it’s non-negotiable / So do as I say / If you wanna get the job, you better know who’s the boss.”
Sex as a means of control over musical career direction is nothing new — Iggy Azalea’s done it before on her 2014 hit “Beg for It”, and most recently on her album
In My Defense. One can’t help but ask: As our feminist fixtures soar higher in their careers, are their confident cries of “pussy power” serious stabs at the industry or selling points because it’s the cool thing to do? With “fake news” blasting us in the face daily, the root of intent is getting harder to reach.