Meghan Trainor is this Generation’s Andy Kaufman
I never liked Meghan Trainor’s music, though my brain worked really, really hard to convince me that I did. Her brand of music is not too far out of line with much of the other silly, sugary pop music I am fond of: Teenage Dream Katy Perry, Carly Rae Jepsen, Ariana Grande, occasionally The Killers, Tommy Mottola Mariah Carey and horny Mariah Carey, The Archies, pre-British Madonna, all disco.
But I sensibly resisted the urge to embrace Trainor’s brand of pop because it felt too forced in musical production and lyrical content. Too forced for the quality of pop she was giving us. Trainor was swinging for the fences and landing doubles at best.
I hadn’t heard any of her hack girlie doo-wop in quite a while. It was nice having forgotten all about her. But then, while running an errand at the Bucktown Office Max the other day, her song Me Too played over the store speakers. (It’s important to note that the title of this song has nothing to do whatsoever with the #MeToo movement. It was released in May 2016 long before any of us seemed to actively care about what men did with their dicks at work.) The song was stuck in my head for the rest of the day and it got me thinking about Trainor’s entire cultural existence.
During my afternoon bathroom break with my iPad on my lap, I dove into a Meghan Trainor wormhole to sort out exactly what was so terrible about her music. I considered the shallow, braggadocios lyrics, the over-produced production, that white-collar-suburban-virgin-girl-imitating-a-black-street-thug accent she sings with, and the regurgitated and repurposed musical cues she uses in each song when it dawned on me. Meghan Trainor is not an annoying musician or a pop sensation; Meghan Trainor is this generation’s Andy Kaufman, and she’s fucking with us.
I know there are people who like her music. It resonates with the simpletons who can’t get past a memorable hook no matter how limp or wretched it is. On March 1, Trainor dropped another single, No Excuses, and it’s exactly what you’d expect from a Meghan Trainor pop song.
But Trainor is not a pop musician. Trainor is a performance artist, a social satirist using pop music and YouTube videos to skewer our modern culture. There’s just no way the person who writes and performs the song Me Too isn’t making fun of something.
It is a misfortune that the song shares a title with the movement against sexual harassment because in so many ways, Trainor’s tune exists in a world where self-awareness and dignity do not, themselves, exist. Lyrically, the song is a clumsy brag about how Trainor is happy with who she is and with her life. All that positive self-image stuff is great. Then, three lines in, it takes a twisted turn when she demands that we respect her because of the gold necklace she wears, and then insists that everyone wants to be her because her life is a movie. Not like a movie, but an actual movie. Assuming that we want to be her because she has a gold necklace and an entourage is pretty shallow and assumes that we are equally shallow. And maybe we are. And I have come to believe that Trainor is churning out this kind of uncreative dreck to point out just how delusional and self-absorbed we’ve become.
Dear Future Husband, a single released in March 2015 off her first album, takes the hateful and foolish trope of “Happy wife, happy life” and turns it into a list of vengeful demands and paltry rewards. She lists exactly what she wants and requests that her husband must comply no matter how ridiculous the request. Furthermore, she promotes the stereotype of wives weaponizing sex against their husbands.
“After every fight
And maybe then I'll let you try and rock my body right (right)
Even if I was wrong
[Laugh] You know I'm never wrong
Why, why disagree?”
This song is obscenely anti-feminist, and in a unique way, entirely misogynist because of the way it promotes the negative stereotypes of wives and marriage. It’s the only thing unique about any Trainor song. If she’s not putting us on by showing us how absolutely stupid a marriage that she is describing is, then the song is nothing more than blubbering idiocy — the creation of a girl who learned about marriage through only King of Queens and Lockhorns cartoons.
Dear Future Husband wasn’t the first song of Trainor’s that brought accusations of anti-feminism. Her first hit, the big one, the one that actually out performed Michael Jackson’s Beat It on the charts, All About that Bass appeared to be an anthem for body confidence. It was aimed at heavier people, curvier people. All that is fine and well until she takes a shot at “them skinny bitches,” though she does quickly admit to “just playin’.” Still, the crux of the song rests on the pre-chorus, which describes how her mother tells Meghan to not worry about her size because “boys like a little more booty to hold at night.” In my case, she’s not wrong. But to place body positivity on how much sex you’ll have seems counterintuitive to everything reasonable feminists of all sizes and shapes have been working toward for decades.
There’s no way Trainor is that tone deaf. She’s no stranger to the entertainment industry having signed a publishing deal at age 17. Even those who deny the serious inequality and unfairness women face each day in entertainment — and everywhere else in our culture — know that it exists. Thing is, they’ll deny it. Trainor blatantly promotes it. Therefore, she must be making a satirical, even farcical stance on the issues of the day.
No, which was released two years ago this month, is like Bass in that it seemed like an empowering anthem for anyone who’s ever had to face unwanted advances. The chorus is absolute and strong — lyrically, anyway. In typical Trainor fashion, it sounds like a privileged teenage white girl posing as a street-hardened black girl during a high school talent show, thus losing its credibility. And if that doesn’t do it, this verse will:
“Thank you in advance,
I don’t wanna dance (nope)
I don’t need your hands all over me
If I want a man,
Then I’mma get a man
But it’s never my priority”
We know that’s bullshit. Bass and Husband are entirely about getting a man. Many of her songs are about boys and gettin' some. There's nothing wrong with that. Not at all. You don't have to write a song lying about it, unless, of course, you're fucking with us, which she must be. Like so many pop songs, the content revolves around gaining and losing love. When a pop songs takes itself too seriously, it loses its impact. See the most recent Taylor Swift and Katy Perry efforts.
As I stated, Trainor is not an overnight sensation. She’s been hustling professionally in this game for almost a decade. She has to know what she’s doing. A 17-year-old doesn’t get a publishing deal if she doesn’t understand the power of pop.
Andy Kaufman’s (and Bob Zmuda’s) Tony Clifton was everything horrible and outdated in show business. The Clifton character, and many other Kaufman performances were meant to confuse us, enrage us, make us laugh. Sometimes all three. Kaufman’s commitment to the Clifton character was so intense that Andy would completely disappear leaving Tony to take the wheel. They functioned as two completely separate individuals, and neither of them would offer even the slightest wink to the truth and the game.
Trainor has done this, too. She has created a pop star character that confuses us, enrages us and makes us laugh with lyrics that may as well have been penned by a coked up chimp with a leaky Bic pen, and musical production headed up by that same chimp with double the cocaine. What statement is she trying to make? I’m not totally sure. But I am damn sure that Meghan Trainor cannot be taken at face value, and we must recognize her twisted efforts even if it is just pop music.