March 8, 2016


What Meghan Trainor Finally Gets Right About Feminism on 'Nø'

Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic
Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic

I have to admit – Meghan Trainor has sung and spoken about a lot of things that made me want to swear her off completely. However, "Nø," the first single from Thank You released on Friday (Mar. 4), may be her redemption. Fingers crossed.

When Trainor popped up in 2014, the songwriter-turned-artist charmed us with addictive melodies, old-school instrumentation and a down-to-earth attitude, serving up something comfortingly retro with a little bit of spice. Plus, it seemed like she was promoting body positivity with “All About that Bass,” at a time when we were collectively unraveling the stigma built up around fat jokes, magazine Photoshop and diet culture. Yay for social issues! Yay for singalong hits!

But her ‘50s-tinged soulful empowerment anthems masked some real problems: namely, her sexism, reverse feminism and, despite all that stuff she was trying to accomplish with “All About that Bass,” body-shaming.

While she aimed to boost self-esteem on “All About that Bass,” she also knocked down smaller people along the way: “I'm bringing booty back/ Go 'head and tell them skinny bitches that,” she sang. In the same song, she centered her confidence around stereotyped men's standards. “Yeah my mama she told me, ‘don't worry about your size’ / She says, ‘Boys like a little more booty to hold at night’”—a lyric that conflicted sentiments in her other songs about not needing a man. Her third single, “Dear Future Husband,” had similar problems. Spouting out domestic stereotypes that are twice as old as the 22-year-old, she sang, “'Cause if you'll treat me right / I'll be the perfect wife / Buying groceries / Buy-buying what you need.” The song's music video, which had Meghan in heels and pristine makeup while scrubbing the floor, was even more sexist.

Critics didn’t hesitate to call Trainor out about her lyrics, in addition to the stuff she was saying in interviews (like when she made jokes about eating disorders to the face of a reporter who admitted she had one). At the end of Mic’s takedown in 2015, Kate Beaudoin wrote, “Time and time again, her music and public appearances are not only anti-feminist, but also sexist. We need to call Trainor what she is. Maybe then she can become something greater.”

Beaudoin urged us to call Trainor a sexist, and that’s what a lot of people did. It may have slightly tarnished Meghan’s image, but not enough to make her lose out on the Best New Artist Grammy she won in February, or score a total of four Top 20 hits from her debut album, Title.

For the record, I don’t think every public figure needs to be progressive, or constantly rallying behind a cause, but I do think that we can’t afford to have celebrities who take us backwards. I want Meghan to be successful being who she is, but I also want her to hear criticism and accept it. If she could just become more aware of the world, she could combine that with her natural talent and, like Beaudoin wrote, “become something greater.”

Now, Meghan is on to her second album, Thank You, expected on May 13. And this time, it seems like she’s listened with her new single, “Nø.”

“It’s a big anthem for ladies about telling a dude, ‘Nah, I’m good—I’m out here on my own, and I’m good with it,’” Trainor told Fuse about “Nø” in an interview last month. “The scene is me in a club, and the dude comes up to me and I go, ‘No no no. I don’t need your hands all over me. I’m good. I’m gonna dance on my own with my girls.’”

I went into "Nø" expecting to find something wrong right away (I blame the way outrage culture has shaped my brain, and Meghan’s past, of course). I didn’t hate the lyrics, so I set aside a deeper listen for the weekend—but in that moment, I was relieved. There’d be no Meghan Trainor backlash that day. We could all go into the weekend feeling unburdened by something unsavory seeping subliminally into our culture. Phew.

Sometime over the weekend, "Nø" turned into my banger. Like, dancing-with-my-cat-in-the-kitchen-while-making-enchiladas type of banger. I realized that Meghan had ditched the upright bass and the Hammond B and swapped in a ‘90s pop drum kit. The bass literally booms. There’s some vintage Max Martin chord progressions in the chorus. She even mimicks the flow of Mya’s 2003 hit, “My  Love is like… Wo.” Like I said, banger.

“My name is no / My sign is no / My number is no / You need to let it go,” she sings, emphasizing the dude’s absurd request with each and every sassy “no." She reinforces the permanence and finality that the word no represents. No means no. She’s not succumbing to any guy this time, and there definitely will be no grocery shopping—unless it’s at her request. “If I want a man, then I'mma get a man / But it's never my priority,” she sings.

The lyrics promoted the opposite of what Trainor was being chastised for upon her mainstream arrival. It’s an empowerment anthem, but this time, we don't have to filter out problematic lyrics to enjoy it. It’s a flat fuck-you to men feeling entitled to approach women, who, in turn, usually refuse unsolicited attention. I’d suggest that she’s overcompensating for her mistakes, but M has always been about her own independence… she just had to recognize how other women value independence to become more relatable.

I’m not writing off the sexist things Meghan has said in the past; those will not be forgotten. But, whether it’s intentional or not, it seems like “Nø" is her building block to creating more socially aware pop music that everyone can enjoy—even skinny feminists who don’t feel obligated to buy groceries for their future husbands.