Analysis: Meghan Trainor – All About That Bass (Sony Music, 2014)

I know this is a rather enormous deviation away from the stuff that I usually post about but this song has popped up on my radar again recently and honestly I feel compelled to say a few words on it because despite appearances and despite the tremendous amounts of praise being slathered over it from various media outlets (not so much the review houses), I’m not entirely sure this song is as promotional and helpful to women as it’s purported as being.

All About That Bass is being held up as a sort of, I don’t know, Anaconda-lite in that it’s part of a growing wave of Pop songs that seemingly, superficially, promote the idea of body positivity and that “you’re beautiful no matter what size”. Nothing inherently wrong with that of course, and I am absolutely a proponent of that concept, however in so many forms it always seems that someone is taken down a few pegs to raise the position of another, and in this case of course it’s the so-dubbed “curvaceous” women being elevated and the, and I quote, “skinny bitches” who are being demoted.

I don’t want to get too bogged down with the quality of the music itself because that’s not why I’m writing this particular piece, although it’s actually a rather interesting brand of nouveau Motown meets saccharine Pop production. But the important line repeated for the surprisingly vast majority of the song is the first point of contention for me, and it literally opens the piece:

Because I’m all about that bass

‘Bout that bass, no treble

Already the literal cornerstone of the lyrics is suggestive of this one-sidedness and “skinny shaming” that I genuinely believe this song upholds; I haven’t seen many people reference this particular point so perhaps it’s just me but in those two lines she expresses her apparent dislike for “treble”, aka slim people, choosing instead to prefer the “bass”, an obvious reference to those who are curvier with “junk in the trunk”, etc. So in this repetitious chorus that probably dominates 75% of all the sung material she’s subconsciously endorsing and endlessly repeating the idea that curvy people, at least in her view, are the preferable option. Not a great start.

And it actually goes further than that; the most contentious line of the album has been turned over by many thousands of others in the last few months due to its just totally unnecessary addition to the piece and suggestiveness of ulterior motives, and for good reason:

I’m bring booty back

Go ahead and tell them skinny bitches that

No I’m playing I know you think you’re fat

Honestly, I don’t get how you can get much clearer than that; regardless of what she goes on to say, I think there is almost no need whatsoever to include the frankly demeaning phrase “skinny bitches” in preference of pretty much any other identifier. In fact, the entire segment is unnecessary in context since we’re supposed to be promoting beauty in all body types right? Why bother adding something debasing only to then pass it off as a joke when the issue is clearly a serious point of the song? Moreover, there’s a few other lines in the rather limited dialogue that I think amplify the underlying implications of that line.

my mama told me don’t worry about your size

She says “Boys like a little more booty to hold at night”

???

For a song that, once again, seems to be about the idea of body positivity and being comfortable in your own skin, not being concerned with the approval of others and so on, it says right there before your very eyes that she is or at least has been concerned about her body size/shape in regards to the attraction of the opposite sex and continues to seek male approval of her body shape, and in fact even goes as far to suggest that being bigger is preferable to being skinny because that way more boys will like you for your increased bum size, for whatever reason. This is hinted at in the first “verse” actually: “But I can shake it shake it, Like I’m supposed to do”, because there apparently isn’t anything else women are supposed to do with their body other than shake it around for the satisfaction of men -_-

Credit where credit’s due, as minimal as it is, there are a few points here where it almost comes close to starting to redeem itself, with requests to stop or at least limit the amount of Photoshop that goes into mass media (oddly ironic considering the airbrush quality skin of the various members in the video) and there is at least some kind of heartfelt honesty in “Every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top”, although it does feel a little hollow given the rest of the lyrical content at this point.

Looked at closely I definitely think there are some seriou lyrical oversights introduced in the name of keeping this catchy whilst avoiding being preachy. The distinct lack of “important” lyrical content and the obnoxiously repeated, well, everything, saves that and it is most definitely an earworm, no question, but it doesn’t take more than a cursory glance of the lyrics to tell you that this is being oversold and misrepresented. I’m glad that other people can see some of its relatively obvious flaws, I just get the impression that people want this to so desperately be a pro-everybody piece that they’re overlooking a lot of subtle slurs that not only propagate the notion of skinny shaming in their own little way but also the continual acquisition of male approval, even though it feels like these are the things it was kind of trying to avoid in the first place.

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