Mash WordUp

Things that I think and do

All About That Bass, Means Trouble

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If, like me, the only time you really listen to the radio is when it performs the function of an alarm clock in the morning, you’ll probably be unaware of many of the popular youth beats of today, let alone any raging internet debates surrounding said beats.

A year or so ago it was Blurred Lines, which was condemned widely and banned in several institutions (including my university union) because despite being a remarkably funky tune it did have some quite overt elements of rape and sexist culture therein.

Currently the fad of the internet warriors appears to be Meghan Trainor (yes, with an ‘h’ and an ‘o’) and her equally funky tune All About That Bass.  A song which, despite the title, appears to be about how being fat is great and being skinny is disgusting and morally reprehensible.

I’m reliably informed by YouTube comments on the video (yes, I watched it and scrolled through the comments) that ‘being about bass’ rather than ‘treble’ means that one supports being comfortable as one is rather than feeling the need to add layers to improve (viz., treble).  Sorry, that was a terrible explanation; here’s the comment verbatim:

I think some people are confused by why Meghan puts bass and treble in the song. In musical terms, bass is like raw and real. With treble, when you add more treble to a sound it sounds faker. It’s not bad it is how it is. So when she says ‘I’m all about that bass’ she means I am all about being real and myself. ‘No treble’ as in I’m not going to be fake.

Quite.  Incidentally, the YouTube comments make interesting reading in themselves, contributed by people who presumably have expended more energy listening to this song and analysing its lyrics than I have (that wouldn’t be difficult though).

One particular “article” I came across about this song is on “spoonuniversity.com” and can be found here.  And it was reading this article that gave me the inspiration to write a post rather than merely continue to listen – idle and misinformed – to what is, essentially, a three-minute interlude of musical entertainment.

I won’t go into detail about what the “article” says, because whoever wrote it has already done that – in their “article”.  What the writer seems to have done is to have sat down and listened to a song they had never previously heard, jotted down the lyrics and found a contentious point to make for each verse.

What many people, the author of this “article” included, seem to have forgotten is this: it’s a song.  Yes, many songs are intended to constitute scathing socio-political commentary, but it seems unlikely that Meghan Trainor’s All About That Bass is one of them.  What these many people, the author of this “article” included, seem to have also done is to assume that the song, which does admittedly make frequent reference to female body size and the relative merits thereof, is designed to be a deep and philosophical indictment of skinny culture and female objectification in modern society.  Frankly, it isn’t.

The author cites one line in the song where ‘she mentions that her mama told her not to worry about her size, because “boys like a little more booty to hold at night”’ and states that to her it seems objectifying.  OK, her point that female attractiveness is therefore defined as attractiveness to men is entirely valid – but she must get terribly angry at a lot of songs on the radio, because this sort of theme runs through a huge number of them.  And I agree with her actually, that the choice of vapid and predictable lyrics like these carry such a negative message for girls listening.

But as I say, Trainor is an unlikely candidate for the title of inspirational voice of gender equality and her song wasn’t intended to be so.  There must be more academically viable means of conveying a treatise on body image issues in society than a short and really quite catchy pop song.  In fact, minimal research (consisting of a look at the related links part of the YouTube page) revealed a video entitled Behind the scenes of All About That Bass – and yes, I did watch it.  In said video the “singer” herself reveals the motive behind her song, which presumably is a reliable source of evidence for the significance of the lyrics.

My producer and I wanted to write a fun song…about loving yourself and loving your body, because I don’t think girls love themselves as much as they really should.

Indeed.  Despite the sickly and wishy-washy phrasing, it seems clear in the video that Trainor never meant to heap scorn upon ‘skinny’ people or mock women who don’t have ‘curves in all the right places’ – because that would be bad PR and would also be rather nasty of her.  Presumably she’s decided to carry out her mission statement by adopting the point of view of non-skinny girls (and it is pretty much just about girls) because she feels that fat-shaming is more prevalent than skinny-shaming.

The issue then is that skinny women feel insulted, especially those who struggle with body-confidence issues such as the author of the above “article”.  It is undeniably tragic that people have to go through such mental and presumably physical suffering as she did through her teenage years.  But it doesn’t mean that every song glorifying larger women is a vitriolic attack on skinny people.  The author is as entitled to her opinion as I am to mine, and she does make some good points and does actually admit that she is prejudiced by her experiences growing up, but I think it’s wrong to automatically assume that any song that makes reference to body size is intended to demean or insult anyone of the opposite size (as it were).

Watching the “behind the scenes” video, it’s fairly clear that Meghan Trainor (or the character her PR advisors have made her portray) didn’t think too intently about the message she was putting out.  I highly suspect that some writers chucked out this tune along with some insipid and corny lyrics, and the extent of the decision-making about the release of the song was limited to something like, “ooh that’s catchy and sounds as if it’ll be popular…the words are suitably accessible and vapid too…yeah, let’s go with that”.

All this is not to say that the song is unworthy of discussion in terms of its body-image message – although if that discussion consists of internet forums full of idealistic and misinformed angry people it may well be pointless.  But we should be careful about over-analysing songs and speculating as to their messages.

Trainor might live in a world where unicorns jump over rainbows and fairies sprinkle magic dust over the lovely flowers, and she might have sincerely meant every word of her saccharine, tedious mission statement.  We’ll never know, because her song will be tainted for years to come by its reputation – a reputation created by over-zealous keyboard warriors.

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This entry was posted on October 31, 2014 by in Music, Radio and tagged , , , , , , , , , .
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