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On Meghan Trainor and the Limits of #Flawlessness

Getty Images
Getty Images

When disaster strikes, some of us run away from the chaos, and some of us run toward it. Meghan Trainor’s new album is called Thank You.

Let’s not do the obvious thing. Trainor, the crack songwriter turned wildly unlikely pop star, has been an object of easy derision and uneasy fascination since her debut single — the cheerfully hokey, Sir Mix-a-Lot–baiting opus “All About That Bass” — achieved “Macarena” levels of wincing ubiquity in 2014. Freed now from its playlist-clogging shackles, it’s a spry, winsome, even lovely song; not so the more wayward jams on Trainor’s 2015 full-length, Title, a stampede of randy sock-hop debacles that suggest Karmin-esque YouTube covers of Beyoncé songs that mercifully do not exist. Recall the Stepford Wife fantasia “Dear Future Husband,” which attempts to do to modern feminism what the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 did to Chicago; if Zack Snyder ever does a gritty Archie reboot, “DFH” will blare from the soda-fountain jukebox. At least she didn’t rap on that one.

Let’s not do the obvious thing, starting now. Meghan Trainor has one effective muse, which is herself; as a once and future hitmaker — in February, she won the Grammy for Best New Artist, though that’s historically the music-biz equivalent of being handed a live wasp’s nest — she has one viable lane, which is songs about how much she loves herself that might inspire you to love yourself, too. Thank You, which largely swaps the poodle-skirt bullshit for Bruno Marsian spin-class electro funk, is fine when it hews to this theme. (“I Love Me” is catchy, for example.) Here’s a lyrical word for you: breasteses. Here’s a chorus for you: “If I was you / I’d v’wanna be me too,” ad nauseam. It was statistically far more likely that Trainor would accidentally hit Memphis street rapper Yo Gotti with her car than that he would join her in the studio, but there he is, mildly enlivening the Caribbean-lilt snoozer “Better.” She’s useless on ballads, and “Dance Like Yo Daddy” is Macklemore without the white guilt. But don’t be surprised if you become involuntarily obsessed with “NO.”

“NO” is Trainor’s current, insidious hit single about shooting down lusty chumps in the club; the video is a delight. (Suggested college application essay question: What does that factory produce?) It’s vaguely reminiscent of Taylor Swift’s clip for “Shake It Off,” whereupon Swift flaunts her adorable awkwardness amid various social groups (ballerinas, black people) that intimidate her, but in a plainly contrived way. Whereas the nervous clunkiness of “NO” — the sense of a nearly visible thought bubble over Trainor’s head in which she’s picturing the next dance move right before she does it — is awfully endearing, and viscerally real, and way more believable. Trainor may be our one truly relatable pop star, and she takes her perfect imperfections seriously: Last week she briefly deep-sixed her new video for “Me Too” because someone Photoshopped the bejesus out of her. Best-case scenario: She’s an undercover FBI agent, trying her best and improbably succeeding, and one day soon she’ll crack the case and arrest, like, Rita Ora or whomever onstage, on live television. Until then, we get to enjoy pratfalls like this. There is much on Thank You to shake off, but no one shakes it off with more aplomb.

This piece originally appeared in the May 16, 2016, edition of the Ringer newsletter.