Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” has been stuck in the top five of the Billboard Hot 100—not to mention everyone’s head—for a few weeks now, giving us all a chance to contemplate its mixed messages. While the earworm is ostensibly about body positivity, Trainor disses “skinny bitches” and “stick figure[s]”—suggesting that not all bodies are worthy of pride. Trainor assures the adolescent girls who are presumably her target audience, “Every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top,” but her support for this claim is that “boys like a little more booty”—perfection apparently depends on male approval. Despite the girl-power packaging, “All About That Bass” reinforces the idea that female bodies exist for men’s pleasure, and that being desired by a man is crucial to a woman’s self-worth. It says it’s all about that bass, but it seems it’s really all about the boys.
Even if you were willing to give Trainor the benefit of the doubt, her new single makes clear that the sexist, faux-feminist message of “All About That Bass” was no fluke.
“Title” is the cri de coeur of a woman who’s tired of being seen as a casual hookup by the man in her life. “Baby, don’t call me a friend./ If I hear that word again,/ you might never get a chance to see me naked in your bed,” Trainor sings, by way of warning her man that if he doesn’t “give [her] that title”—girlfriend, presumably—she’s leaving him.
The sentiment behind the song is certainly understandable. Virtually everyone has been in the frustrating position of wanting more from a potential romantic partner than that person is willing or able to give. Women, who are generally socialized to be deferential and not too assertive—and who often fear coming across as desperate, due to stereotypes perpetuated by pop culture—find this type of situation particularly challenging. Given this context, Trainor’s confidence to ask directly for what she wants is admirable.
But what she wants—and what she’s willing to do to get it—sets a terrible example for young women trying to learn how to stand up for themselves. “You gotta show me off,” she tells her would-be boyfriend in the song’s rap interlude. “You gotta treat me like a trophy./ Put me on the shelf.” Trainor is asking, quite explicitly, to be objectified, as if she were nothing more than a prize. And once again she is sending the message that a woman’s worth is defined by men. Trainor doesn’t want to be this guy’s girlfriend because she really likes spending time with him; she wants to be his girlfriend so that she can feel validated by the status of being his girlfriend.
This isn’t even to mention that Trainor’s tactic for getting the relationship status she wants—withholding sex until she gets it—is pretty manipulative (not an auspicious start for a relationship!), and that her plea (“Give me that title”) implies that committed relationships are something that men grant to women, not something that men and women agree on mutually. Virtually every line of “Title” perpetuates a retrograde belief about relationships.
To be fair, lots of pop music lyrics perpetuate retrograde beliefs. But when they do, they don’t usually get praised for sending a good message to young people. Regardless of whether Trainor ever makes it to the top of the Billboard charts, it’s time to strip her of the title she’s already been awarded again and again: “role model.”