It’s early afternoon, and I’m on my way to meet global megastar Meghan Trainor at a studio in Shoreditch. I’ve had her track ‘Watch Me Do’ on repeat in my ears for the past fifteen minutes. After the first play, I started walking with a bit of swag, almost to the beat, holding my head a little higher than it was when I left the house. By listen five I’m in full on girl band mode, popping my hips and ready to finger snap anyone that crosses me. The hook is insane, the beat is naughty, and I’ve suddenly found myself feeling powerfully feminine, cat walking down the road like I’m in my own personal music video. It’s addictive pop in its purest form – and I’m not ashamed to say – I’ve even taken a longer route to the studio so I can get another hit.
It’s the same buzz 14-year-old I got in 2004 when JoJo dropped ‘Leave (get out)’. Every girl at my school would scream it at the top of their lungs over the school disco’s smoke machine, firing it out at the boys who’d refused us the slow dance and therefore broken our hearts. It happened again in 2008 when Beyoncé reminded said boys, that if they’d liked it, then they should have put a ring on it. All us single ladies, a few years older but none the wiser, whipped out the leotards and frantically shook our ring fingers at the men who’d stupidly let us go. United, just like we were with JoJo, by an anthem. And now, here I am at 27 strutting down a street in East London, headphones on, trying not to pout and mouth the lyrics at myself in shop windows and passing cars.
I mean, I’m trying REALLY hard.
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‘Watch Me Do’ is catchy as hell and it’s an anthem in the truest sense of the word. Sultry vocals, cheeky lyrics and a badass baseline that is to millennials are what Destiny’s Child’s ‘Independent Women’ was to us noughties kids: a game changer. We saw it in 2014 with Trainor’s ‘All About That Bass’ – the doo-wop pop overnight sensation that made its maker the first ever artist to chart in the Official Singles Top 40 based purely on streams. It reached Number One in 58 countries and became one of the bestselling singles of all time. Everyone from my nan to the window cleaner was whipping out the “all the right junk in all the right places” lyrics at the height of the single’s summer success.
Its creator was American singer-songwriter and record producer Meghan Trainor who had signed her publishing deal on a lunch break at high school with every intention of writing for other people. Instead, through circumstances that she would describe as “a dream come true”, she brought the bass herself at just 21 years old. Now she’s back.
When I meet Meghan, she’s in hair and makeup surrounded by her glam team. They’re giggling and chatting like three best mates at a sleepover – girly, spirited but focused on the task at hand. I’m told it’s taking forever, but I’m guessing that’s on account of how much fun they’re having.
I make a quick judgement on the girl I see before me. Meghan’s got the ‘good girl’ vibe of Taylor Swift combined with the confidence of a Back to Basics era Christina. Super sweet but sassy, the girl next door with a fiery edge. I look back to the team preparing Meghan for the shoot – one lifting Meghan’s hair for Va Va Voom heights for today’s glamorous shoot, the other chatting away to what could be, a best friend. I really want to join in this party, and luckily Meghan’s more than happy to invite me in.
When we sit down to talk, she’s complimentary and inquisitive, ensuring she keeps eye contact – she’s media trained but still Trainor. I ask her what’s changed since the first album, (aside from the low hater diet).
“Well, we dyed my hair! We dyed my hair red!” she exclaims, spinning round on the chair and undoing one of the curls so I can get a proper look. “We wanted something different because the album is so different. So it’s sassier, just like the album!”
The album in question, the upcoming ‘Thank You’ is definitely sassier – my swag to the studio proves it. It’s got an urban 90’s kick that would give N Sync’s breakdowns a serious run for their money while ensuring Meghan’s vocals take centre stage – one of the only similarities to her debut album ‘Title’.
“I didn’t have as much freedom (on the first album) as I did on this one,” she says. “The last album they loved the bass thing, the 50’s thing was working. [So] the label said ‘Let’s do a whole album like that!’ I did sneak in some urban, some rap songs and I was told to my face, ‘You’re gonna ruin this album’. It’s very hard because everybody has their opinions of what you’re gonna do to ruin your career. So at the end of the day, I just go with my gut.”
That gut instinct became the fifteen-track album Thank You written in three months which is set to show Meghan like we haven’t seen her before. “I kept writing doo-wop thinking that was right and the label turned around and said, ‘You’re doing what everyone expects you to do. Why don’t you be the songwriter you say you are and shake it up?’ So I said ‘Make me a beat that Meghan Trainor wouldn’t do’, and we wrote ‘No’ in a couple of hours. Once they heard it, the label freaked out; everyone freaked out. It was like ‘THAT’S what we’re talking about!’ They wanted the song that every other artist wished they had and I was like… ‘Got it!’”
She has it, and in abundance too. Stepping away from the sugary/doo wap blend, Trainor injects plenty of funk into the mix. Citing Bruno Mars and James Brown as influences, the result is a little hip hop, a little old school RnB but a lot of Girl Power. “We tried to put more urban into it – and I tried to rap more.” She pauses, looks me straight in the eye and then bursts out laughing. “I mean I did NOT expect to rap! I was writing songs and one day I thought ‘You know what? I’m just gonna rap on this one’ as a joke, so I tried it and was like, ‘hang on… I can rap! I’m good at this! I have rhythm!’”
I agree, she can rap, and it’s a skill I admire. But where did it come from? “You know lyrics are last usually. A lot of these songs came from me in my shower, just singing melodies and clapping my hands! I was like throwing them up – they would come so fast, and I’d shout for my best friend to run in and record it on an iPhone, or I’d lose it! I’ve written whole songs in the shower – it’s crazy!”
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I note that she’s transformed somewhat from the bubblegum blonde that burst on the scene in the viral video of ‘All About That Bass’. The infamous video for the song in which Meghan seemed to own the conversation about her body was contradicted by the visuals which appeared to value the traditional 50’s feminine aesthetic and, in my opinion, stood in stark contrast to the empowerment of the song, so I ask her to discuss this.
“That first thing I ever did was the music video for (‘All About That) Bass’, and I had no management, I had no glam team, I was terrified – I just remember eight hands were all over me shoving me into these outfits and they were like ‘GO!’ And I was just faking it! A lot of my first year was fake it till you make it. I had no idea what I was doing.”
She laughs it off heartily, but despite the confident demeanour she presents to me today, she confides that before the song that catapulted her onto the airwaves and into the homes of millions, she was really struggling with her self-esteem.
“I wrote that song, and I did not feel that way while writing it. It was more like, ‘I WISH I felt like this’. A lot of my songs were like that, ‘I wish I felt like this’. I was so insecure when I was younger; we would go the grocery store and my mum, and I would see the magazines that on display while you wait to purchase all your food, and I’d be like, ‘Ma is that real? How does she look that perfect?’ I remember being 13 and Christina Aguilera’s ‘Beautiful’ was the only thing that I was really like ‘ok love yourself Meghan! Finally, you are beautiful!’ I wanted to make something fun and upbeat that would maybe really help people.” She goes on, “I still get asked ‘was it your intention to bash skinny people?’ NO! Absolutely not. I just wrote a fun song to help ME out with my insecurities – and the world loved it – that’s all I have.”
We don’t dwell on it for too long. Meghan then and Meghan now are two very different people – they look different, sound different, but naturally one version has informed the other. It was the making of her, and she knows it. She says, “I remember driving into the city into Boston thinking, ‘Imagine if all these people who lived here knew my name’ and I remember that moment, like how crazy would that be? So when ‘All About That Bass’ came out I thought, ‘Now the entire world is listening and wants to hear something from me’. Then, after the Grammy, I was like, OK they’re definitely listening now. I have to come through with some big songs, something powerful, a big message.”
Does she feel responsible for promoting a positive message in her music? “Absolutely, I noticed that the girls are listening and that they need this. A lot of young girls have told me – and parents have told me – that my music has saved their daughter’s lives or it’s made them confident enough to go back to school. You’re at this level where the whole world is gonna listen to what you’re saying – so you have to do something awesome.”
It’s that unashamed spirit of Girl Power that I like the most about Meghan. She’s a girl’s girl for sure; sweet, genuine and always upbeat. She stops between answers when she notices herself in the mirror, “Oh shut up girl, it’s on!” she exclaims once her eyelashes have been fixed on. She’s beaming, genuinely happy and, maybe, a little surprised by her reflection.
“Man, I was at a place before where I didn’t want to take a picture of myself you know? I was just too insecure to think that I was pretty enough to be the artist, or that I could perform live or do photoshoots and now I can’t wait for the next photo shoot so I can Instagram a cool pic! I Instagrammed a selfie today because I was like dang, I look beautiful!”
Having opened up the conversation on body image two years ago, I wonder how much pressure she feels to maintain something real and authentic especially with the rise of the Instagram generation; teens and in-betweens sculpting, filtering and striving for the ‘perfect image’. “I mean with Instagram and all the Photoshopping apps that I see I think no matter what we do, it’s gonna be there forever! And it’s almost gotten worse! It’s just crazy to me, and I worry about my little cousins! I’m always saying ‘don’t be using all those apps! Don’t be shaving off your nose, tweaking your face, just put it up normal!’”
But Meghan herself is still up against it as she explains; “…we’re working on my album packaging at the moment, and I want more photos in there because I remember opening up Beyoncé’s and seeing all the beautiful pictures. I thought – that’s what I want, but they’re Photoshopping the crap out of me! I called them, and I’m like, ‘I’m insulted yo! Please give me my nose back! I like my nose bump; I’m fine with that!’ I asked my label, ‘Have you heard my song?! It goes ‘I see the magazines working that Photoshop, we know that shit ain’t real, come on now, make it stop!’ You can’t do that! I have the original pictures, and there’s nothing wrong with them! I look the BOMB!’ But it never ends!”
In an industry where women are often caught up somewhere between sex appeal and submission, she’s unapologetically confident, once again taking control of the conversation and owning her ground. But this time it’s different, she’s self-assured and open with not only an awareness of the responsibility she has now but the confidence to act upon it.
“We need more women anthems in the world! I have a tonne of those on this new album, especially a song called ‘Woman Up’ – it’s me talking to a girlfriend that just got dumped, and I’m like ‘Girrrrrrl put your heels on, let’s go out and have a good time tonight – WOMAN UP!’ You know?! Because they have ‘man up’, why shouldn’t we have ‘woman up’? We need it – we just gon’ keep going!”
Interview Hana Walker-Brown
Art Director + Photographer Charlotte Rutherford @ LMC Worldwide
Set Designer Penny Mills
Stylist Kylie Griffiths
Hair Lorien Meillon using UNITE Eurotherapy products with Croc Hot tools
Makeup Alison Christian using Hourglass Cosmetics and Kevyn Aucoin product
Fashion Assistants Thomas Ramshaw and Kirstin Bautista