Review: Meghan Trainor Justifies Her Uncanny-Valley-Girl Pop on ‘Thank You’
Release Date: May 13, 2016
Label: Epic / Sony
A brief history of the term “breasteses” in 21st-century pop, presented without commentary:
Kanye West, “Breathe In Breathe Out” (2004): “Coulda sworn her breasteses was sending me messages”
Lady Sovereign’s “Love Me or Hate Me” (2006): “I ain’t got the biggest breasteses / But I write all the besteses”
Jay Z, on Beyoncé’s “Drunk in Love” (2013): “Your breasteses is my breakfast”
M. Trainor, “Watch Me Do” (2016): “I ain’t saying I’m the besteses / But I got nice curves, nice breasteses”
You’re forgiven if you thought Fergie popped the B-word at one point too; the duTchess gets the honorary degree on this one. But Meghan Trainor raps better than Stacy Ferguson and Gwen Stefani combined, so we’ll let her have it. She may not be the best, but she may yet be the besteses: Thank You is a major step forward from 2014’s unlikable Title, and someone you’re rooting against is in it to win it. This is okay. We were ready to dump Bieber before he dunked the buzzer with “Where Are Ü Now” and “What Do You Mean?” at the 11th hour. Ashlee Simpson’s lip-sync-era flop “Outta My Head (Ay Ya Ya)” was a deft matrimony between Cyndi Lauper and Timbaland. And the long-forgotten Matisyahu’s tree-falls-in-a-forest “Live Like a Warrior” — which you have no reason to know — is a killer.
Pop redemption is a Thing: People who weren’t destined to make anything worth taking seriously will either get rich or bored enough to try and engage the not-faithful with a cool risk. Or when you hire expensive help, it occasionally nets you an expensive chorus. And it’s unto us again: Trainor’s incredible “NO” ought to wipe out the pastel-colored trauma from “All About That Bass,” and may even convince you she’s not pop’s answer to Janice from Friends.
A multi-layered tribute to TRL, the verses of “NO” ride vintage Britney/Max Martin, the pre-chorus buildup is an obvious homage to bandmates-era Bey, and the chorus has some TLC in it. The end result is seamless; it’s glorious, and damningly, there really isn’t another 2016 star it makes sense for. Trainor once again succeeds at that small-potatoes message thing: Whereas “Bass” advocated for all-sizes self-love, “NO” does the same for all-sizes agency. You’re surprised she gets suitors. She’s surprised you do too.
While “NO” is the besteses in show, all Thank You has to do is not lay down and play dead, which it’s okay at, thanks in large to era-saving producer Ricky Reed. The will.i.am-goes-SOPHIE “Me Too” becomes a more vibrant Gap commercial in the chorus than Lizzo’s “Good as Hell,” and the audacious Moulin Rouge-goes-James-Brown opener “Watch Me Do” twists a lot of hooks and drum fills (fills! In 2016!) into something spacious and funky for Mark Ronson’s next album. The paper dub plate “Better” exposes Yo Gotti as the only rapper willing to get down in her DMs, and “Dance Like Yo Daddy” even manages to improve Christina Aguilera’s Back to Basics rather than pouring sulfuric acid over the Andrew Sisters.
The worst tunes here are significantly less irritating than the second-best song on Title (whose first-best was not “Bass” but the No Doubt-evoking “Mr. Almost”). Ballads like “Just a Friend to You” suck but not significantly, and unlike her doomed homeboy Charlie Puth, they are fewer. There are more pleasant surprises toward the end of Thank You than expected lulls: “Champagne Problems” is probably the best Carly Rae Jepsen impression anyone else has yet attempted, even if she should leave the Buzzfeed-buzzards satire to Weird Al. As with several tunes here, Trainor’s well-honeyed harmony skills even render the gushing Beanie Baby “Mom” not just listenable but replayable — if you cut the bonus track off before the goop-encrusted phone call she decided was a bridge, anyway.
There were many worse ways for the bass-hooked “I Love Me” to end up, which signifies the biggest shock of this thing. The self-infatuation on this album is less attempted-clever and more ambient, a body-posi constant that gives the plethora of tasty palm-muted figures and colorful production settings a semblance of gravity even if it becomes the favorite of the “Yaaas queen”-abusing straight Facebook friend you had to unfollow. But I’m sorry: Her recent tussle over being videoshopped without consent is a bigger deal than her televised pratfall.
Most of those who don’t deny Thank You is a huge leap out of Hades will claim it to be Reed’s Everest, turning his least likable client into a studio-pro wunderkind and continuing his mission to put syncopated funk dynamics and non-synth instrumentation back into pop. But some credit should be given to the star, whose accusations get the inverse of Ms. Jepsen: Yes, Trainor has Too Much Personality the way one might have a dangerous amount of white blood cells. Yes, she’ll probably be co-hosting Morning Joe in 2036. Do your best to pretend you’re not consciously admiring the way the RIAA’s own Tracy Flick comes off here, with her half-joking me-talk and yes, her boasteses, and you may yet give her that title: satisfactory.