Emma Velez, fellow writer and music fan here at The Second Shift, has recently written about the search for a feminist anthem of 2014, promoting Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux and citing “contentious” contender Megan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” as potential runner-up. In her piece, Emma references another article over at Feministing about the disappointing lyrics that your average pop-loving feminist must contend with in Trainor’s song. Feministing writer Chloe Angyal is on point in a lot of ways, but the last point. She writes: “Basically, it seems to be really hard to write a song about body acceptance that’s actually about accepting all bodies.”
So, I’m gonna be a bit pedantic here (hi, my name is SA and I’m an academic) and guess that it’s actually not that hard. While it’s true that I spend most of my time watching Murder, She Wrote and am not exactly “current” on the capacities of pop music and culture writ large, I do know that affirming music in danceable, cryable, sing-along-able forms have existed for decades, for people of color, queer people, indigenous people, etc. for ever. Much like countless others have noted on the inaccurate claims of white people trying to bring things back that never left, or letting the rest of us in on things they have just discovered, body affirming music exists. That it isn’t technically “popular” has more to do with the usual suspects of systemic patriarchy, antiblack/POC misogyny, and more.
Take Mz. 007′s new amazing song “Important.” Unlike Trainor who in the chorus has her momma’s (creepy) confirmation that she needn’t worry about her body simply because she’d bag herself a nice
“ass man,” Mz. 007 starts off with a hilarious anecdote effectively shutting down anyone who tries to talk shit about her or her weight. She then proceeds to lay down a catchy rousing party anthem that is equal part “IDGAF, I’m faded” and part “I Am Somebody.” The lyrics aren’t about embodiment, specifically, but her in your face swagger and sweet St. Louis fashion present a direct challenge–not to thinner women, or whiter women, or anyone in the rap game in particular, but a direct challenge to anyone or anything that would try to remove or repress any worth that she derives from within herself.
Yes, this track is particularly important (see what I did there?), especially at a time where black children, girls in particular, are considered by mainstream society to not be beautiful. Or not worth saving. When Megan Trainor can be all about that bass, but Nicki Minaj’s superbass, specifically that “boom boom bass” (also Trainor’s lyrics, co-optively enough), elicits a range of feelings from ire to slut shaming to rape fantasies. Where black bodies in towns just minutes away from Mz007’s home are gunned down and left for hours in the streets before being tossed into unmarked cars. Where women are dragged from elevators after being punched unconscious by their partners and then blamed for staying (more on this later). In the face of constant global messages of black people and black women’s negligible worth, a youthful, carefree anthem whose embodiment on screen in the music video tossing her hair back and asking for another drink screams “I AM Somebody,” somebody gorgeous, somebody important is precisely what we need. For so often we are given the wrong message that self-affirmation must stem from the rejection of normative ideals AND their embodiment. While Trainor’s self-penned lyrics are my current source of comparison in this piece, this is not to pit one musician against another. The Feministing article does a good job of pointing out the more salient critique of toxic traditions like Photoshop as a feminist gesture, as well as the ambivalences of the feminist listener of pop or rap music. And on a larger scale, the general disappointment with the new trend in “coming out as feminist” has been noted, too. Trainor is a part of a genre of contemporary music with a very long tradition of telling women that their worth is bound up in male attention and the ability to be competitively successful in acquiring it.
“Important” revels in a feel good anthem of self-affirmation that allows me to sing along at no one else’s expense. Except bartenders who will have to deal with my new insufferable request: Pass me another drink. I’m coming through. I’m gorgeous.