When 2014 began, Massachusetts native Meghan Trainor was an aspiring artist and little-known songwriter with big dreams. A multi-instrumentalist who was producing her own tracks at age 13, Trainor had penned a handful of songs for artists like Rascal Flatts and Hunter Hayes by the time she brought her ukulele to audition for Epic Records chief L.A. Reid last February. “Afterward, I sat alone in the conference room with no cell phone thinking I’d blown it,” she recalls. However by the time 2014 ended, Trainor, who turned 21 in December, was a full-blown pop star with a multi-week No. 1 single, two Grammy nominations, and a sold-out headline tour on the horizon.
Last June, Trainor’s debut “All About That Bass” — a supremely catchy body-positivity ode that she wrote to encourage herself and other curvy girls to love themselves no matter what — quickly became one of the best-selling singles of all time, topping the charts in 58 countries. It spent a record-breaking eight weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, was certified 6x-platinum, and earned Trainor and her co-writer and producer Kevin Kadish 2015 Grammy nominations for Record of the Year and Song of the Year. (Its candy-colored video has been viewed over 480 million times and counting.) Trainor turned in jubilant performances of “All About That Bass” everywhere from The Ellen DeGeneres Show to The Tonight Show’s music room (backed by Jimmy Fallon and The Roots playing classroom instruments) and did a victory lap across the U.S. on The Jingle Ball Tour, which culminated in Nick Jonas leading 20,000 people in singing “Happy Birthday” to her at the show in Tampa. “All About That Bass” quickly became a cultural phenomenon, its popularity making it a ripe target for parody, inspiring NASA’s “All About That Space” and Nerdist’s Star Wars-themed “All About That Base: No Rebels.” Even Justin Bieber covered the song, posting a remix with Maejor Ali to YouTube in October. “When I saw that, I was like, ‘That’s it. I’m famous. It’s done,’” Trainor says.
But Trainor was only getting started with “All About That Bass.” In January she released her debut album Title, which brings her flair for indelible melody to an irresistible blend of ’50s doo-wop, throwback hip-hop, blue-eyed soul, and classic pop. “I wanted to bring in the old-school feel, but I wanted to keep it very modern,” Trainor says. “Every time I felt a song going too old school I’d say to Kevin, ‘Let’s put a rap here and some 808s there and make sure it pops, so when this plays in a club it goes hard. My dad always says there are too many slow songs in the world, so I like to make sure there’s some kind of beat.”
Trainor’s other goal was to write chatty lyrics that would reach a wide cross-section of listeners. “A fan came up to me once and said, ‘Yo, thank you for writing the way we speak,’ so I made sure every song was like a conversation and what someone might actually say,” she explains. The lyrical tone is in keeping with the relatability of her story-telling, with songs about the morning after a hook-up (“Walkashame”), tipsy texting (“3am”), and shady, lying exes (Top 5 second single “Lips Are Movin”). Entertainment Weekly has called Title “Real-girl pop with massive charm.”
When Trainor sat down to write, she asked herself what she would want to hear. “I wanted to talk about the mistakes I made growing up,” she says. “I wanted someone to tell me, ‘Make sure he treats you perfectly before you do anything with him.’ My mom and I are very close and she always said, ‘Love yourself,’ but I never got the Guy Talk; the ‘Make Sure He Takes You On A Proper Date’ talk. So I wrote songs about it for younger girls who have to go through that without getting the talk, too.”
“Dear Future Husband” lays down the rules about how she wants to be treated, finding her cheekily advising the fellow in question: “Take me on a date, I deserve it babe / And don’t forget the flowers every anniversary.” “I told Kevin that I wanted to write a letter to my future husband and he was like, ‘He’s out there somewhere and I hope he’s taking notes,’” Trainor says with a laugh. On “Title” Trainor warns her man: “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.” “It was a concept I was really struggling with,” she says. “I was like, ‘Man, I’m sick of all these guys just treating me horribly; hooking up with me and then being with someone else the next day. Let’s talk about it.’” Trainor gets a bit more emotional on “Like I’m Gonna Lose You,” a song she wrote years ago with Nashville songwriters Justin Weaver and Caitlyn Smith and which features John Legend (with whom Trainor shares a manager). “John brought soul and feeling to it,” she says. “He really understood the lyrics and captured them perfectly in his verse.”
Title is the work of a singular talent and it’s obvious from listening to it that Trainor may be young, but she is no newbie to the craft of songwriting. Growing up on the island of Nantucket, an hour boat ride and two-hour drive from Boston, Trainor turned to making music at age 11, partially because there wasn’t much else to do. Her father, a musician, played her James Brown, Ray Charles, jazz, and doo-wop records, the latter striking a chord in her. “It was the catchiest stuff,” she says. “The Chordettes’ ’Lollipop’ — that was my jam,” she says. When Trainor showed an aptitude for writing songs, her dad got her a MacBook with GarageBand. “As a kid, I thought Britney Spears wrote her own songs. I thought everyone did, And I was like, ‘Well, I’ve got to get going if I want to be a pop star, right? So let’s do this,’” she says. After self-releasing two albums, she landed a publishing deal at 18 and, instead of accepting the full scholarship offered by Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music, Trainor spent her late teens flying back and forth between her home and Los Angeles to team up with producers and artists on songwriting sessions.
In a writing session with Kadish, a Grammy-nominated producer and songwriter who’s also worked with Miley Cyrus and Jason Mraz, inspiration struck in the form of “All About That Bass,” which came out in 40 minutes. “When it first became a hit, I was like, ‘This is going to last for a second.’ Now it has a life of its own,” she says. It has also changed her life. “Over the last year, I’ve made a bunch of new friends and I’ve grown up a lot,” she says. “I can say I’ve done things that a lot of 21-year-olds haven’t done. Every single one of my dreams has already come true. That’s pretty cool. I did all of it. Now I need to make a new goal board!”