All About That Bass, All About That BS: The racial undertones of Meghan Trainor

The popular summer anthem “All About That Bass” by Meghan Trainor at first appears to be a lighthearted, body-positive song, if nothing indicating great musical virtuosity. However, upon closer examination, both the song and the music video bring up numerous issues of race and cultural appropriation, and definitely cross some significant racial boundaries. Unfortunately, by sending a positive message for women with curves, the song, as well as the music video that goes with it, manages to degrade both skinny women and black women.

The first thing to discuss here is the topic of the song itself. Beauty ideals have always been an integral part of the concept of race, and Trainor certainly addresses that in the song/ music video. Being curvy has not traditionally been considered a beauty ideal because it was associated with black women, but in her promotion of her own body type, Trainor is trying to bring it to the forefront as a white woman. This in and of itself might not be problematic, except for the fact that the song lyrics, as well as the music video, draw such clear race lines. Trainor’s use of black back-up dancers in her music video is intended to send the message that the video is racially diverse, and better yet, that Trainor is therefore cool or edgy by association with black culture. However all it really does is objectify black women – an issue most apparent when one of the black backup dancers shakes her but in a provocative way and the only skinny white back up dancer actually grabs it.

The language in the song itself is another problem. When Trainor’s says in her song she’s “bringing booty back” it doesn’t seem as if there is a racial connotation to the phrase since the idea is sending a positive message for curvy girls, but there is definitely an argument for the term “booty” being appropriation. “Booty” arose as a part of black culture in the US, and one could definitely make the argument that the use of that term by a white singer who has no cultural claim to it is simply further objectifying black women. One critical article defined the problem as follows:

“Booty outside of the pirate context has long been used to evoke the stereotypical image of a black woman with a large, round butt. This particular racial trope has been used by white people to objectify, fetishize, and sexualize black women by our media and our white supremacist culture, then white girls apply it to themselves in a positive context”

There are numerous other problems with the language used in the song beyond the use of specific words as well. The entire song is written in a dialect that Trainor almost guaranteedly would never use in real life, once again walking a very delicate line between “edgy and cool” and “cultural appropriation”.

“All About That Base” raises a lot of critical questions about the way we view race in today’s culture, and in confluence with other trends (like the body-positive/ body acceptance movement). Would Trainor’s song have been viewed as promoting body positivity for curvy girls if it were a black girl singing the song, or would this video be viewed as just another curvy black girl, talking about her own race, and excluding the idea that white women can be curvy too? And perhaps even more disturbing, why does almost no one notice the very distinct racial undertones in a video that after close examination seems to have been built to bring race boundary issues to the forefront?

Jodi & Eleah


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