“Title” by Meghan Trainor

Now, there are plenty of people who hate Meghan Trainor. The amateur critics tend to hate her because she defied the politically correct politics popular among that demographic in ways that are ultimately trivial but were blown out of proportion by angry internet ranters. The professional critics’ disdain for her is harder to explain. I suspect it’s because, like Taylor Swift, she’s too overtly commercial for the snobs that dominate that field, and too legitimate an artist for them to simply dismiss her condescendingly the way they do acts like Katy Perry and Rihanna. But unlike Taylor Swift, she hasn’t achieved such an obvious level of success that dismissing her outright seems ridiculous on its face, so they presumably see her as an easier target.

That said, Trainor’s second album, Thank You, was greeted as something of a disappointment even by her fans, and this is probably because it didn’t live up to the extremely high standard set by her first. Granted, that can’t entirely explain Thank You‘s negative reception, since many of its detractors didn’t like this album either. But I’m going to come right out and say that anyone who thinks Titleis a bad album is presumably operating under some sort of bias.

The superior quality of this album compared to her sophomore effort is partly because the Fifties Doo-Wop sound she drew on here is simply a richer vein of music than the Nineties Pop pastiche she attempted on Thank You, but it goes beyond that. The songwriting on Thank You, while it featured several excellent moments like “I Love Me” and “Champagne Problems”, was much more uneven and generally less consistent than the superb writing on display here. It makes sense, if you think about it…Trainor had presumably been working on these songs for years, whereas her next album had to be squeezed out in a hurry around the edges of her touring schedule. That’s certainly the usual reason for the Sophomore Slump phenomenon, and I imagine it applies here too.

This album is bookended by two killer singles. The showstopping “All About That Bass” was the first sign Pop music was improving toward the end of 2014, and the deliciously sassy “Lips Are Movin” was one of the crop of songs that confirmed it. But the album has plenty of glories beyond its two smash hits. The high point is unquestionably the sublimely beautiful ballad “Like I’m Gonna Lose You”, but the inspiring “Close Your Eyes” and the tender “What If I” almost equal it in loveliness.

The only real dud on the whole album is the obnoxious “Bang Them Sticks”. Many people will be downright offended by that statement, specifically because of the implication that I don’t consider “Dear Future Husband” to be a ‘dud’. And I’ll admit that this song has an oddly dated view of gender relations that makes for slightly uncomfortable listening if you take it at face value, even if it’s far less sexist than many songs of the actual era it’s pastiching and may have been designed specifically as a tribute to that era. But its problems have been so vastly blown out of proportion by the internet political correctness claque that I’m inclined to defend it at this point. Besides, the fact remains that the music itself is absolutely sensational, and you could make a strong case that’s all that should matter.

The title track (no pun intended) has come under fire by the same groups, but for the life of me I can’t imagine why. I admit I’m not a woman and perhaps am therefore not entirely qualified to judge, but I honestly can’t understand how a girl essentially saying “I don’t want to be ‘friends with benefits’, acknowledge me as your girlfriend or I won’t sleep with you” is somehow degrading to women. Personally, I’d argue the sentiment is rather empowering if anything, and once again the music is so good that it really shouldn’t matter. Also, people in general seem to miss that much of this album is fairly tongue-in-cheek, as the winningly self-deprecating “Walkashame” and the ruefully funny “3AM” demonstrate. The latter sounds rather like if Darius Rucker’s “Drinkin’ and Dialin’” and Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now” had a baby that was then adopted and raised as a Doo-Wop song.

People were particularly incensed when Trainor won the Best New Artist Grammy for this album, but I’d argue she deserved it as much as any of the nominees, and more than most. For those who don’t know, while they apparently changed the rules later this year, Best New Artist awards used to be directly tied to specific albums. And Title didn’t face a great deal of competition from, say, Sam Hunt’s Montevallo, an ambitious and daring experiment that nonetheless ended in disaster, or Tori Kelly’s painfully generic Unbreakable Smile, or James Bay’s terminally turgid Chaos and the Calm.

It did have one valid competitor in Courtney Barnett’s Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, and I don’t envy the Grammy committee for having to choose between them. Not only are they both outstanding works in totally different fields (mainstream Pop and Lo-Fi Indie Rock), but they have totally different strengths and emphases. Trainor is above all a wonderful tunesmith, while Barnett is known mostly as a brilliant lyricist, setting her complex lyrical explorations to tunes that are little more than functional.

But ultimately, Barnett’s album is not the type that typically wins Grammys anyway…the Grammys do love them some Indie Rock, but they generally prefer their Indie Rock a bit more accessible than Barnett’s work. So even though Sometimes I Sit and Think was at the opposite extreme from this album in terms of critical praise, I don’t think it was either a surprise or an injustice that Trainor was awarded the prize. This may not be the kind of ‘serious’, ambitious project that its only real competitor was, but it is every bit as excellent an example of its field, and the critics, both amateur and professional, that argued otherwise are simply wrong.

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