Mar 11, 2016
Meghan Trainor’s “Dear Future Husband” is not sexist
Meghan Trainor has three songs that have garnered their share of negative attention since she rose to fame last year: her breakout hit “All About That Bass”, the aptly named “Title”, and “Dear Future Husband”, the latter of which she recently released a music video for. As it happens, I like all of these songs. I’m aware this might be the result of a bit of bias. As a plus-size female in my mid-twenties with self-esteem issues (among other things), Meghan Trainor was pretty much designed for me. I won’t lie, either: it feels nice to be marketed to for once, but this is not the only reason I feel the need to defend her.
The fact is, I really don’t think her music is problematic.
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The line that has people concerned in “All About That Bass” involves her use of the phrase “skinny bitches”, which is understandable. Some people defend this line because other artists use the same language, and because the subsequent lyrics are “I’m just playing”, but I’m more prone to defend it because of grammar. People hear that line and think that she’s hating on skinny people (specifically skinny women), but “skinny” is not the subject of the sentence, it’s the modifier. “Bitches” is the subject, and skinny is the adjective Trainor is using to describe them. She’s not addressing the skinny people in the audience, but rather calling out the assholes.
How I interpret this is Trainor telling assholes who use their slender physique as a means of privilege and entitlement that she’s happy with who she is. I don’t think it’s “skinny shaming”, because she’s not saying there’s anything wrong with being skinny, and she acknowledges that those people are probably insecure, too. Even with the line “I won’t be no stick figure, silicone barbie doll”, she’s not really saying anything bad about people who are like that, she’s just saying that that is not now and never will be her.
Moving on to “Title”. This is one of her lesser known tracks, because it doesn’t have a music video, but I remember when her EP was released, there was a lot of backlash for one line in particular: “treat me like a trophy on a shelf”. The problems with this lyric are obvious and can’t be denied, but context is important.
The song is about a guy who won’t commit to a relationship. This guy wants to be physical with Trainor, and doesn’t want her seeing other guys, but will not give her the “title” of girlfriend. The song is Trainor’s ultimatum: either you “give [her] that title” or you can “kiss [her] ass goodbye”. She doesn’t want to be a trophy wife; she wants to be treated like she’s valued, and displayed instead of hidden away in shame. This is supported by the lyric that precedes it: “You gotta show me off (off), what, you embarrassed? If that’s the case, I’m long gone”. Trainor knows what she wants and is not afraid to ask for it. In an interview with Seventeen magazine, Trainor explained that she had to deal with this issue in high school, and that sincerity shows.
Which brings me to “Dear Future Husband”. This is her only music video with a narrative, and both the video and lyrics have been accused of different things, so I’ll talk about both.
First, the lyrics have been criticized for depicting a high maintenance girlfriend. The song is more or less a wish list for what Trainor is looking for in a husband. I won’t repeat all the lyrics, but this is the gist: she wants a guy who takes her on dates, remembers their anniversary, treats her right even if she’s “acting crazy”, tells her she’s pretty, and doesn’t expect her to be “home making apple pies”, because she too has a job. In return for this, she says she’ll “be the perfect wife”, buy groceries, and sex may or may not happen. All of this sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t. Most of what she outlines boils down to “be active and engaged in our relationship and I will love you.”
There’s some concern over her use of sexual favors as a reward for good behavior, which would be problematic in a Pavlovian sort of way, but let’s think about what she’s literally saying: If her guy wants sex, he has to tell her he finds her attractive. After a fight, he should apologize, and then maybe make-up sex will happen. If he opens the door for her, he may get kisses (but the rhyme scheme makes you think she’s going to offer fellatio). I see why people might take umbrage with this, but imagine what the alternative would be: “Don’t tell me you think I’m pretty, don’t apologize regardless of who was wrong, and don’t be considerate of me.” Who’d want to be in a relationship, let alone have sex with, that kind of person? It sounds like dating an internet troll.
The only truly high maintenance line in the song is where Trainor asks for a ring. As a reminder, Trainor took an entire song (“Title”) to talk about how important it is to her that the guy she’s with not be embarrassed to be seen dating a plus-size girl. An engagement/wedding ring is a common, and very public, symbol of togetherness. Therefore, the line probably has more to do with her personal history than materialistic lust. Now to the music video.
Like her other videos, “Dear Future Husband” is full of kitsch, bright colors, and a retro vibe. Most of the music video has Trainor doing traditionally feminine acts in 1950s attire while a parade of guys tries to impress her in over the top ways. This has led to the argument that Trainor is trying to reinforce traditional gender roles here.
Yes, she’s baking a pie and washing the floor, but she’s doing it totally wrong. Dough is stuck to her rolling pin, indicating that she didn’t use enough flour, and the pie on the stove is on fire. She’s practically rolling around when washing the floor. Not only is this an ineffective way to clean, but she’s also scrubbing in a way that forces her to walk over the area she just washed. She’s showing us that she’s actually not good at the traditional housewife role.
The setting and clothes evoke the feeling of a time when women had fewer rights, but I think this was more of an aesthetic choice than anything else. That era of clothing features a style that flatters the greatest variety of body types, including Meghan Trainor’s. It emphasizes her lovely figure without forcing her into demure colors. The setting compliments her music, which is a fun mix of big band, hip hop, and pop. Besides, we know that she’s not in the literal 1950s, because she and her backup dancers are shown using a dating app on a smartphone.
Over the course of the video, she uses this app to go on four dates with four different guys. Three of the guys don’t listen to her when she makes it clear she’s not interested in the activities they’ve chosen. Instead of putting up with this, she ditches them. The last guy, who tries the least but actually listens to her, gets the farthest with her.
None of this promotes traditional gender roles. The men who try to be the stereotypical dream guy fail because they neglect what their date actually wants. Instead of overlooking their disregard for her opinions, she calls it quits. She has agency, a will, and autonomy.
In the end, that’s what I like best about Meghan Trainor. She’s unafraid to say what she wants. She’s unapologetic about wanting it. She’s confident and won’t change who she is to make other people happy. And that is how it should be.