The pop star attempts to be all things to all people, offering an overstimulating mix of sounds and a message of self-flagellation disguised as empowerment.
Meghan Trainor’s latest album, Treat Myself, includes the tapping sound of a coconut opener used as an instrument, the word “genetics” spelled out in a chant, and a children’s choir. It does not include the song “Treat Myself,” a jangly slew of saccharine self-indulgence released in a blitz of singles that preceded the album. For that, you’ll have to buy the extended version, available only at Target.
Treat Myself was originally scheduled for release back in August 2018, but Trainor pushed it back because she couldn’t stop writing songs, vowing not to release it “until I get everything out of my head and recorded in the studio.” The result is an album that tries to be all things to all people, a sonic overload that bludgeons the listener with bastardized “empowerment” for 15 songs. Treat Myself is clogged with oozing ballads, contaminated funk, and garish shudders of EDM. The closest thing to a mission statement is “Babygirl,” a glitchy, throbbing wail whose chorus goes “Love yourself! Love yourself! Love yourself! Love yourself! AHHH!”
If you ask Meghan Trainor, she might say she makes feel-good songs, anthems for boss-bitches-in-training who yearn to “have it all,” as she croons. But in Trainor’s world, having it all tends to center around male approval. She catapulted to fame in 2014 with “All About That Bass,” a catchy-enough jingle assuring the masses that men do, in fact, like butts. Feminists condemned the song for its not-so-subtle messaging (your body is acceptable, but only because men want to fuck it), and Trainor later announced that she didn’t consider herself a feminist—a sentiment she doubled down on with followup single “Dear Future Husband,” which painted a housewife fantasy in which marital happiness hinges on the wife buying groceries. (Two years later, with a new album to promote, she changed her mind.)
Much of Treat Myself relies on the idea of female duplicity; instead of dismantling the trope, Trainor’s lyrics capitulate to it. “I’m crazy but I’m sweet,” she warbles on “Blink.” “Evil Twin” is more explicit: an apology from Trainor for the “crazy bitch” side of her, which makes her “make my bad decisions, but I’m innocent.” Where Lizzo and other pop stars who capitalize on the commodification of female empowerment have embraced the unruly, unlikable woman—“100% that bitch, even when I’m crying, crazy”—Trainor is left constantly placating: for hesitating to take a compliment, for daring to get drunk, for being both too much and too little. This is self-flagellation disguised as motivation, a Peloton instructor prompting you to pedal faster until you hurl.
Confusing production choices make the album even more exhausting. “Nice to Meet Ya”, the most tolerable track, is engineered to be a banger, with tingling drums and a mediocre Nicki Minaj verse, but its whisper of a chorus is harsh and irritating. “Wave” starts off with panoramic piano and titanic vocals before a gaudy EDM pulse kicks in, turning it into something like a Cascada remix for a middle school dance in a sweaty gym. Trainor relies on ostentatious background vocals throughout, which oscillate between gospel-inflected harmonies and cartoonish carols. (She’s said they were inspired by visits to Kanye West’s Sunday Services.) Droning “dum dum dum”s grate against bass drops; choruses droop under the weight of so many voices. “I miss the way we used to funk,” Trainor chirps over “Disney on Ice”–meets–disco beats, in “Funk,” a song so charmed by its ability to substitute “fuck” for “funk” that it repeats the sentence six times in the first twenty seconds.
The oddest moment on the album is the song “Genetics,” which seems designed to provoke controversy. “How you get that bod? Is it from God?” Trainor trills alongside The Pussycat Dolls, then spells out the titular word like a cheerleader for eugenics. It’s especially jarring after a string of songs about how earnestly Trainor is working to improve herself (including “Workin’ on It,” a muted song that seems genuinely well-intentioned). You want to root for her throughout the record, hearing her croon about lost love and never being asked to dance; you want her to love herself for something other than the sake of attracting someone. Aiming to uplift women is an obvious good. But maybe true empowerment means we can demand more from those who claim to speak for us.