By choosing to listen to pop music, I am constantly bombarded with a variety of mainstream messages. Sometimes they perplex me, and many at least require more than just a passing thought. For example, how does one shake it off, and what exactly is “it”? Or when is it appropriate to listen to the father of your beloved, and when is it appropriate to marry her anyway, and how exactly does one navigate such a situation without being impolite?
So when two songs, one right at the top of the charts (Meghan Trainor, “All About that Bass”) and one quickly climbing (Mary Lambert, “Secrets”), touch on similar issues, I use the opportunity to compare competing views and how they are communicated. Neither song gets the full picture quite right, but one does a far better job than the other.
The message of “All About that Bass” can essentially be summed up in a lyric from the song: “every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top,” speaking specifically about the way women look. But does the song consistently affirm this? I think, along with several other critics of the song, the answer is no. First, Trainor doesn’t extend the same body-positive attitude towards all women, calling out “skinny b*****s” in the song’s second verse. She recovers from this partially by later praising them with the “every inch of you” line, but she does seem to be drawing unfriendly lines between body types.
More problematic is one of her reasons for being comfortable in your own skin, singing “boys like a little more booty to hold at night.” Body positive? Technically, yes. A healthy attitude to have? Certainly not. Letting men define what women should look like is why we need songs about body positivity in the first place. All this being said, it is unlikely that “All About that Bass” reached number one because of its purported message. The song is exceptionally catchy, even as it misguidedly espouses the views it ends up opposing.
The chorus of “Secrets” very straightforwardly communicates Lambert’s message. Singing, “I don’t care if the world knows what my secrets are,” Lambert automatically makes the song much more applicable than “All About that Bass.” Lambert sings about being overweight, just like Trainor, but she also tackles a whole host of other issues, several of which you can find on the list Dean Voyles read in chapel. “Secrets” is also more relatable since it applies not only to women, and since it advocates a sense of self-worth that is independent of the standards of others.
Since Lambert is not exclusively talking about body type, comparing her to Trainor is almost like comparing apples and oranges, but it is important to remember that both songs are, at their core, about being proud of who you are, and not letting others tell you when you are flawed. In the final products, Lambert does a much better job of communicating this consistently and intelligently than Trainor does.
After hearing Dean Voyles speak twice on the value of confession at a community like Covenant’s, Lambert’s lyrics seem quite fitting. Covenant is a safe place to grapple with the things that she talks about, or at least it should be. But even though “Secrets” has a sound message that we can take to heart, it also falls short. If we completely own our flaws and sins like she does (important to note: not everything she sings about is actually a flaw or a sin), we will still be crushed by the burden that we cannot bear. David writes in Psalm 55, “Cast your burden on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.”