When Meghan Trainor sashayed into the Top 40 two years ago, she came armed with two things that most aspiring pop stars dream of having: an unerring grasp of pop hookcraft and a clearly-defined attitude-slash-brand. “All About That Bass,” “Dear Future Husband,” and “Lips Are Movin” all foregrounded a musical sensibility rooted in pre-Beatles ’60s pop and rock ’n’ roll and a lyrical sensibility that put a premium on sass and a personal (if problematically flawed) spin on girl power. Like her or loathe her, you knew what her deal was.
Trainor continues the self-esteem party on “Thank You,” and the cracks that were already forming on her debut grow a little wider and deeper on its followup. “If I was you, I’d wanna be me, too,” the Nantucket native sings at one point, suggesting that the whole point of her previous songs wasn’t necessarily female empowerment so much as Meghan Trainor empowerment. Elsewhere, the refrain of “I don’t know ’bout you, but baby, I love me” (delivered by LunchMoney Lewis, but as a Trainor proxy) seems designed to put whoever she’s singing to in a defensive crouch.
Oddly, for someone who repeatedly touts her own awesomeness, Trainor spends an awful lot of time trying to be any number of anybody elses. The chilled-out Ibiza reggae of “Better” is essentially a Selena Gomez song, “Woman Up” mimics Beyoncé (albeit one or two Beyoncés ago) and “Champagne Problems” throbs like a Calvin Harris club track. (The latter also suffers from a topic recently covered with more wit and self-awareness by none other than “Weird Al” Yankovic.) Then there’s “Kindly Calm Me Down,” a dark, booming piano ballad that’s Adele down to its core, and the James-Brown-by-way-of-Bruno-Mars rubbery electro-hip-hop funk groove of “Watch Me Do.”
She spends so much time purloining the styles of so many of her Top 40 compatriots that when she finally lands on “Dance Like Yo Daddy,” with its honking saxophone and sassy backing vocals, it sounds like she’s aping 2014 chart sensation Meghan Trainor. But “Dance Like Yo Daddy” is ridiculous, funny, and fun, a type of girl-group number — the dance-sensation song — that she hasn’t yet tried.
“No” is more Rihanna than Lesley Gore, and it’s not clear that Trainor possesses the emotional wisdom needed to make the statements that she thinks she’s making, but it’s fantastically hooky; the prechorus alone is a thrilling moment of building pop tension that sounds marvelous through headphones. And with its single plucked electric guitar, the sweet “Hopeless Romantic” — a smoky-nightclub doo-wop love song to whomever it may one day concern — sounds the most like actual human beings are singing and playing on it. It might not work within the context of the rest of “Thank You,” but it’ll sound great pumping out of the radio — which is, after all, Trainor’s true medium.
ESSENTIAL “Dance Like Yo Daddy”
Meghan Trainor performs at the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion Sept. 24.Marc Hirsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.