All her Cape Cod friends were crowded together to take a picture when Meghan Trainor’s brother noted she was the odd duck. Her crew looked classically preppy in their white pants and pastel-colored shirts. Trainor was wearing her customary black-on-black.
To make the photo work, he put her in the middle.
“More shine for me,” Trainor recalls with a laugh.
Raised on Nantucket and Cape Cod, the 20-year-old Trainor has parlayed her independent shine into a surprise, chart-topping late entry in the “song of the summer” sweepstakes. The young songwriter has become an overnight sensation with her recording of “All About That Bass,” a happy-making modernized doo-wop ditty that celebrates plus-size figures who have “all the right junk in all the right places.” The song has become the top-selling digital single and hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100.
The wry, candy-colored video for “All About That Bass,” directed by choreographer Fatima Robinson (who worked on the film “Dreamgirls”), features Trainor in an uncharacteristic dress-up wardrobe — all pink sweaters and white knee socks.
“I pictured it as a cartoon I’m going to play for the day, and it’s gonna be adorable,” she explains on the phone from Nashville, where she recently moved to write songs for Rascal Flatts and other acts. Now that her own debut has blown up “bigger than anyone expected, it’s like, crap, I have to kind of look like that now.”
Trainor began her career as a songwriter-for-hire in part because she can write in many styles, from country, hip-hop, and reggae to Trinidadian soca, which her mom’s brother-in-law introduced to the family band. She began performing at age 12 at Nantucket watering holes such as the Muse and the Chicken Box with Island Fusion, an all-purpose party band that also included her aunt, her younger brother, and her father, Gary, on keyboards.
But if she composes all kinds of music, Trainor also gravitated to song publishing because she wasn’t sure she was ready to be a star herself.
“I’m really bad with fashion,” she says in a kind of hip-hop drawl. “I’m still waiting for the day they take me shopping and say, ‘Here’s what you’re wearing.’ ” Being in Nashville, she says, “I bought the cowboy boots, but I never really rock ’em. I just want to wear, like, a black hoodie and black leggings.”
“She thought she was one of the chubby girls who would never be an artist,” says Gary Trainor, who runs a jewelry store on Nantucket with his wife, Kelli. But besides Meghan’s obvious talent for adapting and synthesizing all kinds of music, her knack for performance was apparent, too.
At Nauset Regional High School, where she transferred from the Nantucket school system, she once filled in for an ailing cheerleader.
“She learned all these routines,” says her father. “You’d never know she wasn’t a cheerleader.”
She took guitar lessons from Johnny Spampinato, the former NRBQ guitarist who is based on Cape Cod. “He was the first dude to teach me chords on a guitar,” says Trainor, who also plays bass, keyboards, trumpet, and ukulele. “I owe him a lot.”
At a music conference in Nashville a few years ago she introduced herself to another former NRBQ member, Al Anderson, who is now a successful songwriter. She explained to him that one of his old bandmates, the late Bob LaPalm, was her mother’s uncle.
After her showcase set, Anderson “took one of my CDs, and he was blown away, I guess,” she recalls. The songwriter urged his publisher, Big Yellow Dog Music, to sign her.
It was Epic Records chairman L.A. Reid who recognized Trainor’s star potential, convincing her to step out as a recording artist after hearing her demo version of “All About That Bass.” With producer Kevin Kadish, she released an EP called “Title” this month, and a full-length album due later this year.
In the whirlwind of her new song’s success, the record label has not tried to dictate Meghan’s image or get her to undergo “media training,” her father says.
“I think they like her because she’s real honest,” says Gary Trainor, a former full-time working musician who plays organ these days in a Methodist church. “They like her to be herself.”
As the contagious “All About That Bass” attracts waves of new fans each day, the song has also gotten a bit of backlash. Some have complained that the song disparages skinny girls. In the lyrics, Trainor calls them a name beginning with the letter B and vows that she “won’t be no stick-figure silicone Barbie doll.”
“At first I was a little hurt,” Trainor says about the criticism. “But there’ve been too many nice, supportive comments. Nowadays I laugh — all I did was write a three-minute song, and they want to write blogs about it.”
The song, she says, was just intended for herself, for fun. The fact that she’s “started a cultural conversation” about body image, says her father, “is kind of cool.”
It’s a good time to kick off her own career, the singer figures, since the songs she’s writing now are “too young for Kesha and too old for Disney.”
Like the songs on the EP, the album will focus on being “an awkward 19-, 20-year-old, when you’re pretty sure you’re an adult but you’re not, yet. All the songs sound very similar — very personal, girl-power anthems. I think people are going to like them.”
James Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.