In recent years, artists like Taylor Swift and Carly Rae Jepsen have mined the sleek sounds of the ’80s to make some of the best records of their careers. So if you’re a contender in the ever-crowded field of female pop stars, how do you try to best the competition? If you’re Meghan Trainor, fresh off a Best New Artist Grammy win and eager to evolve beyond 2014’s breakthrough “All About That Bass,” you look forward one decade to the late-’90s pop boom, when the glossy R&B stylings of Destiny’s Child and Christina Aguilera reigned supreme.
For much of her anticipated Thank You, Trainor, a proven songwriter herself, sticks to this new direction. Largely gone are the doo-wop vocals and soulful arrangements of her debut, Title. Instead, with help from producers like Ricky Reed (Fifth Harmony, Jason Derulo), she delivers wide-eyed pre-9/11 pop—and this throwback vibe suits her. On lead single “NO,” she serves up a catchy sundae of whistles and sassy quips. “Thank you in advance,” she sings. “I don’t wanna dance, nope!” Tracks like “Me Too” and “I Love Me” are instant confidence-spikers, with subtle nods to those heady days when jewelry was “ice” and with a funky baseline that’s vaguely reminiscent of the Seinfeld theme (seriously).
Another welcome development on Thank You? The girl is as witty and funny as some of hip-hop’s best rhyme-slayers. “I been on a/Low-hater diet,” she cracks on “Watch Me Do,” seemingly taking a clever stab at body shamers. Even on a cheesy track like “Dance Like Yo Daddy,” you can’t help but chuckle at Trainor when she teases, “Can you overbite?/Can you old-man overbite?” Then she goes into self-deprecation mode: “Simon says go touch your nose/Meghan says touch your toes/ But, like, I still can’t touch my toes.”
If ladies-night jams sprinkled with jokes are her strengths, Trainor has work to do when it comes to making love songs that feel real and relatable. Most of Thank You’s attempts at getting personal, like “Hopeless Romantic” and “Just a Friend to You” (where the ukulele makes an unfortunate return), fall flat. Yet there is a glimmer of hope in the gorgeous piano ballad “Kindly Calm Me Down,” a rich, layered plea for a lover’s soothing touch.
At times Trainor seems to have a bit of an identity crisis—but as she’s only 22 years old, maybe it’s just growing pains. The woozy, ethereal “Better” sounds like a castoff from Selena Gomez’s Revival. And “Champagne Problems” is unnecessary for two reasons: Nick Jonas popped that bottle first—and does the world really need a cheeky white-girl rant about late Ubers and painful high heels?
Still, in today’s oversaturated landscape of Disney stars-turned-divas and marketing machines disguised as pop princesses, Trainor is the closest thing to an Everygirl we’ve got—and she’s best when she’s herself: smart-mouthed, brimming with girl power, and the life of the party. B+
Watch Me Do Trainor brings hip-hop flavor to this booty-shaking banger
Kindly Calm Me Down A rare quiet moment, showcasing her beautiful pipes
I Love Me A roll-the-windows-down confidence-booster