Entertainment & Arts

Meghan Trainor interview: 'I want to be an icon'

Meghan Trainor Image copyright Epic / Sony
Image caption Meghan Trainor: "I don't want just 13-year-olds coming to my show."

Pop star Meghan Trainor has been in the headlines recently, after a video was retouched to make the singer look thinner.

She pulled it down and replaced it, telling fans she was "embarrassed" by the debacle - not least because her breakthrough hit, All About That Bass, lambasted magazines "working that Photoshop" on female models.

"I'm the poster child for no Photoshop!" she protested. "That is my thing!"

The incident highlighted double standards in the music industry, but also gave the 22-year-old a platform to promote her message of body positivity and self-empowerment.

"A friend said to me, 'You talk about things that people feel but they're too shy or embarrassed to admit, and you make us feel comfortable again,'" the singer tells the BBC.

It's a formula that won her the best newcomer award at this year's Grammys, while she continues to preach the message on her new album, Thank You.

Sipping water in a luxurious central London hotel, the singer talks about her whirlwind success, the vocal surgery that nearly derailed her career, and her ambition to appeal to audiences of all ages.

"I don't want just 13-year-olds coming to my show. I want 50-year-olds and all ages to enjoy the music."

Image copyright AP
Image caption The singer was given her best newcomer Grammy by last year's recipient, Sam Smith

Congratulations on winning the Grammy. How did you feel going up to get the trophy?

My heart felt like it was exploding. I felt like Cinderella. All my dreams were coming true.

You brought your dad along to the ceremony. What was his reaction?

He was bawling! He whispered in my ear, "you made it" - because that's the big joke we have. Everything I do, I'm like, "I made it, dad, I'm famous!"

Right now, you're ticking off everything on the pop star bucket list. What's the next "I made it" moment?

Just to keep doing it. If you do it once, that's amazing. But if you constantly do that and you have a career like Beyonce? I want to be one of those icon legends - but seen as an amazing songwriter.

I'd say you're a more relatable sort of pop star than Beyonce.

Yeah, she's up there. That's why, when I want to be remembered as a legend, I want the songwriting to be first. I want them to say: "She wrote about things I dealt with. Every age I was in, I related to that."

Do you have a role model for that?

Carole King. She wrote the same way.

How so?

When I write songs, I'll pick a topic but I don't get too specific. I don't say "he" or "she". I don't say "you" or "me". I avoid all that stuff so I can relate to everyone.

So I have a song, Thank You, that's to my fans. But I make sure that when you hear that, you can also be like, "I want to say thank you to my parents". That's a very hard thing for a songwriter to do.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Trainor wrote for bands such as Rascal Flatts while she was still at school

You were signed as a writer before you became a performer. Did that feel like an endorsement of your skills?

I should have taken it like that. But I thought, "no-one sees me as the face of the song" and I was kind of sad about that.

But now, looking back, I can't believe I was in high school and these people wanted to pay me to write music. That's such an honour.

How do you start a song, with the melody or the lyrics?

Melodies are very easy for me. I can get that done in minutes. But the words, I had to learn how to craft them perfectly, and All About That Bass was the first time I was like, "every part of this is genius and I love it."

Is it true that the label released the demo of that song?

Yes! There's never been another version. There's no background vocals, no auto-tune. They were like, "put a stamp on it, it's good to go." It's very raw, very real. I think that's why it had its own lane on the radio.

Did you try to maintain that rawness on the new album?

Well, at first I started writing doo-wop again. I was like, "I've got this figured out, let's go!" and they were like, "No, Meghan, you're just doing what everyone expects you to do."

So I thought, what do I miss from the radio? And it was *NSync and Destiny's Child.

Did you have N*Sync posters in your bedroom?

I wasn't allowed to have a lot of posters because they kept ruining the paint. But I did have Hilary Duff on my wall. I loved Lizzie McGuire, that show.

Image copyright Epic / Sony
Image caption The singer helped create the choreography for her Britney-inspired video to No

The video for No is like a classic Britney clip - with a big dance number in a cavernous warehouse. Did you have fun making it?

Yeah! A lot of the treatments had me playing basketball, which didn't make any sense, so I started Googling old videos like [Janet Jackson's] Rhythm Nation and I was like, "I need something like this."

Was the choreography hard to learn?

Well, a lot of those dance moves are just me messing around. I'm not a professional dancer but my choreographer Charm [La'Donna] will go, "can you just freestyle for me?" And I'm like, "Oh my God, I hate this." And then we turn it into a routine.

You had to have surgery on your vocal cords last year. How is your voice now?

Before the surgery, you have to sign papers that say, "if you can't sing again it's not our fault." But my voice came back stronger. It's like starting from scratch. You get a clean slate. You get beautiful cords. So I was singing my butt off. I was doing riffs I've never done before. And you can hear from the last album to this one how much my voice improved.

Image copyright Epic / Sony
Image caption The un-altered video for Me Too was released last week

Let's talk about the rest of the album… You've recorded a duet with your mum?

Yeah! I was brushing my teeth one day and I thought I had a million-dollar idea: "I need a mother's day card song." You know, when you open up the card and there's a cute little jingle? I was like, "Easy! How do I do that?" And I was brushing my teeth and I wrote the chorus.

But we didn't have a bridge and I said, "Yo, let's call my mom!"

So they put the microphone in front of me and I called her and put her on speaker. And I was like, "I love you. I miss you so much!" She instantly knew something was up. She was like, "Ooooh?! I love you too, honey... Are you ok?" Totally suspicious.

But they turned it into the most beautiful bridge. They made it sound like a movie scene.

It sounds like you're a very close family

They're really involved in everything I do. We'll even sit down and watch and critique my music videos. Right now, my dad's mad at me because this one ballad's not on the album. I'm like, "Dad, I have three ballads on the album. I can't just have slow songs."

What's the song?

It's called Remind Myself and it's a very soulful, beautiful song about remembering everything is good when I'm upset. Which is something I had to learn, because I've always been a worrier.

I played it for a woman in a hair salon who recently went through breast cancer and had to have a mastectomy, and she was just bawling. She said: "This is what I needed to hear."

I'd never met her before but this song related to her so personally that it showed me I can affect a lot of people I've never met before. I can change the world.

Meghan Trainor's album Thank You is out now on Epic Records.

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