By Mark Kennedy / The Associated Press
NEW YORK—Four years ago, Meghan Trainor won the Grammy Award for best new artist. On the first anniversary of that very win she was literally speechless—under the knife for vocal surgery.
It was her second time in the operating room for vocal cord work and it led to weeks of silence, anxiety and depression. The “All About That Bass” singer worried she’d never be able to perform again.
“I went to a dark place. And I climbed out of it and I conquered it, and I was really proud of myself,” she tells The Associated Press “My therapist was like, ‘You should treat yourself after what you went through.’”
So that’s why Trainor’s third album is called Treat Myself, a 15-track collection that sees the singer-songwriter stretch past her signature doo-wop pop sound to embrace hip-hop and electronic elements.
There’s the Sia-like “Wave,” the slinky club banger “Please To Meet Ya” with Nicki Minaj, and soaring ballads like “After You” alongside familiar retro and 1960s-inspired tunes like “No Excuses” and “Evil Twin.” “I’ve always been writing songs in many genres,” she says. Her dad introduced her to gospel, soul and funk, like Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder. Mom leaned toward the pop of Madonna and ABBA. A Trinidadian uncle turned her on to soca music. She herself grew up with Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys.
“When I try to write, I try to give all my influences in that. I always want to make up a pretend genre—six different genres in one song,” she says.
Tommy Bruce, her manager, has watched as Trainor over the past three years has explored whatever musical inspiration strikes, not caring about labels or charts. “She is such a wildly talented artist, from musicianship to songwriting to producing, and she has this ability to move between genre and style with such ease,” he says.
Listen very carefully to Trainor’s new album and you’ll discover it’s very much a family affair. Her brothers—Justin and Ryan—have writing credits and sing background. Her parents—Gary and Kelli—supply background vocals and claps. Even her husband, actor Daryl Sabara, sings on nine tracks.
“He’s my No. 1 fan, like legitimately,” she says of Sabara. “He plays my music all the time. I hear him blasting it in the car and when he’s in the shower. It’s just the best to feel so loved and supported like that by your husband.”
For this album, Trainor sought out new producers, which resulted in stretching her sound. She had success with Ricky Reed on the last album, Thank You, but says she felt too safe doing it again.
“I’m a creature of habit. When I found someone who understood how I worked, I thought, ‘This is great. Let’s do this forever.’ So for this album, I really wanted to get out there and meet as many songwriters and producers as I could.”
This time, some of the producers include Mike Sabath, Eddie Benjamin, King Henry, Ojivolta, Zach Skelton, Sigala, Tyler Johnson and Andrew Wells, purposely trying to lift up emerging talent. She also shared the microphone with Minaj, Nicole Scherzinger, AJ Mitchell, Lennon Stella, Sasha Sloan and Sabath.
“We felt like finally we have an album full of hit singles and I’m so confident in every song. We kept writing and saying, ‘May the best song win,’” she says. “Now we have this album that we’re finally ready to show the world.”
Many of the songs have Trainor’s trademark messages of empowerment. “Love yourself,” she sings in “Babygirl.” On “Workin’ On It,” she admits to fighting thoughts of self-loathing: “I should give myself way more love.” And on “No Excuses,” she demands respect: “I don’t disrespect you, don’t you disrespect me.”
“It’s really hard to write a self-love, empowering anthem without being cheesy,” she says. “That’s something that the world loves and needs. I know I need it, and it’s something I want to hear on the radio. So those are my favorite songs to write because I’m working on it every single day—my confidence and my self love. I know somebody else needs it, too.”
The album also has a few inside jokes. It gives her a kick that the title Treat Myself is her initials backward. And she has a call-back to her first big hit in “Genetics” when she sings “How you get dat bass?”
Trainor, who plans to tour with Maroon 5 this year, also has a side hustle as a musical judge. She spent two seasons on The Four and recently replaced Jennifer Hudson in the spinning chair at The Voice UK. For someone who’s been writing songs since she was seven, is it easy for an artist to shoot down another artist?
“It is weird, I’ll tell you that. The majority of the singers on The Voice are way better singers than I am,” she says. “It was really difficult to be like, ‘Who’s the best of the best?’ and knowing we had 40 more people to listen to. It was a very difficult mission to accomplish.”