How Meghan Trainor Got Angry at L.A. Reid and Made a Hit
Best New Artist Grammy winner Meghan Trainor is returning this week with Thank You, a brash pop statement that expands the hitmaker’s sound into dance-, rap- and Carribbean-influenced tunes. Having already grabbed a Number One single (“All About That Bass”) and a Number One album (Title), she was prepared to deliver another album of her cheeky, monstrously successful doo-wop throwbacks. But her label pushed back and soon she and producer Ricky Reed were cooking up quirky dance-pop: The Britney Spears-gone-Missy-Elliott banger “No,” the A.D.D. grooves of “Watch Me Do,” the Gnarls Barkley-esque “I Love Me,” the soca-leaning “Better” and the rubbery electro of “Me Too.” The latter song was just released as a music video — promptly pulled when Trainor complained, ”They Photoshopped the crap outta me.”
Meaghan talked to Rolling Stone about emerging from a poodle-skirt shell into a modern pop star.
What are you doing on this record that you didn’t do on your debut?
Pushing boundaries. I’m allowing myself to go places that I was scared. The doo-wop thing happened on accident, really. Like that was just one of the genres that I did. They saw how well it stuck with people with “All About That Bass.” They were like, “OK, go do an album like this.” And so I went with Kevin Kadish, who’s amazing, and we wrote 10 songs just like that. But then I told him like, “I don’t want to be stuck here because honestly it’s not what I do.” I do pop songs. I do Caribbean songs. I do everything.
I was scared, and I did write two albums basically of more doo-wop stuff. I brought it to my label and they were like, “You’re doing what you asked not to do.” [Laughs] Like they said it to my face, “This is exactly what I would expect you to come out with. Why don’t you shock the world and show them how talented you are? Show they you can write a song that sounds like Nineties Destiny’s Child.” I was like, “Alright, let’s go.”
Was that just L.A. Reid telling you that, or was it more people?
Troy Carter, my manager was the one that texted me and said, “You’re doing exactly what they expected you to do.” L.A. said he wanted a song that every other artist wished they had. He was like, “You don’t have your bullet. You don’t have that big song,” and I was like, “I think you’re crazy,” because I had these great doo-wop-y throwback songs that were huge.
I figured he just wanted a story because all his stories were like, “He told Mariah Carey she didn’t have it then she got it, you know?” So I was like, “Alright, L.A. Reid, I’ll go give you your big story. [Laughs.] I’ll write the song.” I made it dramatic. I was like, “I’m gonna leave right now and I’m gonna find a studio with Ricky.” Some kind of miracle happened where Ricky had his session cancelled that day so I was like, “Fuck yeah, let’s go.”
So you went to Ricky’s house that day?
Yeah, I left. I was like, “L.A., I’m gonna get you that single.” We texted Jay Cash. He cancelled his session and came by because we were like, “Emergency. We gotta get this single.” I walked in and was like, “Do a beat that no one expects Meghan Trainor to do.” So he starts puttin’ the drums down and I’m like, “What the hell is that?”
I came home and played [“No”] for my family, and my little brother goes, “Well it doesn’t beat out the doo-wop shit that you have.” And I just look at him and I was like, “I think you’re crazy. I think this is the greatest thing I’ve ever written.” [Laughs.] And I was so scared that I didn’t send it to my label.
I waited a whole day. I cancelled a meeting because I didn’t want to show them. I second-guessed myself because my stupid little bro. But then Ricky convinced me. We went together. We met [L.A. Reid] at his hotel. Ricky, thank God, opened a bottle of tequila so I could calm down. Ricky talked — I didn’t talk at all, I was too nervous. As soon as he played it, L.A. jumped up and said, “That’s what I’m talkin’ about!” I was like, “Oh thank God.” He played it 29 times that evening.
Is that an actual count?
Yeah, we were counting. Ricky left by 19. He was like, “I gotta go home. It’s like 1 a.m.” We were just drinking and everyone learned all the words after the third time and we were just dancing to it over and over again. I texted my brother. I was like, “Bro, come by. You have to be here for this history.” He came with his friend and we were all just drinking together and my brother was singing all the words with L.A. Reid. It was crazy. We were having a little party. The hotel hated us.
Regarding the lyrics to “No,” are you getting a lot more creepers now that you’re famous?
I don’t get hit on. I’m mostly working and like my band’s not going to hit on me. [Laughs.] I told my friend, ’cause she’s also struggling with her dating life, because we’re just working all day long, so we promised each other to go out more. But I’m tired. I don’t want to go out.
You are getting a little bit into rapping on this record. Did that come natural to you?
I remember the first song I ever did … I did a whole rap song. Like my whole high school, everyone loved this rap song I did. I can’t ever freestyle … but I got flow. I got really nice rhythm, which I think I got from my father and playing in a band you know, from 13 to 18 like just practicing my timing everyday.
You have this whole past playing in this Caribbean band. You know, you never would have known listening to the last record, and now—
Yeah, this new record I brought a bunch in.
You were like 16 years old playing bongos and stuff.
[Laughs.] I was like 15. I was young. We were in the bars in Nantucket with my family. My uncle was a big singer in Trinidad, Burton Toney. I was doing keys and guitar and ukulele and then I finally got bongos. I had my Britney Spears microphone so I could play the bongos. [Laughs.]
It taught me so much. It made me a better musician. My dad always says playing live will make you a better musician, so any chance he got, he would throw me out there. At Christmas, he’d make me perform for the family. I hated it, but if I didn’t have that, I would not be the musician I am today. But the soca music gave me so much feel. Like even today when I was dancing — I was in rehearsal — one of the dancers was like, “Girl … your rhythm and your beat … like you know what it is.” It was like strange being like, “I’m from Nantucket.” “How do you know this?” Because, [since] I was 7 this has been drilled in my brain. I’m just so blessed that I had my uncle come into our lives and teach me all that.
I can’t imagine Nantucket having the biggest soca scene.
Yeah, they definitely don’t [laughs].