Meghan Trainor has been making a lot of money lately, but she’s also been getting flack for her big hit “All About that Bass,” with some reason. The ultra-catchy song and its cute, candy-colored video celebrate women with curves and encourage women to appreciate whatever bodies they have, saying “Every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top.” So far, so good. But the song also puts down “skinny bitches” and tells women and girls with a more prominent bass line to feel good about themselves because “boys like a little more booty,” as if their value comes from being ogled by men. So, sadly, the supposed song of empowerment still encourages feelings of competition between women and buys into finding one’s value in another’s gaze. I like it when pop culture moves in the direction of acknowledging beauty in all its forms, and I think it’s great that we’re gaining a greater diversity of cultures under one national roof with the rise of populations of people who don’t value bony booties as much as white folks have tended to do over the past fifty years. It’s great when standards of beauty rise beyond size 2 booty shorts. Songs of praise for bountiful bums are all over the radio right now, and more power to the big-bootied among us. But let’s not turn right around and shame slimmer folks or boil it all down to women’s value coming from body parts and man-pleasing. It’s great to want to please others, but your worth doesn’t derive from the size of your thighs.
Nina Simone’s dark, rich, beautifully bluesy version of the song “Feeling Good” is a classic, and with good reason. The version I grew up listening to is also extraordinary, but quite different. The song was written by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse for the musical “The Roar of the Greasepaint—The Smell of the Crowd” and was sung on the original 1965 Broadway cast album by baritone Gilbert Price. His delivery is nothing like Nina Simone’s, yet I find it just as beautiful and arresting as her cover of the song. Few people nowadays know Price’s warm and powerful voice; give it a listen and hear what you’ve been missing.
In 2013, the most popular video on French TV and the number one song in France and Belgium was “Papaoutai” by Belgian singer Stromae. The tune and rhythms are appealing and unusual; the video is compelling and, ultimately, moving. Though the title sounds like it could be a word in an African language, it is actually meant to be understood by French speakers as meaning “Papa, où t’es?” which translates as “Dad, where are you?” The song and the story of the video refer to the absence of Stromae’s father, who was killed in the Rwandan genocide in 1994. The plaintive cry of the singer who feels the absence of his father is also expressed in the child in the video who begs his mannequin-like father to come to life.