The brand called “Meghan Trainor” stands out as a shining example of that pernicious malady which has saturated our society to the point of its being unable to identify good from bad, true from false, art from its counterfeits: the malady called kitsch. Entertaining, vapid, mind-numbing kitsch, consumed readily by a culture steeped in sentimentality and sensuality.
What exactly is kitsch? Kitsch, in the words of Roger Scruton, is “fake art, expressing fake emotions, whose purpose is to deceive the consumer into thinking he feels something deep and serious, when in fact, he feels nothing at all.” When it finds a medium in music, it is epitomized by banal tonality, heavy-handed melodyne and autotune, lyrics expressing sugar-encrusted carnality, and a sense of urgent self-importance that’s as relentless as the bass-lines. It has the pleasant effect of tranquilizing the masses and providing just the right amount of distraction to prevent everyone from letting themselves feel the feels of existential emptiness, effectively inoculating the adolescent person – be they adolescent physically or, as is becoming increasingly the case, in mentality – from the yearning to belong to something bigger than one’s self.
Perhaps most troubling of all is the fact that many people listen to Meghan Trainor’s music and lyrics and think to themselves, “Man. What a spokeswoman. We need these body-loving messages in this culture! Amen! Amen to empowerment! Real women have curves, it’s been said, and I feel so good-hearted when I repeat that to myself.” Trainor herself has said, when describing her team’s approach to writing songs, “We want it to be beautiful, but also sarcastic and b*tchy. I write songs about things other people are afraid to talk about.”
But experientially, the truly “beautiful” has no part in sarcasm, scorn, or disdain for others. Beauty invites, consoles, connects, and draws us higher. Yet in the name of “beauty,” Trainor is earnestly waving the banner of “empowerment,” “enlightenment,” and “self-love”: it’s all about me, it’s all about my body, it’s all about my confidence.
(Also, last time I checked, me me me was not on the list of “things other people are afraid to talk about”.)
I have no desire to make a judgment on Meghan Trainor’s character, nor do I fail to see the importance of loving and accepting one’s body in a healthy way. But she, like many other apparently “powerful” women in pop culture, is actually doing more harm than good when it comes to the messages she’s sending regarding sexuality, femininity, and self-love – unwittingly or not. Her lyrics are like reading the specials at a meat market, but they’re coy enough – and evidently written with a shrewd understanding of our culture’s love of sentimentalism – to feel like they’re somehow counter-cultural, and therefore, a gospel worth lauding. In aggressively demanding that she be respected just as she is, curves and all, she is actually objectifying herself and her body all the more, mechanistically paving the way for a nation of hypocritical, saccharine Mrs. Jellybys.
We’re all so used to this – so used to the pop-culture priests and priestesses of the media solemnly shoving the cult of Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Madonna, et al down our throats while chanting, “this is power, this is beauty, this is badass” that we’re desensitized to the gross distortion of human dignity that’s being served alongside the ostensibly acceptable exploitation of innate sexual values. We fail to see that we, like these women, are prey to the machine that makes sex and sex appeal a commodity to be bought and devoured at the expense (and utter disregard) of the human person.
But at least we feel good about ourselves – at least we feel so “deep and serious” – as we drive the nail further into the coffin of a blunted conscience and lean back on our pillows of kitsch and sentimentalism. For as confused as we have become about what belonging within community actually means (devoid as our culture is from accurate prioritization of the religious and familial rites), we still crave acceptance as a species, and if you learn the mantras of music’s “Alpha Females”, you’ll surely be “part of the pack.”
But is it really all that bad? Am I exaggerating and sounding like a prophet of doom, or maybe like your 68-year-old aunt Dotty? Are songs like All About that Bass and albums like Lemonade really going to make that much of a difference in my mind if I indulge in them now in then? C’mon, lighten up, right?
It is precisely that mentality – the one which insists on self-focusing to the point of shirking off the responsibility of stepping up to the plate like a responsible adult and calling out a farce for what it is – that has perpetuated the cult of sentimentalism, kitsch, pseudo-feminism, staid adolescence, and the denigration of the human person into a mere collection of body-parts and curves.
So – yes. What I consume (“consume” being a key word when we’re talking about this kind of…product) in any given day makes an impact on me, and it makes a statement about what I tacitly approve of.
If I can honestly say that my attachment to the slogan “Be the Change You Want to See in the World,” goes beyond the warm-fuzzies I get when all of my virtual friends “like” it on my status update, then I need to live like it.
And not just sometimes.