A couple of weeks ago, while my sister and I were engaging in our usual cooking/dance session one evening, a previously unheard Meghan Trainor song came on Spotify. We both bopped along to the catchy melody, chopping courgettes in time to the rhythm and waving our knives around precariously. Later that same evening, during our teeth-cleaning-dance-party (we dance around like idiots for 90% of the time that we spend awake in our flat) the song came on again. This time I started listening to the lyrics properly, and I was disturbed by what I heard.
Now, I have no problem with Meghan Trainor, and tearing apart someone’s creative work (especially another woman’s) isn’t something I have a habit of doing. However, this song, despite its wonderfully catchy tune, is just too wrong to exist unquestioned in the world.
Several critics have already picked up on the horrible gender stereotyping that permeates the music video (Julia Shumway of The State Press and Christina Garibaldi of MTV News), but here I’m going to concentrate solely on the lyrics, and their warped portrayal of a relationship.
The first verse is innocuous and sets the song up to be sweet, sincere and romantic:
Dear future husband,
Here’s a few things
You’ll need to know if you wanna be
My one and only all my life
Being a literary geek, I enjoy the use of the underappreciated epistolary form, which seems to have peaked in the pop music world with Britney Spears’ ‘Dear Diary’. She also addresses her ‘Future husband’ in warm terms, displaying clear signs of commitment. So far, so good.
Then, however, Meghan starts with her demands:
Take me on a date
I deserve it, babe
And don’t forget the flowers every anniversary
It’s reasonable (if old-fashioned) to want to be taken out, and it would be a nice gesture to get flowers on anniversaries (although personally I’d always go for chocolates, unless they invent edible flowers), but it’s the use of the imperative and the patronizing tone that bug me here. This is not how you should address someone you want to spend the rest of your life with, surely?
Fortunately, it turns out Meghan is reasonable enough to offer compensation for these demands:
‘Cause if you’ll treat me right
I’ll be the perfect wife
Buy-buying what you need
Where to even start? With the fact that she’s treating marriage (as it used to be) as a business transaction: dates and flowers for perfect wifely behaviour? Or the fact that buying groceries is what makes someone a perfect wife in Meghan’s eyes? Have we travelled back in time to the 50s? I’m confused; I thought this was going to be a modern love letter.
The next verse brings the song back momentarily from the brink of disaster, although there is still the underlying assumption that women should have learnt to cook and should be baking apple pies:
You got that 9 to 5
But, baby, so do I
So don’t be thinking I’ll be home and baking apple pies
I never learned to cook
But I can write a hook
Sing along with me
Sing-sing along with me (hey)
Then we get to the chorus:
You gotta know how to treat me like a lady
Even when I’m acting crazy
Tell me everything’s alright
Now, the chorus is tricky. In some ways, it could be argued there’s nothing wrong with it. Husbands should treat their wives well and reassure them, even if said wife is being less than sane at that moment. However, it is the use of ‘lady’, which harks back to old-fashioned views of female decorum, as well as carrying classist connotations, that is problematic. The marriage seems to be slipping rapidly into the realm of inequality, where husbands and wives adhere to specific behavioural norms according to their gender. As for ‘crazy’, it becomes apparent later in the song that this is an early warning sign of psycho girlfriend Meghan just waiting to emerge.
After this, I’m afraid to say, it all goes downhill. The song (as most do) repeats a lot, so I’ll only mention the lines that haven’t already been discussed. Next up, using sex as a weapon:
Dear future husband,
If you wanna get that special lovin’
Tell me I’m beautiful each and every night
Firstly, I want to know what the difference between “special lovin’” (why does it make me think of McLovin from Superbad?) and normal “lovin’” is. Does her poor husband still get the normal kind even if he’s been unpleasant? How much better is the special kind? These are all questions I would ask Meghan given the opportunity. The problem, of course, is that Meghan is using this special lovin’ as a power play: this is a clear threat to withhold sex if her future husband doesn’t behave in a certain way. Of course, we all want our partners to think we’re beautiful, but threatening to refuse “special lovin’” if he doesn’t shower her with compliments every night seems a bit unreasonable. It also draws on the cliché that men are the ones who want sex and that women generously grant it to them.
The next verse is almost too painful to include, but here it is:
After every fight
And maybe then I’ll let you try and rock my body right
Even if I was wrong
You know I’m never wrong
Why, why disagree?
Oh Meghan, I really can’t see this marriage working out. Arguments are normal in any relationship, but the way to solve them isn’t for one person to concede every time to keep the peace, especially if it’s because the other person is withholding sex. Now I have to admit that I’m the type of person who tends to think they’re always right, but even I realize that adopting the standpoint ‘I’m never wrong’ is just not healthy. Why disagree? Because, Meghan, otherwise you’re going to end up with a relationship full of resentment.
Quick caveat: ‘Why disagree?’ is a wonderful phrase when employed to annoy siblings, and my sister and I have taken to using it to excuse all unreasonable behaviour.
Before its conclusion, the song quickly goes over a list of needy demands. At this point I expect the future husband has already run a mile, but the lyrics continue digging their huge, un-feminist hole just in case he needs further convincing to cancel the wedding:
Dear future husband,
Make time for me
Don’t leave me lonely
And know we’ll never see your family more than mine
I’ll be sleeping on the left side of the bed (hey)
Open doors for me and you might get some… kisses [Ed: I think we all know exactly what the subtext is here]
Don’t have a dirty mind
Just be a classy guy
Buy me a ring
Buy-buy me a ring, (babe)
I don’t feel that much needs to be said here. Creating distance between one’s partner and their family is a sign of a very unhealthy, possessive relationship, using physical affection as a reward for certain behaviours (although we might do it subconsciously) is verging on psychological bullying, and making sexual innuendos whilst telling him not to have a dirty mind is cruel and confusing. Is he going to buy her a ring? I sincerely hope they both get some couples’ counseling first.
As with ‘All About That Bass’, which is close to being brilliantly body positive until it starts talking about skinny bitches, ‘Dear Future Husband’ is stuck-in-your-head catchy. The melody is so addictive that the awful lyrics haven’t actually stopped me from listening to it, although there are some lines where I have to block out the words.
I will, in fact, probably play it at my upcoming wedding, as it is a great song to get people dancing. However, to insure that our marriage lasts for more than a day, I will warn my own future husband well in advance that from a lyrical point of view, I strongly disagree.