Nestled on the northwest coast of Nantucket Island is an unassuming boutique named Jewel of the Isle that has been experiencing a business boom of late. Owners Gary and Kelli Trainor’s handmade seashell bracelets and basket charms have been a draw for more than 25 years, but the store has a new attraction: Their daughter Meghan‘s first platinum plaque, presented to her on the Sept. 11 Ellen DeGeneres Show by DeGeneres herself for her smash debut single, “All About That Bass.” “My dad’s like, ‘Business is great now!'” says Trainor, 20.
That isn’t the only good news Trainor’s parents shared with her recently. The singer-songwriter’s mom was the first to tell her that “Bass” had boomed to the top of the Billboard Hot 100, reaching Trainor, who had just landed in Australia for a promotional run on Sept. 10, through text before her Epic label boss L.A. Reid or manager Troy Carter. “After 15 hours of flying I panicked — I didn’t know what she was talking about!” Trainor recalls, over the phone from Sydney. “I started bawling in the middle of the airport. Everyone looked at me like I was crazy. My parents were like, ‘You made it, babe!'”
The Trainors have extra reason to be proud: Two years ago, they encouraged their then-18-year-old daughter to pass up college in favor of a freshly inked publishing deal with Nashville’s Big Yellow Dog Music. “They told me, ‘You can learn more with this job than you can in a classroom — go for it!'” Trainor says. “I decided to write songs and travel.”
Trainor still seems a little shell-shocked, and who can blame her? It hasn’t even been a full year since she moved from Los Angeles to Nashville last November to try writing songs for country artists (Rascal Flatts picked two of her songs for new album Rewind). Soon after, she paired up with writer-producer Kevin Kadish for the fateful session that produced “Bass.”
“I’d just gotten back from L.A. writing for pop stars, trying to pretend I was them,” Trainor remembers. “The first thing Kevin said was, ‘I don’t want to have any rules today. I just want to write a great song.'”
They liked their track, but didn’t make much of its commercial prospects. “We told each other, ‘We’re never going to make a dime off this,'” recalls Trainor.
Three months later, Trainor found herself singing “All About That Bass” for Reid and the New York staff of Epic Records, which signed her a week later. Now, she has just released her debut EP, Title (which bows at No. 15 on the Sept. 27 Billboard 200), and is at the center of a body-positivity movement sweeping music, from Mary Lambert‘s “Secrets” to Colbie Caillat‘s makeup-free video for “Try.” Trainor says “Bass” was inspired by her struggle to embrace her beauty. “I still look at pictures like, ‘I don’t like that,’ and my mom has to tell me, ‘Stop doing that to yourself.’ Even my auntie will be like, ‘You’re adorable,'” Trainor says. “I was always a little insecure. I had brothers that played football, so I was just a straight-up tomboy for a minute. I didn’t know makeup and hair stuff. My friends had to tell me what a straightener was. I didn’t know fashion or any of that until the label gave me a stylist.” (Indeed, Trainor was getting an Epic-sanctioned manicure during her interview.)
Now, Trainor has become a model of self-acceptance for kids across the globe. “I got up at six this morning to reply to fan letters and Instagram posts,” she says. “I don’t consider myself a feminist, but I’m down for my first opportunity to say something to the world to be so meaningful. If you asked me, ‘What do you want to say?’ it would be, ‘Love yourself more.'”
But other songs by Trainor are devoted to loving other people, through values as vintage as her doo-wop-indebted sound. The EP’s title track is an ode to commitment before sex; on “Dear Future Husband,” she lists requirements to a future beau, including “flowers every anniversary.” “Girls need to be treated better. I never got that growing up,” she says. “In high school, I didn’t date awesome dudes.”
Trainor is now single and looking — though she isn’t sure if the success of “Bass” will help or hurt her prospects. “Now I go to work and I don’t know if I got time for a boyfriend. But do you have anyone I could date?”
This article first appeared in the Sept. 27th issue of Billboard.