Inside the Smash Success of “All About That Bass”

Ed Rode / Handout, Baltimore Sun
Kevin Kadish with Meghan Trainor. [Ed Rode / Handout, Baltimore Sun]

The first time writer/producer Kevin Kadish worked with fledgling songwriter Meghan Trainor, neither could have imagined that the very first song they created together, the edgy, ’50s-style body anthem “All About That Bass,” was going to turn into global phenomenon. The number one song in the United States for a staggering eight weeks, the little track that could has, so far, sold 3,195,000 copies, gone 3x Platnium, and turned Trainor into pop’s latest megastar. Here, Kadish explains the origin of “All About That Bass” and attempts to make sense of the song’s incredible success.

Kevin! First off, congratulations on everything that’s happening for you and Meghan.

It’s pretty insane right now, I have to say.

There’s a special quality to getting a number one song.. In the entire history of American music, there really haven’t been a lot of them- or less than you’d think. And then you have “All About That Bass,” which was number one for two full months. And, what must be doubly amazing is that this is a positive song you can be proud of. So I want to know everything that went into this track. Let’s start off with the fact that this was originally going into a more rap direction. Is that right?

When I first came up with the title a couple years ago, I thought it could be a song like Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.” But with Meghan, it sounded way better hearing a girl sing it. It was a nice twist on the genre, because then it turns into a girl singing about being comfortable with her body. We didn’t know we were writing a body anthem; we were just writing a song for Meghan. The original title was “All Bass No Treble.” When Meghan came in to work with me, she said she liked it and started singing, “Because I’m all about that bass, ’bout that bass,” and then I said, “No treble.” So it was really organic. We didn’t rack our brains to think about what it could be.

So you had a list of ideas and she kind of picked one?

Yeah, I had a list of titles and a beat when she came in since I knew I wanted to write an up-tempo song.

Now that you have the beat and the title, how long did it take to turn into the song everyone knows today?

It did not take long. Maybe an hour or two; we didn’t rack our brains. It was just fun- we weren’t over-thinking it. We just tried to be honest with the lyrics. At one point we said, “Nobody’s ever going to hear this song, but at least we like it.” As soon as we said “skinny bitches” it was like, who’s gonna ever say that?

So the song wasn’t supposed to be Meghan in the first place?

Well, she wasn’t an artist at the time. But when I heard her singing it I said, “You need to be the artist. Nobody else can sing this.” She said, “Well, maybe in a couple of years. I don’t know if I look like a pop star right now,” and I said, “Who cares?! Literally, who cares?” So we set out to make a ’50s EP with hip hop beats. She got a record deal off of that EP and “All About That Bass,” and then we had to go write the rest of the record.

Were there artists or songs from the ’50s and ’60s that you guys were inspired by?

The song we bonded over was Jimmy Soul’s “If You Wanna Be Happy.” My parents were teenagers in the ’50s and her dad was a child of the ’50s, and it just kind of worked out. I had the concept to make a ’50s album for a couple years, but nobody gave a shit about ’50s music. It was all David Guetta on the radio. When we wrote it, “Titanium” was number one.

I think there’s a lesson there to not follow current chart trends when writing songs, and just go with what you think sounds good.

For me it has always been about being the best version of yourself you can be and not trying to be some version of someone else, because that’s when you lose. What you do is unique. Embrace your influences and take what you need, but don’t try to be anybody but yourself. Don’t try to be like Rihanna… there’s already a Rihanna and she’s really successful. That’s sort of just my thought.

After you and Meghan worked on the song, were you tweaking it for a long time or did you kind of forget about it?

I wasn’t tweaking it at all. What you hear on the radio is my mix. I don’t want to call it a demo, but that’s essentially what it was: the demo I sent to Meghan. All L.A. Reid did was master it. He didn’t change or add anything.

Tell me about the song’s rise, because the music video really raised its profile, right?

The song’s rise was weird. When they first did an exclusive release of the video on Idolator.com, they said they got more traffic on this than anything they’ve seen in a long time. And I thought it was a good sign, but had no idea it was going to be what it was. When they then put the video on YouTube, I was excited when we had 100,000 views, but I remember the A&R guy saying to me, “We’re going to see what happens, but nobody’s rushing out to buy a Meghan Trainor record right now so we’ve got time (to make her full album).” The first time I heard it on the radio was on 107.5 The River here in Nashville. I was with Meghan at the time and she took a little video clip of her listening to it and she started crying. And that video went viral too! However, when she appeared on the The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon (performing “All About That Bass” with classroom instruments,) the song exploded. The day after that aired, she was selling 58 thousand units a day. Some big artists don’t even sell that in a week now. People weren’t just liking it on YouTube and sharing it on Facebook, they were buying the Mp3.

What was it like when the song finally hit number one?

Well, I was always skeptical about that. I wasn’t doubting the quality of the song or the ability of the label to get it there, I was more cautiously optimistic. When it hit number one, it was surreal. We thought Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” would take our place every week, but we kept on being number one. People just liked the song; whether it was the message, or Meghan, or video… I don’t know. The song is bigger than me. Our initial thought process was to make an EP and see if anybody liked it, forget about a record deal (or chart success).

I went to a wedding in September, and when the DJ played “All About That Bass,” everyone hit the dance floor and started singing along to it. Then afterwards, even though the DJ played dozens of songs, people were still singing the chorus to “All About That Bass.”

That’s awesome. I will say that Meghan and I have a supreme chemistry for writing, more than anyone in my entire life. I think we even wrote the new single, “Lips Are Moving,” in eight minutes. We’re not trying too hard when we’re writing. It’s all about having fun and putting together songs we like.

I was thinking about the perceptions of being an overnight success, because I think people would call you that… but in reality, that’s not the case at all.

Well, the thing is that I’ve never had a song this big. I wrote some stuff for Stacie Orrico that were hits but they were never number one and they were never number one for multiple weeks. I don’t even think they were ever even considered for Grammys. With “All About That Bass,” everyone’s telling me I’m going to be nominated. I can’t even think about that kind of stuff. That’s the kind of thing nobody expects unless you’re a complete egomaniac.

With the song’s success, is it hard to continue working? Are you distracted by everything that’s happening around you?

I’m very appreciative of everything that’s happened. But as far as the rest of it, I can’t look backwards, otherwise I’ll stop moving forwards. I look at it like, if you’re driving a race car and pass the guy who’s in first place, you don’t then turn around to go, “Holy shit! I just passed the guy!” You just keep driving; if not, you lose focus. And that’s what I’m trying to do. I’ve definitely been more selective about who I’ve been working on. Now I’m getting into rooms where maybe I wouldn’t have been considered for. I’ve worked with a lot of people and have had a lot of cuts in my career, but you’re only as popular as your recent success. And I get it… that’s fine. And you know what the beautiful thing is about this for me? The best part of everything? It’s that on this song, there are two writers and one producer. Nowadays in pop music, there’s five or 10 writers or two or three producers on every track. The majority of Meghan’s record is Meghan and I.

It’s unfiltered creativity.

It’s crazy. It’s amazing to me.

Well, enjoy it. I wish you continued success for sure.

Thanks for listening to me blab, I appreciate it. The only talented people in this business, who don’t make it, are the ones who quit.