"Let’s give them a taste of what they know, and then let’s slap ‘em in the face," she says
Actually, you would like Meghan Trainor when she’s angry. The “All About That Bass” singer, who picked up the award for Best New Artist at last month’s Grammy Awards, says she recorded her surprising new single, “No,” after a disagreement with her record label. The 22-year-old thought she had her upcoming album, Thank You, in the can; label boss L.A. Reid thought she needed more time to find the next big single.
So a “fired up” Trainor hit the studio with producer Ricky Reed (Jason Derulo, Fifth Harmony), and within 24 hours they wrote and recorded “No”—an in-your-face, ’90s-inspired track about shutting down would-be suitors that departs dramatically from the retro pop sound of “Dear Future Husband” and “Lips Are Movin.”
Below, TIME chats with Trainor about what inspired her new direction, her karaoke preferences and why she’s crossing her fingers for a Missy Elliott remix. You can listen to “No” right here:
TIME: Congratulations on your Grammy win. Where are you keeping your trophy?
Meghan Trainor: It’s so embarrassing I have to say this, but I don’t know how to get it. I think we have to order it? Or ask the Grammys to give it to me? I haven’t gotten it yet.
“No” is a huge change for you. How important was it for you to find a new sound and show people that this new album isn’t the Meghan Trainor they think they know?
It was definitely a war with my label and my management because I was handing in songs, and I did the doo-wop. I was like, “Yeah, I killed it, I took it to a new level of funk!” They would say, “That’s exactly what everybody’s expecting, Meghan. Hit us with your songwriting skills, hit us with something no one would expect Meghan Trainor to do.” That pissed me off and fired me up, so I went into the studio and was like, “Ugh! We need an angry song! More hip hop, more urban! Let’s go!” We did that in one day and they loved it.
So you were going to continue the vibe of your last album until your label suggested mixing it up?
Yeah, because the label has heard more Meghan Trainor songs than anyone’s heard, and they know what I’m capable of. They’re like, “Outdo yourself! Don’t quit here, don’t stop writing, keep going until you feel in your stomach, ‘Oh, this is it, this is the new era of Meghan Trainor.’”
Before that, were you ever worried about getting pegged as the “retro” girl or getting pigeonholed in a particular style of music?
No. I always knew I’m very good at writing the retro stuff, so I always want to keep that with me, and on this new album you will hear that on the deluxe version. But I know that I’m capable of doing more. I know it’s tricky to put out an album that may sound different, like how Bruno Mars tried to do all these different genres and got called out for that. I thought that was crazy. I thought, if anything, let’s praise him for being so talented that he can pull off these different genres. He’s one of the only ones getting away with it. So that’s what I want to try to do, to be the female version who’s going to do all these genres—but successfully do them all.
There’s a lot going on in this song: you have the late-90s, early-2000s pop and R&B vibes, then you have those guitars. How did you settle on this direction?
We built this track in one day from scratch. I remember we kept saying, “What’s weirder?” You hear the breakdown, the doo-wop intro—we did that when the song was almost done. We were like, “No, we need a bizarre intro that people won’t expect, we can’t just come in with these drums.” I remember I was like, “Let’s try to put guitar on this verse,” this crunchy, synth-y guitar. It was random, like, “Let’s break every rule we can find.”
The intro is a little sneaky—you hear it and think you know what’s coming, then it turns into something else entirely. Were you hoping to fake out listeners?
Yeah. When you hear the song without that intro, it was too much, “Who is this? Who is this new artist?” So I thought, let’s give them a taste of what they know, and then let’s slap ‘em in the face. [Laughs] In the nicest, sweetest way! A polite slap.
Listening to this song, I get some TLC vibes, some NSYNC vibes. It probably could have been a Britney Spears song 15 years ago. Were there any artists you were thinking about as reference points while creating this song?
Obviously we wanted that ‘90s feel that everybody loves and recognizes and misses. I generally miss that on the radio. I wanted it to feel hard, as if Missy Elliott could be on it.
Have you thought about getting a rapper to remix the song? You mentioned Missy—I can totally imagine her jumping on the track. Call her up!
If you could get me Missy Elliott, I would totally do that. I’m always open to features. I love features. I love collaborating with other artists. It’s a great opportunity to meet them. I’m a huge Missy fan. I would cry if she did that.
“No” has a very empowering message for women. With your last record, there was a lot of discussion about whether some of your songs had messages that were anti-feminist or bad for women. Did that conversation influence what you sang about on this album?
I didn’t really think about my last record while going into this record, but I did know that I had a few good women anthems, and I have even more now too. I have a song called “Woman Up.” Like man up, but woman up. I love women anthems, and I know the world likes hearing them—even guys. “Single Ladies,” I always see guys singing that at karaoke.
I feel like that’s a hard song to sing at karaoke.
Yeah, but when you’re drunk, you sing just like Beyoncé.
What is your go-to karaoke song?
That’s a great one. Recently I did karaoke and they had throwback night: I was doing Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder.
What’s the “No” video going to be like?
We’re shooting it the day the song’s released, and it’s going to be the opposite of “All About That Bass.” It’s going to be dark and very cool and hopefully just as awesome as “All About That Bass,” but literally the opposite feel. It’s going to be a place they’ve never seen Meghan Trainor in before, and I can’t wait to jump into that world.