And suddenly the whole world turned … pink. I am referring, of course, to the spectacular box-office opening run of the movie Barbie (2023) and the success of its soundtrack, Barbie The Album. To be fair, there were warning signs. The pre-release publicity for the Barbie movie has been as impressive as that for any movie in recent memory. But, as is often repeated, we live in uncertain times.
The hype kicked into full gear a year ago, when the movie’s impressive US$100M budget was disclosed. In June 2022, CNN reported that there was a global shortage of pink paint due to the preparation of the Barbie sets. As we know, hype & big budgets don’t always translate to success & cinema attendance has been in the doldrums, so the impact of the movie and its soundtrack could not be predicted.
According to Forbes (27 July 2023), Dance the Night by Dua Lipa, as heard above, is by far the most streamed song from the Barbie soundtrack on Spotify. Released ahead of the movie, on 25 May 2023, the song has been streamed 139 million times. Barbie World, by Nicki Minaj & Ice Spice, is the next most streamed (uploaded June 23, 78.6M plays). Impressively, Billie Eilish’s heartrending ballad What Was I Made For? has 45.6M listens since July 13. These figures are snapshots; it is early days yet.
The Spotify achievements of the Barbie soundtrack are reflected in the UK singles charts. Billie Eilish is at #3, Dua Lipa is #4, and Nicki Minaj & Ice Spice are #5. This is the first time that 3 songs from a soundtrack have made the top 5 simultaneously. Meanwhile, Speed Drive by Charlie XCX is at #19, I’m Just Ken by Ryan Gosling is #25, & Pink by Lizzo is #39. Any of these tracks could move up and since, in Barbie Land, Ken feels deflated when ignored, we’d better give some attention to Ken:
The release of the soundtrack songs was staggered as part of Barbie’s mega marketing campaign. The trailer featuring Just Ken was released just 11 days before the movie opened on 21 July 2023.
Speaking about Just Ken to Variety, Mark Ronson explained how the song, which he wrote, led him to become co-writer of the score with his long-time collaborator Andrew Wyatt. The song was edited into a key battle scene, leading the film’s director, Greta Gerwig, to ask Ronson to expand the two-minute song into a seven-minute sequence with sections and breakdowns. Ronson says that if he had simply looped parts of the song it would have been “really boring and uninspiring”. So, with the help of Wyatt he “essentially scored this seven-minute battle scene around the song. And then they gave us the opening credits, and we slowly ended up writing more and more music until a couple of months ago they were just like, ‘You’re scoring the film’.”
Mark Ronson, who co-wrote and co-produced five songs for the soundtrack and helped curate the other tracks, is known to music fans as the seven-Grammy-winning producer of artists including Amy Winehouse, Adele, Lady Gaga, Paul McCartney and Bruno Mars. He also releases music under his own name. He was brought onto the Barbie production team by the film’s music supervisor, George Drakoulias.
One of the songs Ronson co-wrote is Pink which is performed by Lizzo. The track is a favourite of director Greta Gerwig and the film’s lead actor, Margot Robbie.
At this point the Music Man was going to embed Pink, but since Lizzo has been sued for sexual harassment in the period between the writing and the publishing of the article, we’re going to run with Home by Haim. Of course, the allegations against Lizzo are untested and need to be treated with due caution. Nonetheless, the allegations are gaining momentum, especially since Sophia Nahli Allison, Lizzo’s former creative director and documentary film director, has come out in support of the dancers who have laid charges, and can’t simply be ignored.
When it comes to the Barbie Movie phenomenon, Lizzo has become the elephant in the room. The song Pink sets up the movie. Moreover, the quasi-feminist remolding of Barbie that Mattel has been attempting for some time reaches its peak in Greta Gerwig’s Barbie.
Pink was my personal favourite track from the soundtrack. Lizzo essentially riffed on top of a backing track that Ronson and Wyatt had prepared. Gerwig has said “She knew exactly what was funny about [the film], and what she was doing with her lyrics was the same kind of humour. When she was literally singing what you’re seeing on screen, it was so deeply funny and all of sudden, as a result, it felt like it all went together.” Editor Nick Houy added: “It solved all of the problems we were having. Everyone suddenly got the tone of the movie immediately in a way they hadn’t before.”
Ironically, perhaps, Lizzo also recorded a Bad Day version of Pink. It features in the movie, but not on the soundtrack, though it was released on the official Pink single.
Many music fans have wondered why Aqua’s 1997 hit Barbie Girl isn’t on the soundtrack as a full song. Part of the reason is that Greta Gerwig was aiming for a reinvention of Barbie. Another part of the explanation may be the long legal dispute between Mattel, who own the Barbie brand, and Aqua’s record label, MCA.
Aqua’s hit called the Barbie doll a blonde bimbo and was full of innuendo. Mattel sued for trademark infringement in the US. Mattel’s suite described “a promiscuous Barbie doll sing[ing] in a flirtatious tone” & a “licentious Ken doll respond[ing] `kiss me here, touch me there.’” MCA countersued for defamation due to statements made by a Mattel representative. The U S District Court, California, dismissed both claims, declaring that on the one hand “Mattel’s statements were non-actionable hyperbole” and, on the other, that the song is a parody, “poking fun at both her (Barbie) and the plastic values she represents.” When the case went on appeal, Judge Alex Kozinski ruled “The parties are advised to chill.”
It appears that the parties have chilled. The Barbie Soundtrack song Barbie World by Nicki Minaj & Ice Spice, incorporates the original Aqua Barbie Girl chorus, and Aqua is credited:
Meanwhile, Aqua has almost doubled its Spotify following within three weeks and Barbie Girl is re-entering charts around the world. Everything Barbie the movie touches turns to, well, pink. Barbie had the biggest opening week of any film of 2023. In the US, the film took $356m (£276m), becoming the biggest debut ever for a film directed by a woman.
There are many tracks from the soundtrack that I haven’t mentioned. No worry, this album is going to be around for a while. One reviewer has described it as a bookend to Saturday Night Fever. To play out, here is Billie Eilish with “What Was I Made For?”. The song is leading the Barbie charge up the UK charts and soundtracks the movie’s most poignant scene.
As of 4 August 2023, there is a second album from Barbie (2023). The film’s original score by Mark Ronson & Andrew Wyatt has been released digitally.