It takes a special doll to warrant her own soundtrack, so come on, Barbie, let’s go party.
“Barbie The Album,” out Friday, feels like an occasion, the way blockbuster soundtracks of the ‘80s – looking at you “Top Gun,” “Dirty Dancing,” “Footloose” – commandeered radio for months with a cascade of hits.
“We want people to experience it as a front-to-back body of work of listening moments,” says Kevin Weaver, Atlantic Records’ West Coast president who produced the album with Atlantic’s executive vice president and co-head of pop/rock A&R Brandon Davis and super-producer Mark Ronson (Lady Gaga, Adele, Bruno Mars).
With 17 original songs from such artists as Sam Smith, Billie Eilish, Ava Max, Tame Impala, Dua Lipa and Lizzo and one cover (Brandi Carlile wrenching hearts with The Indigo Girls’ “Closer to Fine”), the soundtrack is delightfully frothy, but not afraid to delve into feelings.
Ryan Gosling’s singing is a ‘standing ovation moment’
A standout on the album is “I’m Just Ken,” Gosling’s showpiece that starts as a power ballad, zigs into a fist-clenching angst rocker, zags into an Elton John-esque instrumental and then returns to ‘80s-style anthemic rock.
Through it all, Gosling, his voice vaguely reminiscent of Elvis Costello, begs Barbie to give him a chance, promising, “I’m just Ken … I’m great at doing stuff.”
Gosling’s turn is heartfelt and amusing and both Weaver and Davis are quick with effusive praise, with Davis rating the actor’s singing a “10 out of 10” and Weaver upping it to “1,000 out of 1,000.”
“It’s a standing ovation moment in the film,” Davis says. “We were blown away by him.”
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Adds Weaver, “We’ve seen the film a few times with real audiences and every single time at the end of that number, the audience erupts in applause. It’s a phenomenal moment.”
‘Barbie’ and a lucky Aqua number
Nicki Minaj’s devoted fan base calls themselves “Barbz,” so it’s only fitting she would be involved in the soundtrack. Her pairing with buzzy upstart Ice Spice on “Barbie World” features a slithering beat that weaves in and out of its bass-heavy pulse (parental warning: there are a few drops of profanity).
But the backbone of the song is “Barbie Girl,” the quirky novelty hit from Europoppers Aqua.
Weaver says they worked with the Danish-Norwegian group to clear the rights to use the most obvious song in pop history for a Barbie movie, and points out a numerical twist: The original “Barbie Girl” peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1997 and now “Barbie World” debuted at No. 7 on the same chart.
The irony of the lightweight piffle being resurrected 26 years later isn’t lost on the group.
“It feels like they’re definitely trying to maximize the value of this moment,” Weaver says.
The return of “Barbie Girl” also gives Aqua some vindication. Mattel sued the band in 1997 claiming trademark violation. The lawsuit was dismissed.
Lizzo, Brandi Carlile, Haim among soundtrack highlights
There is nary a snoozer on “Barbie The Album” – an efficient collection of mostly two-to-three-minute songs – but a handful of inclusions pop out.
Lizzo, “Pink”: Throw in a memory of Madonna’s “Holiday” mixed with Lizzo’s matter-of-fact delivery (“We got important things to do!”) and you’ll want to immediately obey and dance. It’s a horn-dusted blast of fluffy fun.
Charli XCX, “Speed Drive”: Like its name, the caffeinated pop song zooms merrily, with the through line of Toni Basil’s 1982 smash “Mickey” leading its chanting chorus.
Haim, “Home”: The sublime voices of the California sisters mesh with trickling synthesizers as they sing, sincerely, about Barbie’s inner strength. But really, it’s a song about anyone looking back and moving forward.
Tame Impala, “Journey to the Real World”: Kevin Parker needs only 90 seconds to captivate with gliding disco swirls that propel a dreamscape of sound. Could this music be the backdrop to a ride at a theme park? Yes, and please.
Ava Max, “Choose Your Fighter”: Leaning on the most memorable parts of her 2020 hit, “Kings & Queens,” Max offers a galloping dance track with a ridiculously hooky chorus, her honeyed voice turning spiky when necessary to make a point.
Sam Smith, “Man I Am”: Their voice unrecognizable at first, Smith injects some spice into this sugary soundtrack, proclaiming early that “this one is for the boys.” Over buzzing keyboard and jittery dance floor beats they inform, “That’s just the man I am/super sleazy, sexy and freaky Ken tonight.”
Billie Eilish, “What Was I Made For?” and Brandi and Catherine Carlile, “Closer to Fine”: Both songs spotlight the thoughtful side of “Barbie,” with Eilish’s breathy piano ballad showcasing her upper register in a delivery that defines heartbreak. Is Barbie a plastic toy or a real woman? “I don’t know how to feel, but someday I might,” Eilish sings forlornly.
Meanwhile, Brandi and wife Catherine replace the hard-strummed acoustic guitars of the 1989 Indigo Girls’ classic with delicate picking, piano and newfound pensiveness. When they sing, softly, “I wrap my fear around me like a blanket, I sailed my ship of safety ‘til I sank it,” it resonates with a deep sigh.
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