Few things have captured the cultural zeitgeist in 2023 more than Barbie, Greta Gerwig’s film based on the classic Mattel toy that has become a $1 billion-movie since its release in July. But anyone who has seen the movie can attest that it’s more than just a comedic sendup or a feminist film lacing into cultural stereotypes of the past half-century — it’s also a deeply musical film, with songs by Lizzo, Matchbox 20 and others playing central roles in how the story plays out.
So it naturally follows that the soundtrack, with original songs by Billie Eilish, Dua Lipa, Ice Spice and Nicki Minaj, and more, would make waves as well — though perhaps few people predicted it would do this well. Three weeks after the soundtrack’s release, the album remains at No. 3 on the Billboard 200, while three of its singles — Dua’s “Dance The Night,” Eilish’s “What Was I Made For?” and Ice Spice and Nicki’s “Barbie World” — are in the top 15 of the Hot 100, and the top 10 of the Billboard Global 200. And that sustained success helps earn Atlantic Records West Coast president and Barbie soundtrack album co-producer Kevin Weaver the title of Billboard’s Executive of the Week.
The Barbie soundtrack isn’t Weaver’s first film success — he’s also been heavily involved in the soundtracks for The Greatest Showman, Suicide Squad, Daisy Jones & The Six, Birds Of Prey, Furious 7, The Fault in Our Stars and The Fate of the Furious, among others. But the Barbie film and soundtrack has captured the world’s collective attention in ways that none of those others truly have.
Here, Weaver discusses the impact of the film and its music, how Warner Music Group leveraged an all-hands-on-deck strategy to market it around the world and how the music played such a central role in the film itself. “The fact that Greta saw this film almost as a musical, and was so involved with the soundtrack, was an absolutely critical factor in how and why the music worked so well,” he says.
This week, the Barbie soundtrack spends its third week in the top five of the Billboard 200, with three of its songs in the top 15 of the Hot 100. How did this project come together, and what were the particular difficulties in pulling it off?
We had been tracking the development of the film for a few years and had frequent conversations with Warner Bros. and Mattel about partnering on the soundtrack. Once Greta and Noah [Baumbach] became attached to the project and Margot [Robbie] and Ryan [Gosling] were cast as Barbie and Ken, we aggressively started to put the pieces together. We try to start early on these types of projects, so we can actively contribute to how music shapes the project and vice versa. This was similar to when we worked on The Greatest Showman where we had a deal in place before the film was even officially greenlit by the studio.
The Barbie movie has become a cultural phenomenon. What have you guys done to market the soundtrack alongside that?
The music and our singles really helped fuel the cultural phenomenon months before the film had even opened. We were out with our singles, videos, social content, partnerships and strategy starting in late May. It felt critical to us that the soundtrack was an integral part of the overall campaign’s DNA. Our partners at Warner Bros. and Mattel really leaned into the music by incorporating it into every aspect of Barbie media and marketing in a truly unprecedented manner. The level of collaboration on this project and working with such smash records was the initial driving force behind this success.
The album didn’t just resonate in the U.S. — three of its songs are in the top 10 of the Global 200 chart, including two (Billie Eilish’s “What Was I Made For?” and Dua Lipa’s “Dance The Night”) in the top three. What did you do to help market this release beyond the U.S.?
We enlisted our entire global marketing machine at WMG in a way that I have never experienced before. Very early on, Max [Lousada] and Julie [Greenwald] deemed the album a “Superstar Level Release” where each single got our most coveted “track of the week” priority assignment. This means that every track had every possible lever pulled behind it, in every territory throughout the globe. We also had every marketing team throughout the world working hand in hand with their local counterparts at Warner Bros. and Mattel. By doing this, we unlocked every co-op marketing opportunity across all three companies, including digital partnerships, media, physical retail, in-theater and anything else you could imagine.
How have you guys been able to tap into the craze around the various merchandising tie-ins with the movie?
We have some co-op products with Mattel, plus more in the works for later this year. Mattel helped us tremendously with our vinyl and CDs at all major retailers around the world. We were also able to work together on all of their key Barbie promotions, which gave the soundtrack massive additional visibility in the marketplace.
Given how music plays such a central role in the film, how closely did you work with the film team and the movie studio on the soundtrack?
We worked in lockstep with the filmmakers, Mark Ronson, and the music supervisor, George Drakoulias. We were given the opportunity to see scenes from the film very early on while Greta was still in the beginning stages of assembling the director’s cut. This enabled us to come up with creative ideas and strategize with Greta as she was making the film. From that point on, we would all speak and text daily with bi-weekly creative calls. We constantly passed ideas back and forth, showed artists and writers scenes from the film and shared music for review as soon as a new demo or mix came in. Everyone provided feedback in real time. The fact that Greta saw this film almost as a musical, and was so involved with the soundtrack, was an absolutely critical factor in how and why the music worked so well.
You’ve worked on several huge soundtracks in the past several years, including The Greatest Showman and several Fast & Furious films. What did you learn from those that you applied to this, and how was this one different?
First and foremost, I always do what is best for the movie. You have to let the music become a character in the film with its own voice. If you super-serve the creative needs of the movie as the basis for everything, then the songs become a true extension of the film as opposed to an afterthought. With this clear directive, we work with artists who align with the overall aesthetic tone of the movie, and then hone in on hit records.
How have you been able to keep the momentum on this release going?
It’s the gift that keeps on giving. We worked intentionally early on to create our own brand with this music and have continued to market it past the film’s release just like we would with any other superstar artist. Greta made a masterpiece and now we get to continue to grow this music outside of the four walls of the film, which helps both the film and our music brand continue to flourish. We get to come up with new creative ideas every day while having fun building upon what we’ve already been able to accomplish.
Every aspect of this project has been a dream and I couldn’t be more grateful to the entire team at Atlantic, the global teams at WMG, our creative partners, Greta, Mark, George and the filmmakers, as well as our partners at Mattel and Warner Bros. Every single thing we have done here has gone against the grain and we are thankful to have had enormous support in an unprecedented capacity by all involved.
Last Week’s Top Executive: Cactus Jack GM David Stromberg