By Sidnie Paisley Thomas, Staff Writer
Album: Barbie: The Album
Favorite Songs: “Barbie World,” “Man I Am,” and “Angel”
The film Barbie, directed by Greta Gerwig and starring Margot Robbie as Barbie and Ryan Gosling as Ken, has taken the world by storm. After weeks of anticipation, the world was finally able to experience Barbie Land for themselves and follow Barbie along her journey of self-discovery and growth.
Along with the release of the movie came Barbie: The Album, the soundtrack to all things pink and plastic. The album features a wide variety of artists, from Lizzo and Dua Lipa to Tame Impala and HAIM. The variety of the artists on the album may seem contradictory on first listen, but after viewing the film the blend of genres and styles makes perfect sense.
Produced by legendary producer Mark Ronson, Barbie: The Album blends different genres, themes, and styles to create songs that perfectly aid the narrative director Gerwig aims to tell. From a drill rap track sampling Aqua’s 1997 hit “Barbie World” featuring Ice Spice and Nicki Minaj to an emotional inquiry into the state of womanhood on “What Was I Made For” by Billie Eilish, the Barbie soundtrack serves less as an aesthetic addition to the movie, instead, it’s another tool to further tell the story Gerwig sets out on. Instead of using the music on Barbie: The Album to set a mood it tells the story of Barbie in its own way, working in tandem with the film to help emphasize the point Gerwig aims to make. Each song correlates with a moment or a feeling in the film that is important to understanding the story of Barbie.
Welcome to Barbie Land!
As an artist, Lizzo perfectly embodies the fun feminine spirit of Barbie, so the choice to feature her in the opening song of the movie works perfectly. On “Pink,” she graciously welcomes us to Barbie Land and sets the tone for a day in the life of a Barbie. We learn how the Barbies start their perfect days, why they love the color pink (because it goes with everything, and it looks really good on them), and what the core values of Barbie Land are. The disco-inspired groovy track makes you wanna dance in your seat, Lizzo’s inviting voices leave us no choice but to take a peek into Barbie Land. The song conveniently ends right before we say hello to Midge, a discontinued and disgraced Barbie character.
The lead single on Barbie: The Album, “Dance The Night” by Dua Lipa accompanies Barbie’s big blowout dance party. Lipa taps into the style she cultivated on her previous album Future Nostalgia, creating a futuristic disco tune that pays homage to songs of the past while simultaneously sounding brand new.
“Dance The Night” makes you want to learn the choreography and join in, but it also begins to set up the conflict Barbie will face in the movie. Lipa sings about dancing through the pain of heartbreak and sadness with diamonds under her eyes. These lyrics correspond with Barbie's underlying thoughts of death and fear, which she will soon express on the dance floor. “Dance The Night” encapsulates the versatile spirit of Barbie we’ll soon be familiar with. While the movie is fun and entertaining, it also deals with heavy topics gracefully.
Both Dua Lipa and Lizzo’s tracks embody the spirit of Barbie Land, it’s constantly a party, it’s fun, it’s uplifting, and most importantly it’s pink. Under all this, Barbie Land and its inhabitants seem to be ignoring underlying trouble. Thoughts of death and discontinued dolls linger beneath their perfect pink world.
Barbie’s not the only character facing existential crises in Barbie. Ken struggles to find his purpose outside of just being Barbie’s boyfriend, especially when Barbie isn’t too keen on spending time with him.
On the track “I’m Just Ken,” sung by Ken himself, Ryan Gosling expresses his feelings of frustration and inadequacy as he struggles to win Barbie's adoration. On the slow pop rock ballad reminiscent of an Elton John track, Gosling belts about how he wants people to look beyond his tan and his “bod.” He informs us that anywhere else he’d “be a 10,” but to Barbie, he’s just another Ken.
Suddenly, the song transitions from a rock ballad to an upbeat sweat soaked 80s pop hit, after viewing the movie we learn that this space lends itself to a choreographed dance break. Just like Ken, his song is quirky and a little bit boneheaded. Likewise, his inherent drama and goof parody his struggles. He sings, “Is it my density to live and die a life of blonde fragility?” after Barbie decides she’d rather have a girls' night than spend time with him. “I’m Just Ken” embodies Ken’s character perfectly, in its appeal to our ethos we only find him more of a joke.
After his journey to the real world, Ken has a shift in attitude that’s reflected in Sam Smiths' “Man I Am.” His new confidence and desire to exist outside of Barbie’s shell cause him to lean into his manliness, and learn more about the patriarchy, something he heard about in the real world.
Smith translates Ken's campy new swagger perfectly on their track, its electric pop cords reflect Ken's overly exaggerated manly persona. The lyrics consist of the stereotypical manly interests Ken is now obsessed with like Wall Street and strip clubs, and a surface-level understanding of women’s roles in men’s lives. “Man I Am” signals Ken's switch in persona—this song serves as the musical version of Ken's fur mink coat. Similarly to “I’m Just Ken,” Ken’s dramatic and unserious attitude is present, but when employed on a hyper-pop track it doesn’t seem so outrageous. Instead, “Man I Am” serves as a real confidence booster for Ken, who has discovered his purpose as a beer-drinking, mink coat-wearing, horse enthusiast.
Barbie deals with themes of existentialism, gender, and purpose as Barbie travels to the real world to discover who she is. “On What Was I Made For,” Billie Eilish sings about Barbie's struggles with her purpose. On the surface, the lyrics reflect almost exactly what happens to Barbie on screen, she used to float but now she falls, and she’s not sure how to deal with the fact that she’s just something people can buy and pay for. Even though Barbie is meant to be the perfect woman, her struggles reflect those of real girls. The feeling of floating through life as a young girl the same way Barbie floats down to her car each morning, then one day not understanding your purpose and falling. The discovery that society bases the value of your life as a woman, not on any of the things that actually make you who you are, and instead only on what your purpose is to men is just as jarring for Barbie as it is for young girls dealing with it for the first time.
Barbie’s existential struggle reflects that of the young girls who play with her, and in “What Am I Made For” Eilish can express this in a way that connects with her young adult and adolescent listeners. Her voice is soft and broken, and she sings almost in a whisper as she asks repeatedly “What was I made for?” over a simple piano melody.
Hearing Barbie’s struggles in this song sung by a popular artist helps the viewer further understand the similarities between Barbie and themselves. While Barbie might have literally stopped floating and started falling, viewers and listeners can understand the feeling of suddenly no longer moving through life with ease when sung by Eilish, a real artist with whom they already have a connection too. “What Was I Made For” vocalizes the feelings Barbie can’t seem to understand, not being able to grapple with the fact that the people around you predetermine your purpose as a woman.
Barbie: The Album is just as important as a storytelling tool to the movie as the script. Each song has a specific feeling found in the movie and further emphasizes it to viewers. Some songs like “I’m Just Ken” and “What Was I Made For” tell us exactly what feelings the characters are wrestling with in that scene. Other songs, like “Man I Am” and “Dance The Night” set the tone for the scene. Either way, Barbie: The Album achieves its goal of furthering Gerwig's story. While they serve this narrative purpose, the songs are also masterfully produced and fun to listen to.
Barbie: The Album is sure to find its way into your summer playlist—you won't be able to resist its shiny pink exterior and its heartfelt interior.