It’s Barbie’s world and we’re all just living in it. The film that became a global phenomenon, making the most money of any film in the U.S. and worldwide for the year, has also made a strong showing during awards season. Among this year’s list of Grammy nominees, it dominates. The soundtrack, which is a major feature of the film’s merchandising, landed Record Of The Year and Song Of The Year nominations for Billie Eilish, Finneas, Mark Ronson, and Andrew Wyatt. That track, “What Was I Made For?” also garnered a Best Pop Solo Performance nom for Eilish. Dua Lipa’s “Dance The Night” also has a nomination for Song Of The Year.

It goes on from there. Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice’s reinvention of Aqua’s “Barbie World” got a Best Rap nomination — and the latter is up for Best New Artist. The soundtrack itself is nominated for Best Compilation Soundtrack For Visual Media while Ronson and Wyatt share a nomination for Best Score Soundtrack For Visual Media (Includes Film And Television). And, perhaps most remarkably, in the category of Best Song Written For Visual Media four of the five nominees are from Barbie — the three songs listed above and “I’m Just Ken,” performed by Ryan Gosling and written by Ronson and Wyatt.

For those keeping score at home, that’s a total of 11 nominations for one soundtrack, besting the year’s most nominated artist, SZA, who has nine. And aside from the Barbie soundtrack and SZA, women lead the Grammy nominations this year — which is exactly the kind of domination that Barbie Land expects from women in the Real World. But does it mean that we’ve reached equality (or even established a matriarchy) in music and the problems of feminism are solved?

Obviously not — the Annenberg Institute’s annual report on gender inequalities in music notes that despite the prevalence of women nominated this year, down to it being a record-breaking year for women nominees in the big four categories (Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year, Album Of The Year, and Best New Artist), women are underrepresented in behind-the-scenes roles, including producing and songwriting. So let’s start there, with the men who produced and wrote much of the Barbie soundtrack.

Ronson stepped in to executive produce a soundtrack and score the film after being texted the question, “Barbie?” by music supervisor George Drakoulias, the AP reports, who previously worked with filmmakers Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach across several of their films, including Marriage Story and Frances Ha. It is Ronson’s first time scoring and creating an original soundtrack for a film, although he previously contributed to some of the most-awarded songs on the soundtrack for A Star Is Born in 2018, including “Shallow.”

What Ronson and Wyatt ended up doing with Gerwig and the film’s editor, Nick Houy, went far beyond commissioning original pop songs for the film that fit Barbie. Obviously, it was heavy on women artists who were asked to look at the world through Barbie’s eyes or narrate her experience. One standout moment that became a breakout single from the film is Dua Lipa’s “Dance The Night,” which plays during a party and choreographed dance scene only to record scratch to a halt when Barbie asks, “Do you ever think about dying?” The moment was so powerful that it was in early trailers for the film to set the tone. Ronson and Wyatt constructed the music, which Gerwig used as a placeholder and to choreograph the dancing, but they brought Dua in later to write lyrics. “Dua Lipa wrote specific lyrics to picture, similarly to Lizzo, which was extraordinary,” Gerwig told IndieWire. “I mean she’s just standing in a studio making up lyrics to Margot [looking at] the camera and [gesturing] at the camera.” Gerwig and Huoy decided the song was so good that they wanted to use it everywhere in the score, ultimately blending it in every time the Mattel executives were on screen. Lizzo’s song “Pink” was similarly constructed, with the singer ad-libbing lines to the scene over music by Ronson and Wyatt.

The group did something similar with Billie Eilish’s “What Was I Made For?,” preparing a 30-minute cut of the movie, because there wasn’t a specific scene they wanted a song from Eilish for, and tasking her with writing a song that would explain what was on Barbie’s mind. Ronson and Wyatt took stems of the final product and created score that lilts in and out of the film’s score repeatedly. “By the time you get to it at the end, you’ve actually been hearing it the whole movie,” Gerwig said.

Eilish manages to hit on something else with her song that became a big topic of discourse around the film: the complexities of performing femininity. As Barbie experiences the realities of objectification and sexism in the Real World, Eilish’s lyrics explore themes of self-actualization. While Barbie explains to Ken that he has to stand on his own, Eilish examines transactional relationships and being “something you paid for.” And while Barbie struggles with depression after failure, so does Eilish. Talking to Apple Music, Eilish admits that after writing the initial song and listening back to it, she realized she was writing about her own life. “Every single lyric is exactly how I feel. It’s about my life,” she said.

Those songs are accompanied by a gaggle of other talented women artists, including Haim, Charli XCX, Nicki Minaj, Ice Spice, Karol G, PinkPanthress, Gayle, and Ava Max. Atlantic Records and Warner Brothers set the soundtrack up to be an international success, with artists from all over the globe included and singles released regionally. It reflects the Barbies in the movie who represent a range of ethnicities, body types, and (of course) hair colors.

The b-side (and film’s b-story) comes in the voice of Ken, whose biggest splash on the soundtrack is “I’m Just Ken,” written by Ronson and Wyatt and performed by Ryan Gosling. It’s an unhinged diatribe from a rejected guy with lines funny enough to stop him from being an incel (see “a life of blonde fragility” and “anywhere else I’d be a 10”) and brilliantly stupid enough to stop him from being sympathetic. It’s a fan favorite we may never forget or forgive for coining the term “Kenergy.”

What makes the Barbie soundtrack an oddity is what also made it such an interesting success. It’s not a feminist point of view or the award nominations it has garnered for women artists. It’s the return of the original soundtrack. It would have been easy to load this movie up with Aqua’s “Barbie Girl,” drop a ‘70s disco track into the dance scene, and commission one original song to be the “heart” of the film. In fact, that’s what most movies do. It takes a guaranteed blockbuster — with a blockbuster budget — to even be able to afford to pay for this many new songs. And it required the distribution arm of an international company, perhaps subsidized by some Mattel money, to have the marketing dollars to get this many hit singles off a soundtrack, let alone fund the awards-season campaigns for them. But after seeing it happen with A Star Is Born and Ronson’s years of mastering the mixtape with his compilation releases — as well as his time producing albums by some of the most successful women in music — it’s an out-of-the-ballpark home run in Barbie.

Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.

Posted in: Pop
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