Barbie opens with the world’s favorite doll having the perfect day: She has her perfect world full of other perfect Barbies who may look and dress differently but act exactly the same. And there’s the doting love of Ken, whose existence is mostly an accessory to Barbie’s. The next day, it all goes terribly, terribly wrong. Soundtracking it is “Pink,” by Lizzo, a song that describes exactly what Barbie is experiencing onscreen — a campy touch of Eighties TV tropes to build out her pastel world.
“Lizzo’s lyrics are just so funny,” says main Barbie Margot Robbie, “and add an extra layer of comedy that I thought was quite genius.”
The Barbie soundtrack is one of the most important weapons in writer-director Greta Gerwig’s arsenal. Many of the film’s scenes have highly specific musical cues that she was seeking, which means she needed a team on board from the beginning to make the vision come alive.
“You’re hearing lyrics that are responding to what’s happening onscreen, so the music became more than just music — it became a device to enhance what the audience was watching and experiencing, and got to be the voice of the audience,” adds Robbie.
Atlantic nabbed the project early, working closely with Gerwig and her co-writer husband, Noah Baumbach.
“This was a really competitive project in our landscape, but we’ve been tracking Barbie for a long time,” says Kevin Weaver, Atlantic Records’ West Coast president. The label was a particularly strong partner for this project, having dominated the soundtrack market over the past several years, thanks to albums for Robbie’s Suicide Squad and Birds of Prey, as well as the Fast and the Furious franchise and the recent Daisy Jones & the Six.
The Barbie team knew they needed two songs in particular as soon as possible: a showstopping pop number for a highly choreographed dance scene, and a big Eighties-style power ballad for Ken, played by Ryan Gosling.
That was when Oscar- and seven-time Grammy Award-winning producer and songwriter Mark Ronson (A Star Is Born) got a text from his music-supervisor pal George Drakoulias. “Barbie?” is all it said. Ronson Zoomed with the Barbie squad while they were in England prepping for production. They told him they needed at least the basis of a song for the showstopper in two weeks.
“I don’t read a lot of scripts, but it was just everything I want in a movie,” Ronson recalls. “I was like, ‘If I don’t get this gig, this is gonna be my favorite movie of the year.’ ”
Along with collaborator Andrew Wyatt, the pair cooked up the beat to the disco dance-floor burner “Dance the Night,” based off a playlist of songs Gerwig had put together for them. Luckily, Gerwig loved what they sent her.
“We did all our dance rehearsals to the beat of the song before the lyrics were overlaid on top,” Robbie recalls. “It became the Barbie anthem on set. The dance-rehearsal time was really the first opportunity for all the actors playing Barbies to bond and make friends.”
Disco felt like the perfect reference point for what Barbie experiences, especially after she steps into the real world. As Gerwig told Robbie: “Disco comes with the assumption that people want to dance and have a good time. It didn’t realize it stopped being cool in the Seventies. Disco had no idea people started listening to punk rock. Disco is still there, in bell-bottoms, doing its thing.’”
“Dance the Night,” which was written for fellow Barbie star Dua Lipa to perform, is intrinsic to the DNA of the film, according to Weaver. But Ronson and Wyatt also became integral to the story: Together, the twosome composed an original score for the movie, and Ronson serves as executive producer for the soundtrack. Over nearly a full year, Ronson was tasked with helping curate songs that perfectly matched what Gerwig had envisioned. The soundtrack came together just as the movie did: working in lockstep and feeding into one another.
“[Gerwig] had a vision for a really diverse and unique world that she was creating,” Brandon Davis, executive VP and co-head of pop A&R at Atlantic, explains. “That’s why you’re hearing, for instance, a Karol G record that leans more reggaeton next to a Dominic Fike record that’s a nod to Sugar Ray.”
As Barbie was being edited, Ronson and Gerwig got into the habit of showing scenes from the film to a new artist on their wish list each week.
“Everybody would watch the scene and come back a week or two weeks later, and got exactly to the heart of everything we were trying to do,” Ronson says.
One of his first calls was to his friend Charli XCX, a huge Barbie fan who says her “first live performance” was an a cappella rendition of Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” when she was four years old, for a cruise-ship talent show. (She ended up winning.)
“My parents were like, ‘Oh, my God. No.’ They were really worried that I was going to get up on the stage and cry, and it would be a disaster,” she explains. “But I was adamant that I wanted to do it. I just sang it on the microphone with new music — the whole song — and I won the contest.”
Ronson and Gerwig gave Charli XCX a few scenes to pick from, but pop’s foremost lover of car anthems was hooked on the chase scene, and ended up penning “Speed Drive.”
“I’ve always really liked singing about cars,” she says. “For me, there is this intrinsic link between driving and music and feeling like you’re a star when you’re in a car.”
She wanted “Speed Drive,” where she flips Toni Basil’s “Mickey” for the chorus, to “feel quite bratty” and “about just being hot.”
As for the aforementioned Aqua song, fans were outraged when the Danish group told the press last year that their 1997 pop hit would not be featured in the film. Even though it wasn’t in the script, Gerwig’s plan all along was to find a place for it, especially since Robbie and others were begging for it.
“I was like, ‘Greta, how are we going to incorporate this song? We can’t do a Barbie movie and not have a nod to Aqua’s ‘Barbie Girl.’ It has to be in there.’ And [Greta] was like, ‘Don’t worry, we’re going to find a cool way to incorporate it,’ ” recalls Robbie.
Robbie continues: “And then, when she was like, ‘Guess who’s going to do the remix of Aqua’s “Barbie Girl”? Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice.’ I was like, ‘Together? Are you joking?!’ I just knew immediately that all my girlfriends were going to lose their minds.”
For Ronson the music maestro, getting the queen of the Barbz to rap over an extended version of “Barbie Girl” seemed like a no-brainer.
“I feel like people have been asking Nicki to rhyme over some version of ‘Barbie Girl’ for 15 years now,” Ronson says.
As for Ice Spice, it was almost impossible to pin down the extremely in-demand rapper. She was due at the studio earlier in the day to lay down her verses but couldn’t make it until after midnight. Ronson, who was already getting ready for bed “like an old guy,” ended up biking back to the studio in the middle of the night to make it happen.