Ever since Margot Robbie removed her high heel to reveal a perfectly-sculpted permanent doll arch in a truly iconic early trailer, the pink glitter road to the Barbie movie has been a series of publicity home runs: Robbie’s red carpet recreations of the original doll’s outfits; Ryan Gosling using every interview to talk about his “Kenergy”; even the London Underground temporarily changed the name of a stop to the Barbiecan.
Alongside and just as integral to this wildly-anticipatory roll-out has been the slow reveal of the film’s Mark Ronson-directed soundtrack. Essentially a who’s who of modern pop, from Lizzo to Billie Eilish to Dua Lipa to Sam Smith, it’s hard to think of a film that’s attracted this many A-listers, well, ever. Add to that the fact that each track here is a Barbie original, written specifically for certain moments in the film and featuring enough Mattel-approved lyrics to prove that no-one just dusted off an old offcut and popped a blonde wig on it, and you’ve got the most star-studded project since Band Aid.
Having already dropped some of the record’s biggest hitters – Dua’s cheeky disco romp ‘Dance The Night’ (a fitting next move from her all-conquering ‘Future Nostalgia’), Charli XCX’s ‘Hey Mickey’-inspired hyperpop bop ‘Speed Drive’ and Billie’s introspective ‘What Was I Made For?’ – what most impresses is how well this collection works both separately and as a whole. All of the above tracks feel completely true to the artist’s individual styles and could sit happily within a set of their originals; put them in a row, however, and the Barbie narrative is so present, you could basically be listening to a musical.
Lizzo’s opening offering ‘Pink’ is the most overtly filmic, with its introductions to a “pink world” where Barbie sits “all dolled up, just playing chess by the pool”, but still manages to bring out the feel-good, girls-complimenting-girls vibe of a classic Lizzo banger. Extra points to the throwaway nod to Barbie’s much-maligned bestie Midge. Hip hop’s own Barbie Nicki Minaj and rapper du jour Ice Spice also go all-in for the Aqua-featuring ‘Barbie World’, while Sam Smith is the perfect voice to give Ken’s ludicrously macho ‘Man I Am’ the right note of tongue-in-cheek: “Super sleazy, sexy and freaky Ken tonight”. Sure, babes.
That Ronson is a master curator of talents both established and new is hardly a hot take. But across the collection he also manages to nail the balance between kitsch and cool, using some of music’s most in-demand new voices (pinkpantheress, Dominic Fike) to ensure that nothing even skirts the borders of novelty. The Barbie soundtrack might be plastic fantastic but, far from a joke, these are smart, earwormy pop songs of the highest order, just with a little extra knowing wink. It’s still a gloriously surreal world, nonetheless, when amidst a line-up of multi award-winners and chart toppers, almost certainly the most talked about track will be Gosling’s own ‘I’m Just Ken’: a pitch-perfect anthem that goes from maudlin to Meatloaf to full prog epic, with some of the most brilliantly stupid lyrics (“I’m just Ken and I’m enough / And I’m great at doing stuff”) you could ever hope for.
Far from the homogenised rule of the original dolls, Barbie’s musical world in 2023 is one that’s far-reaching, future-facing and full of fun. And that’s more than Kenough for us.