Mark Ronson composed the soundtrack for the movie Barbie.

Mark Ronson showing off his Barbies.

An executive producer of the Barbie soundtrack and a music scholar known for his work with artists such as Amy Winehouse and Lady Gaga, he still has a few pieces strewn about the room. The doll does a split on a Moog synthesizer. The other looks like primatologist Jane Goodall.

“I went to Toys R Us and couldn’t find a single Ken,” he laughs. Accordingly, “this is the theme of the film.” Mattel headquarters eventually sent him a few; Ken, who remains in Ronson’s office, is suitably shirtless.

Finding the sound of Barbie set to be one of the top-grossing hits of 2023 required careful study and study of a film with such a rich visual palette. In the end, he created the soundtrack, which included Lizzo, Billie Eilish, Dua Lipa (who also stars in the film) and others.

But it all started with a simple text message.

Musical director of the project, George Drakoulias, quickly asked Ronson, “Barbie?” Ronson read the script and agreed to participate. He also wrote original music for “Barbie” with his collaborator Andrew Wyatt. Ronson is no stranger to film score work, but performing soundtrack album production and scoring for an entire film, especially one of this size, was new territory. “I learned a lot at work,” he says.

The soundtrack began with two tracks: a pop song for a big dance number and a powerful 80s ballad for Ken (a genre with more “pompous, self-aware nonsense,” as Ronson calls it).

Ronson came up with the chorus and beat: a departure from his all-too-obvious original plan for writing “sweet ’80s pop” and instead settled for “a groovy, melodic thing…with some grit” perfect for Dua. Linden. This all became “Dance the Night”, Lipa’s song featured in the film’s main trailer.

Ken’s song came out different. For the most part, Ronson works on instrumentals: for example, when he wrote “Shallow” with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper for “A Star Is Born,” he only added lyrics to fill in the gaps, in the verse “Crash through the surface where they don’t can harm us” (Crash on the surface where they can got us), as he recalls. But for the song that would become Ryan Gosling’s “I’m Just Ken,” Ronson couldn’t avoid saying, “I’m just Ken, anywhere else I’d be in 10th place.”

So he sent director Greta Gerwig a demo with just a few verses, including deliciously bombastic lyrics about “light fragility.” He sent it to Gosling, who plays Ken in the film, who immediately knew he needed to sing it. What could have been the soundtrack to any scene in the film has become a musical moment in its own right.

At first, Gerwig used the Bee Gees and the 70s disco as Ronson’s point of reference.

“Remember, in Chicago (Disco Demolition), where everyone was burning their disco records, Saturday Night Fever was at its peak and the poor Bee Gees were saying, ‘All you know! was to make people dance! What did we do wrong?” Ronson says. “It’s Barbie.”

Anyway, this idea is more thematic than a sound guide. The mood board was extensive and included “Dolly Parton, Olivia Newton John, nine to five,” explains Ronson.

This shows why the Barbie soundtrack spans various pop genres, including the reggaeton track “Watati” courtesy of Karol G, K-pop girl group Fifty Fifty’s bubblegum featuring Kalia in “Barbie Dreams”, and a falsetto piano ballad. “. What was I made for? from Billie Eilish.

For Atlantic Records, which released the soundtrack, collaboration and diversity were key.

“All of these artists were brought in early on to see screenings with Mark, Greta and the filmmakers. They will see the scenes they were going to write their music for,” says Brandon Davis, executive vice president and co-head of pop at the label. “Each of these artists wrote lyrics about exactly how important Barbie was to them.”

Ronson shares this opinion.

“Karol G said, ‘I’m here because I love Barbie. I didn’t expect this great movie. It’s amazing,” he says. “And CHAIM had this encyclopedic knowledge. The only videotape they were allowed to watch in the 90s when they were kids was with Barbie. They knew every song.”

Others had assignments: “Pink” Lizzo, which ends with Helen Mirren’s voice-over, was inspired by the main Barbie, played by Margot Robbie, living her perfect day. And because the film is a comedy with real complications, humor has been a big influence on the songwriting – it’s featured on Dominic Faike’s “Hey Blondie” as well as several samples of Charli XCX’s “Speed ​​Drive”.

“(Soundtracks) is one area where we’re cracking the code and figuring out how to make it work in a way that we creatively support our partners,” says Kevin Weaver, president of Atlantic Records West Coast, citing the work. soundtracks, including the films of the Fast and the Furious series, The Fault in Our Stars and The Greatest Showman. “The Greatest Showman”), from which such hits as “See You Again” by Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth, “Charlie XCX” Boom Clap” and “This Is Me” were created, respectively.

But unlike those films, part of the process of acquiring Barbie required a trip to a doll factory, where Atlantic executives could watch the process of making Barbie from start to finish.

When working with legendary intellectual property, the soundtrack comes with some risks. Bring back Aqua’s 1997 dance hit “Barbie Girl” or rethink it? Nicki Minaj was supposed to appear: her fans call Barbz.

“I remember, no offense, he had a song from the Ghostbusters remake, and I think six of the 12 songs were reinterpretations of a Ray Parker Jr. song (Ghostbusters theme),” says Ronson. “Everything just came together in the single we have with Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice,” he continued, referring to the “Barbie Girl” reworking.

“I’ve never produced anything before,” says Ronson. “I love this movie. We had a great partner at Atlantic Records.”

“And then, while working on the score, I learned a lot on the job. It was a job that I had never done before… It’s interesting to show people different scenes and make them dream big.”

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