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THE BARBIE CHALLENGE




Many emerging artists are searching for their first breakthrough song, like a ‘Torn’, an ‘A Team’ or a ‘Chaise Longue’, or maybe something quirky like Sandi Thom’s debut:



But in reality, all long-term music careers are made up of a series of challenges, and the need for successful breakthroughs (plural) goes on and on. Queen's first single success was ‘Seven Seas of Rhye’, but then the band faced the challenge of a follow up hit, and all those other chart songs that followed. Then there were further iconic career breakthroughs, like ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and of course ‘Live Aid’, which took them to the summit, leading to the Queen musical and movie.


The latest film to heavily feature music is of course the summer blockbuster ‘Barbie’, and it’s interesting to see how the music stars enlisted for this top gig performed under pressure. Mark Ronson, who executive produced the album with Barbie writer, director, and executive producer Greta Gerwig, had a “dream list” of artists he wanted to work with on the soundtrack. He says he got the people he wanted and Ronson believes the artists had “such individualist takes on the film” that the result is an unusually varied soundtrack.



On reading the script Ronson said he “just knew it was going to be a great film.” He was under pressure to produce a song a week as dance rehearsals began. He had Dua Lipa in mind when he came up with a rough version of ‘Dance The Night’. Gerwig loved it, telling him she listened to it a thousand times on her way to work. Dua Lipa hit it off with Gerwig when they met for the first time in London during her Future Nostalgia tour and they started working on the track a few months later. It is now climbing the UK top ten following the release of the film:




While the song lacks the spontaneous energy of ‘Levitating’, Dua delivers a faultless, pro performance. But maybe the sense of deja vu and the reference to a shattered disco ball in the video suggest that she’s now ready for a change of direction?



Ronson wanted the soundtrack to feel authentic to the artists involved but also to work well for the film. As Ronson says when "the picture and the song really marry together, the audience gets this extra kind of tingly feeling inside.” Coming up with a song for the Barbie character was one thing but it was quite another to find one for Ken. “I’m just Ken/Anywhere else I’d be a 10” was Ronson’s line. He collaborated with Andrew Wyatt on the verses.  Knowing Ryan Gosling was playing the part helped him picture the actor saying the lines. Nice one, Mark and Andrew, your Ken song manages a successful blend of poignant and camp:



Barbie The Album, the soundtrack to the new movie, was released via Atlantic Records on the same day as the film. In addition to Lipa’s disco track, the star-studded album features "new tracks from artists including Lizzo, Karol G, Billie Eilish, Sam Smith, Charlie XCX, PinkPantheress, Ava Max, Dominic Fike, Khlaid, The Kid Laroi, Tame Impala, Haim, Gayle and Fifty Fifty ft Kali, as well as Ryan Gosling, performing his original song as his character, Ken.” AP News called the soundtrack an “eclectic sprawl of a soundtrack that can be enjoyed from start to finish.”




Everyone will have their favourite moments, but surely a star prize contender, for stepping up to the plate and delivering beyond all expectations, is Billie Eilish:



Billie says she wrote ‘What Was I Made For?’ from the heart as always, and expressing so honestly her personal angst over her identity issues, could well see her in the running for another Oscar. Whatever the outcome, Billie has shown that she’s up to every challenge and can deliver that magic.



In an interview with Music Week, Ronson said: “When we started on the film, the two nagging questions that kept me up a little bit at night were: how do we flip Aqua’s1997 hit 'Barbie Girl’? What do we do there? And there's no way we can have a Barbie soundtrack without Nicki Minaj - the person who's literally kept the term 'Barbie' alive in pop culture for 15 years.” In the end, both problems were resolved when Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice were signed to perform a rap adaptation of the Aqua song, which was released on June 23, along with a music video featuring a Barbie likeness of each artist (Aqua are credited as both co-writers and performers on the track):



The two rappers and their producers re-work Aqua’s tune as the re-titled track ‘Barbie World’, replacing the exuberance of the original Aqua song with rhythmic tension and a heavy bottom end, but it’s not a change that everyone seems happy with. Here’s the original, see what you think:





In fact, one of the smartest musical choices in the official 2023 Barbie film package does not appear in the film or soundtrack at all. In the all-important trailers, such as the main trailer, the marketing team called upon ‘Make Your Own Kind Of Music’, a 1969 classic from the legendary US songwriting team of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill (pictured above), because it instantly and powerfully expresses the liberating themes of the movie. You’ll hear it here, driving the main trailer from 1.30:



To hear the whole song, here's the Mama Cass original, as featured in the trailers:



And there’s also a fine disco-influenced F19 remix, of the later Paloma Faith cover:



Finally, if you haven’t already, please check out the Barbie movie album for yourself and see which artists you feel stood up to their Barbie movie challenge best.


And as always, good luck with your own projects :)





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