Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Music Details Only Adults Notice In Barbie

Greta Gerwig, who directed "Barbie" and wrote it alongside her partner Noah Baumbach, is no stranger to a great needle-drop. Aside from her adaptation and period piece "Little Women," she tends to incorporate songs that are important to her and her experiences into her work; in 2017's "Lady Bird," she prominently features "Crash Into Me" by Dave Matthews, "Cry Me a River" by Justin Timberlake, and "Hand in my Pocket" by Alanis Morrisette. Not only that, but she wrote personal letters to each of the artists behind the songs, explaining how they'd be used in the film and asking for their explicit permission. (Clearly, they all said yes.)

In many ways, "Barbie" doesn't really like a kid's movie — it opens with a reference to a Stanley Kubrick movie, for crying out loud — but that's not to say kids won't love its glossy, candy-coated exterior without fully grasping its full agenda. Gerwig also has a boatload of pretty advanced musical references tucked away within "Barbie," and while they probably won't be obvious to the film's younger audiences, she's definitely catering to millennials and the like, so here are some of the musical moments in "Barbie" that are definitely meant for a slightly more advanced crowd.

Ken's favorite song says a lot more than you think

After Ken (Ryan Gosling) discovers just how well patriarchy serves men in the real world, he returns to Barbie Land with a clear mission: install a patriarchy, complete with a lot of pictures and videos of horses. (Ken isn't quite sure whether men or horses are the ones really behind patriarchy.) The Barbies, led by Margot Robbie's Barbie, realize they need to reclaim their home, and quickly de-program the Barbies who have been brainwashed to absolutely love their role in the patriarchy. This all culminates in a sing-a-long led by the Kens as they play their guitars at their Barbies... and what do they play, exactly? "Push," the 1996 song by Matchbox 20.

Everything about this song choice, from its iffy lyrics to Gosling's stunning Rob Thomas impression, is absolutely, stunningly perfect — and it's definitely a reference that'll send anybody over the age of 30 into hysterics. Apparently, Thomas took the whole thing in stride; even though he once had to defend the song's lyrics about "pushing" a romantic partner around, he thought it was an ideal choice for "Barbie," and even said the fact that he has a crush on Gerwig made the whole thing even better. The only other song that could have possibly worked for this joke is "Wonderwall" by Oasis, but "Push" might actually be even better.

This indie band gets a notable shout-out

Going back to the Barbies' mission to de-program their brethren after Barbie Land becomes Kendom, part of that ruse involves placing Barbies in full control of their faculties in front of unsuspecting Kens. From there, the Barbie on the mission asks a Ken to mansplain something to her, while his corresponding Barbie is whisked away to be de-programmed. During one of these gambits, a Ken ("Sex Education" star Ncuti Gatwa) starts going on and on about Pavement's 1992 album "Slanted and Enchanted" and frontman Steven Malkmus' influence on music as a whole — and this is an incredibly specific reference by Gerwig.

This isn't even the first time Gerwig has invoked Pavement in the same breath as mansplaining, either. For "Lady Bird," Gerwig told Vulture that Timotheé Chalamet's character Kyle was a very particular type of guy, like "guys who are just completely stuck on their ideas, whether music or progressive philosophy or whatever it is. Like, 'I'm going to train you to like Pavement.'" 

Malkmus, incredibly, responded to being mentioned in the "Barbie" movie. Emailing GQ after a request for comment, Malkmus wrote, "Maybe Greta is paying respect to her San Joaquin Valley roots (I know she grew up in [Sacramento]) ....The Pavement band started in Stockton a mere 40 minute drive from the hospital she was born in, (assuming it wasn't a home birth, which is probably similar distance anyway)." That said, Malkmus also tweeted that the movie might have put Pavement back on the radar, hopefully. 

Lizzo's song changes after Barbie's perfect day

One of the funniest musical jokes by far actually comes from two songs written for the movie: "Pink" and the altered reprise "Pink (Bad Day)." In the first one, Lizzo essentially just details Robbie's Barbie's day as she goes about yet another perfect morning, magically getting dressed and enjoying a plastic breakfast before flying off of her roof into her car to explore Barbie Land. After a dance party that evening where Barbie starts thinking about dying, the next morning is totally different; she wakes up disoriented, her breakfast is disgusting, and she doesn't float off her roof, but falls.

There are so many good jokes in both version, like when Lizzo adds an acronym to the word "pink" in each. In the "good" version, the "K" stands for "cool!" but in the "bad" version, that same letter stands for "death!" Speaking to Vanity Fair about creating the music, producer Mark Ronson said that he didn't have a concrete plan for Lizzo when she came in to record the song, but that the Grammy winner ended up ad-libbing to great effect, watching the scene play out on a screen in front of her and simply narrating the scene. "She said a couple things that just made me laugh out loud," Ronson revealed, saying that the movie starts off with "Lizzo basically welcoming you into the world of Barbie."

The credits song samples a true Barbie classic

It seems impossible that we could get a live-action "Barbie" movie without using Aqua's famously campy 1997 track "Barbie Girl" — and though it's not used in its original form, it shows up during the film's end credits song. In "Barbie World" by Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice, "Barbie Girl" is sampled, and according to Mark Ronson's interview with Vanity Fair, Robbie insisted that Aqua's song make its way into the movie somehow. Ronson got to work and spoke to producer RiotUSA, who, in turn, introduced Ronson to his new up-and-coming collaborator, Ice Spice, the sensation who recently worked with Taylor Swift on her remix of "Karma." Ice Spice then got Minaj involved — which is more than appropriate, considering she called her fans "Barbz" — and "Barbie World" was born. 

"And that's how we managed to make the impossible possible," Ronson told Vanity Fair. "If you told me at the beginning of this movie that we were gonna get Nicki Minaj rhyming over a drill flip of 'Barbie Girl,' I'm like, then we're good. We could just have 13 blank songs on the rest of the soundtrack." Ronson is definitely exaggerating, but it is a perfect addition to the entire enterprise. After the movie's heartfelt conclusion, where Robbie's Barbie becomes a real girl in the real world, audiences are left to consider their own journeys... before Minaj and Ice Spice's song has them dancing in their seats.

I'm Just Ken is an homage to classic Hollywood

One of the most talked-about moments in the entire movie is, without a doubt, Ken's wild dream ballet. Set to Ryan Gosling crooning the absolute earworm "I'm Just Ken," where he laments his "life of blond fragility" and wonders if he really matters next to Barbie herself, the interlude watches as the Kens battle it out on the beach and then move to a technicolor liminal space, where they have a sort of dance battle before teaming up and dancing all together. They're also careful to make sure the audience knows that not only are they "enough," but they're "great at doing stuff."

The design of this dream ballet is no accident, which mimics two classic movie musicals in its execution. Gerwig spoke to Letterboxd shortly before the film's release about the movies that inspired her, and Ken's dream ballet definitely has shades of both 1948's "The Red Shoes" and 1952's "Singin' in the Rain," both of which feature a dream ballet. In a corresponding interview with the site, Gerwig said "The Red Shoes" influenced the dream ballet: "The Red Shoes' [is] all over the movie ... just the theatricality and the colors and the way that it never pretended to be anything other than on a soundstage, I like that authentic artificiality. It's really heightened. That whole ballet sequence was very inspiring in that way."

As for "Singin' in the Rain," that film also features a dream ballet between Cyd Charisse and Gene Kelly set to a song called "Broadway Melody," and it, too takes place on a soundstage. All in all, these influences are quite clear if you're familiar with these classics.