Review: The ‘Barbie’ Soundtrack Successfully Captures an Icon

Amid the tumultuous headlines of war, rage, and friction that seem to plague our day to day, there is a glimmering oasis: the effervescent (and omnipresent) Barbie movie. Few films in recent memory have had quite as much press. The modern take on the Mattel classic arrives Friday (July 21) after months and months of teasing all that director Greta Gerwig has in store for her pink glitter bomb of a blockbuster. 

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Lead actors Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling have had their fair share of buzz. The oh-so-under wraps plot has generated some robust conversation as well. But, perhaps the most talked about feature of the film (it’s at least what I’m most excited for) is the star-studded soundtrack. 

Gerwig isn’t the first director to bolster her big release with big-name musicians. Baz Lurhman showcased the power of a well-placed needle drop in 2022 with his Oscar-nominated Elvis biopic. While the soundtrack to Elvis saw today’s biggest stars remix old rock standards, the songs on Barbie’s soundtrack are completely fresh – straight out of the package, and generating the same kind of excitement that busting open a new doll would.

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The artists featured in the project range from hip-hop heavyweights to TikTok-fuelled pop stars. While there are tracks that feel a little on the nose, the track list is not without experimentation. 

A main through-line in the project is a mix of retro flavors and modern ones. Like Barbie herself, the soundtrack feels like it could work 50-odd years ago as well as it works today. It’s at the same time deeply ingrained in 2023 and timeless. 

The album opens up just as it should with a track called “Pink,” by Lizzo. It, like the previously released “Dance the Night” by Dua Lipa, is familiar territory in the pop scene today: ear-worm hooks, dance-inducing beats, and Lizzo’s infectious energy. 

Lipa’s song is up next followed by Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice’s remix of Aqua’s “Barbie Girl.” Though ringleader Mark Ronson decided not to give the people what they want by featuring Aqua’s 1997 hit on the soundtrack, at least we get a glimmer of Barbie’s biggest shout-out in music history via the two rap stars.  

Charlie XCX comes in on track 4 and does what she does best: Innovate. Throughout her career, the pop maven went from releasing mainstream, radio fodder to becoming an, at times, underground purveyor of gay club anthems. She pulls a similar rug-pulling act on the Barbie soundtrack. 

While the previous songs were tailor-made for their appearance in the film, XCX starts to create something that could find a comfortable home on one of her own records with nary a reference to the iconic doll in sight. The subsequent songs on the track list follow in that vein. 

Billie Eilish takes things for a meta turn and reckons with her place in the world with “What Was I Made For.” Elsewhere, no one would bat an eye if PinkPantheress’ track, “Angel,” came up while listening through her discography.

Closing out the album is a departing solemn moment from Brandi and Catherine Carlile. The pair cover the Indigo Girls’ “Closer to Fine” in a way only Carlile could. It’s a welcomed change of pace after the onslaught of pop bangers the rest of the soundtrack offers. It also hints at a possible bittersweet ending to the film—one that would warrant such a stunning performance from Carlile and her wife. 

All in all, it’s an album that does hit the expected talking points. It’s not without its conventions and perhaps that’s exactly what the film called for. But, there are a few interesting turns throughout that pull this soundtrack up further in my book. 

If you set out to make a soundtrack that could summon up the essence of the Goliath figure that is Barbie, it would be hard to be displeased with the outcome Gerwig and Ronson have come up with here. It’s fun, blithe, and hopeful, just like the doll herself.

Photo by Alex “Grizz” Loucas / Warner Music Group

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