Music supervisor George Drakoulias first reached out to Mark Ronson about working on two songs for “Barbie,” which became Ryan Gosling’s “I’m Just Ken” and Dua Lipa’s “Dance the Night.” However, that two-song assignment soon turned into Ronson and Andrew Wyatt composing the entire score. The co-composers and songwriters discussed scoring their first movie at Variety’s Artisans Screening Series of “Barbie,” moderated by Variety’s senior artisans editor Jazz Tangcay.
“What was going to give the film its own kind of musical signature?” Wyatt said, reflecting on their scoring process. “The gauntlet had been thrown down by the production design because the production design doesn’t look like any other movie that’s ever been.”
In addition to taking inspiration from the unique set design, Wyatt said he and Ronson started looking for real synths from the ’70s and ’80s that were employed “during the period of Barbie’s apotheosis where Barbie was becoming the doll that everybody knew about.”
Ronson found a rare Yamaha CS-80. “Greta loved the sound of these,” he says.
Adds Wyatt, “There are 30-40 of them left in the world and they have this incredible sound that is like water.”
Once they had the right synth, it was about finding a combination that both pulled in classical sounds to give the score “moments of grandeur that only an orchestra can give and a cinematic, and a feeling only an orchestra can give,” explained Wyatt.
Ronson then reflected on scoring the scene leading up to the montage of clips from women’s lives while Billie Eilish’s “What Was I Made For?” plays. “I remember walking out and just actually going home and writing a piece of music, just being so inspired by the still of that,” he said.
The duo ended up writing about 17 pieces of music for that part.
“We knew that whatever had to happen at that moment had to be not only this really important cathartic, emotional thing, but also not get in the way of all this beautiful dialogue and then at the same time set up the Billie song perfectly,” Ronson continued.
While working in the studio, Ronson and Wyatt wanted their score to match how emotional the scene was. “I’d be like, ‘What do you think?’ He’d be like, ‘I’m not crying yet. Are you crying yet?’ I’d be like, ‘No, I guess we got to keep going.’ It was just like we were just trying to move each other as much as we could.”
Re-recording mixer Ai-Ling Lee also discussed designing the sounds of Barbieland. Director Greta Gerwig told Lee she wanted the sounds to feel “authentically artificial.” For instance, Lee said some of the bird chirps heard in the film are not recordings of real birds, but the team blowing through water-filled clay whistles to emulate a bird chirp sound.
“That’s kind of like those bluebird calls in ‘Snow White,’ those classic Disney films,” she said. “We added those vocal-performed sounds throughout Barbieland … It’s almost like imagining if a human were to be playing with Barbie dolls and the sounds that they may make.”
Drakoulias, Ronson and Wyatt later discussed how the film’s soundtrack came together. Wyatt belted out the lyrics “Can you feel Kenergy? Feels so real, my Kenergy,” which he sings on the actual “I’m Just Ken” track as well. While writing the song, they tried to strike a balance between sincerity and comedy.
“On Andrew’s demo, you’re like, ‘Oh, this is very vulnerable.’ This is very serious. And then the dream ballet is next level. I think that’s like an acid trip,” Drakoulias said on first hearing the track.
Facing a similar challenge, “Dance the Night” originally had more “turmoil” in its lyrics, but they rewrote it when they felt they were foreshadowing the movie, according to Ronson. Dua Lipa also rewrote parts of the song to match up with the Margot Robbie-led dance number. “She started to reverse choreograph Margot’s whole movement in her lyrics, and it made it such a fun experience as an audience to watch,” Ronson said.
Watch the full conversation above.