“Barbie The Album” by Various Artists (Atlantic/Warner/Mattel)
The Barbie industrial complex has detonated, coating the planet in pink, sparkly fallout. For the blockbuster's soundtrack, “Barbie The Album,” film director Greta Gerwig and music producer Mark Ronson corralled a set of huge artists at the top of their games and have come away with a raucous, joyous and, occasionally, touching compilation.
The soundtrack works because the contributors understood the assignment. Collectively, they deliver a dreamhouse of songs that are each at least a little better than they have to be. The tracks succeed both as cinematic elements and as standalone songs. The result is a worthy, danceable bookend to the classic “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack of a generation before.
Director Greta Gerwig has now delivered small, medium, large and stratospheric films with excellent soundtracks. Her commitment to quirky rock songs and contemporary classical spans, with this latest endeavor, a whole slew of disco, hip-hop, K-pop, and a half-dozen other genres meld together into an impressively coherent package.
Lizzo gets the dance party started with the soundtrack's opener, “Pink,” a bouncy confection that might be the most conventional movie song on the album. The artist sells it with her characteristic smiling effervescence.
Dua Lipa’s “Dance the Night" throws her megahit “Levitate” in the blender with strings reminiscent of golden-era Bee Gees and comes out with a modern disco classic. Ronson’s production is razor-sharp and Lipa marches straight in with a casual self-assurance that deftly set the tone for the film in the early trailers.
The brand architects at Mattel must have suffered a few sleepless nights after tapping Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice for the next track, a reimagination of Aqua’s “Barbie Girl.” The song is (openly) a little profane and (slyly) a little raunchy, but the collaborators take the edge off with humor and a sense of fun.
Ken actor Ryan Gosling goes all in on “I’m Just Ken” with a hilariously earnest performance that somehow spans the arena rock of Journey and Broadway decadence of Andrew Lloyd Webber.
On “What Was I Made For?,” Billie Eilish delivers a soft and surprisingly touching piano, um, Barb-ballad. Like “Hopelessly Devoted to You” in “Grease,” Eilish and brother/producer Finneas get the existential-crisis moment just right by going simple and raw. Eilish has never sounded better.
The album closes with a surprise cover of the Indigo Girls’ fan-favorite “Closer to Fine.” Brandi Carlile and her wife, Catherine, stay respectful of the source material, delivering a lighter and more open interpretation that complements the original.
There is plenty more good music within the 18 tracks. Sam Smith goes techno-glam on “Man I Am.” Charli XCX delivers an instant road-trip staple with the propulsive “Speed Drive.” Tame Impala provide a trippy dreampop interlude with “Journey to the Real World.” Dominic Fike warms it up with Malibu-infused sunshine on “Hey Blondie.”
It would be a reach to frame a project with this scope and budget as an underdog, but Ronson and Gerwig have executed a small miracle creating an eclectic sprawl of a soundtrack that can be enjoyed from start to finish. Barbie has inspired millions of hours of pretend play over the decades, and the artists involved have evidently devoted real energy to celebrate this jewel of childhood.