Barbie The Album is the Must-Have Accessory of Summer 2023

The vibrant companion to Greta Gerwig’s on-screen eye candy immortalizes this year’s musical zeitgeist

Music Reviews Barbie
Barbie The Album is the Must-Have Accessory of Summer 2023

Earlier this year, a Boston-area Zillow listing gained traction on Twitter for its uncanny resemblance to a Barbie dream house. The Greek-Revival style home calls to mind a first grader’s go-to Crayola selection; Shades of hot pink, magenta, turquoise and chartreuse coat every square foot of wall and wainscoting. Leopard spots sprout on the staircase and second-story floors; deep lavender columns on the porch are capped with splashes of seafoam green. On paper, it sounds like an eyesore; in practice, it’s a tantalizing masterpiece. Not long after the viral moment, a deep-pocketed buyer scored the home for over $1.9 million, deflating the photoshoot dreams of thousands of influencers. But if you can’t venture inside that colossal homage to the color palette of youth, the next best thing is spending 40-odd minutes with Barbie The Album.

The soundtrack for Barbie serves as a vibrant companion to writer and director Greta Gerwig’s nostalgic on-screen eye candy. Featuring new music from mainstream heavy hitters like Lizzo, Dua Lipa, Nicki Minaj, Ice Spice, Billie Eilish, Sam Smith and Charli XCX, it’s a glorified but crowd-pleasing beach playlist designed to be this summer’s must-have accessory. From its perky, polished moments to unexpected pockets of existential dread, Barbie: The Album provides an answer for “What do gorgeous, gorgeous girls listen to?” while immortalizing this year’s musical zeitgeist.

The 19-track record includes music that both directly references the movie and tunes that exist in their own world, but the soundtrack glimmers the most when it aligns with Barbie’s narrative. Dua Lipa’s lead single “Dance the Night” is already embedded in the Barbie canon (and its music video has racked up 51-million views in just a month’s time), serving as the sultry backdrop to the film’s main trailer. It’s a shimmying number that could rival any selection from Future Nostalgia, Dua’s immaculate collection of disco-inspired pop from 2020. Sam Smith later slathers on the sleaze for their campy addition “Man I Am,” establishing a macho theme song for Ken that zips through “Strip clubs and dollar bills / Wall Street and dirty deals” with virility.

Throughout the album, artists strut their signature talents while incorporating Barbie branding, with predictable but danceable results. Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice trade cocky quips over a subdued Aqua sample on “Barbie World,” Charli XCX tweaks futuristic electro-pop for the Barbie worship track “Speed Drive” and K-Pop group FIFTY FIFTY tag-team with Atlanta rapper Kaliii to serve up bubblegum “Barbie Dreams” with some cues from Janet Jackson’s “Together Again.” No one commits to the bit more than Lizzo, though, who offers a rose-colored preview of Barbie’s eerily chipper universe on opening track “Pink.” Yes, the song involves Lizzo spelling its simplistic title. Yes, its femme-forward, can-do lyricism vaguely echoes the Bob the Builder theme. No, it doesn’t hold its own outside of the movie, but that’s only because “Pink” sets the scene in stiletto-sharp detail that sounds juvenile anywhere outside of “Barbie Land.”

The summer bummer moments are few but poignant, as Billie Eilish drifts into numbing existential dread on the piano ballad “What Was I Made For?,” surprisingly matched in tone by Ryan Gosling’s mournful solo “I’m Just Ken.” It’s an odd circumstance when a lyric like “Is it my destiny to live and die a life of blond fragility?” could appear in either an inward-looking Eilish song, or in a yearning musical theater number from the madman in Drive. Yet here we are, grappling with life’s purpose alongside music from a movie about a Mattel doll.

Towards the end of the track list, the album’s joy ride veers into filler territory. GAYLE’s attempt at a pop-punk-adjacent reworking of Crazy Town’s “Butterfly” is awkward at best, and Ava Max’s number “Choose Your Fighter” sounds like a discarded first draft of “Kings & Queens.” Elsewhere, attempts to entice the rock crowd feel largely forgettable, as Brandi Carlile’s cover of the Indigo Girls staple “Closer To Fine” (alongside Catherine Carlile) buries entries from HAIM and Tame Impala.

But that’s fine, really. Soundtracks are often merely time capsules of their era, and Barbie The Album captures the bounce, bravado and occasional bad moods of 2023 in technicolor. To quote the film’s trailer: “Humans only have one ending. Ideas live forever.” So will this carefully-curated vibe.

Victoria Wasylak is an award-winning music journalist and editor with bylines in Vanyaland and The Boston Globe. She’s also written over a dozen episodes of the world-renown music and true crime podcast, Disgraceland. You can find her on Twitter @VickiWasylak.

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