Mark Ronson is not new to this musical field: the successful producer already had several Grammys and an Oscar under his belt when he signed on to produce the soundtrack for Barbie. Then the film’s director, Greta Gerwig, asked him to compose the music for the film as well, and he hesitated. Ronson rightly sensed that Barbie was going to be huge, and he had never composed music for a film before. But his reluctance faded once he read Gerwig’s script.
“I was so inspired,” Ronson says. “I love the whole message, I love the whole idea. Obviously, BarbieThe story of is so wonderful.”
What followed was a year of working with artists like Nicki Minaj, Sam Smith, Billie Eilish and PinkPantheress to conceptualize, produce and compose songs for the album. Some artists were drawn to the project because of Gerwig’s previous work, others because Barbie (the doll) had played a significant role in their lives. And some came because of Ronson’s reputation.
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Ronson and Gerwig would talk to the musicians and show them scenes from the film to illustrate its tone and arc. The process seemed to work; after watching an early version of Barbie’s car chase scene, Charli XCX wrote “Speed Chase” for the soundtrack.
“And that’s what’s great about a lot of songs that people have written, because they seem so personalized,” Ronson says. “It was so wonderful to see how each artist took what they saw, took the conversation with Greta, and everyone ran with it and did something different.”
Getting big ideas out of pop stars is familiar territory for Ronson, but his instrumental score for the film, co-composed with Andrew Wyatt, was his first such project – and he admits that for it to work, it had to be smothered. some of his usual instincts.
“When you’re creating a pop song, you’re constantly thinking about hooks and melodies and ear candy,” he says. And while all of those elements are important to the songs that make up the soundtrack, he knew the film’s background music shouldn’t be a distraction: “You’re there to support the emotional undercurrent of the film at that time. “
On how “Why Was I Made?” by Billie Eilish and Finneas became the emotional center of the film
They saw the movie and I think Billie texted maybe a day or two later – like “wrote something” with a smiley face. Something so discreet for this wonderful song that she was about to send us.
When we heard it, Greta and I – I think we heard it at the same time – immediately called each other out saying, “This song is just crazy.” Basically, I was like, “What’s wrong with these kids? Why are they so good? They’re so young.” …Andrew and I had worked on a lot of tracks for the more emotional moments, and some of them, oddly enough, weren’t really that different from the Billie and Finneas song. We were like, “Wow, let’s just make their song this common thread that we weave through the film.”
On writing the song “I’m Just Ken” (even though I’m not a lyrical expert)
Maybe it was because I knew Ryan Gosling was playing (Ken), so I had the benefit of imagining him saying every line as I read that script, but he just took his hook into me, this character. He’s stupid, but you support him. All he wants is for that person to feel for him the same as he feels for her, and that will never happen. I think one day I was walking down to the studio, my studio in Manhattan, and “I’m just Ken / Anywhere else I’d get a 10” – it just occurred to me. I didn’t even think, at the time, that I was going to write this song on my own, or write the lyrics. I got to the piano and found chords and a melody that I thought was good. And I sent the demo to Greta, and she replied with great enthusiasm. All you can say is: is that does it excite you when you are in the studio?
On Ryan Gosling’s presence in the studio to record “I’m Just Ken”
It’s awkward to be with someone in the studio for the very first time, because it’s a vulnerable place. You’re about to break into this song. You feel comfortable. And as a producer, you see (their) vocal ranges and their limits, and you always want to push them – but not too far, because if you push someone into (a) range they don’t have, you can break their trust and then the whole session is a washout. Add to that the fact that Ryan is a giant movie star, and he’s coming here, about an hour away from shooting this giant movie. He came into the studio and we chatted for a while. Fifteen minutes later, we’re like, ‘OK, shall we try this? »
Because Andrew sang on the demo and he has such an amazing range, I was like, OK, let me make this a little easier for Ryan – turn him down a key or two. As Ryan started to warm up, I thought to myself, OK, we could kind of increase this touch. Oh, now we can put it back in the original key – it just gives that wonderful vocal performance. And also, because he’s such an amazing actor, he imbues all of those words with a different context and emotion than Andrew and I even got to add to it. It was like he inhabited the song, which is really wonderful.
On Being a Music Industry “Nepo Baby” Thanks to His Stepdad, Foreigner’s Mick Jones
I think by the very definition of the term, yes, of course, I am a nepo baby. My stepfather is a musician. He had recording equipment in the house. I had the opportunity to be in recording studios from an early age, where I realized that these were my happy places. … So yeah, the benefits of my stepdad being in music, I’m sure that helped. (But) I think when I started DJing in hip-hop clubs in New York in the mid-90s, my stepfather’s status as a brilliant rock and roll musician and balladeer didn’t had nothing to do with what I was doing. …I don’t think anyone knew, and I don’t think anyone really cared.
On his place in pop music as he approaches his forties
I left Los Angeles to go back to New York, and Los Angeles is really the hub and the center of the pop music industry. … All the writers and producers, which is the majority of the population, are in Los Angeles. And I made this kind of silent agreement: I was like, I’m going back to New York and I’m not going to be in the thick of it anymore. I’m not going to worry about being on everyone’s bucket list and doing these cool projects. I’m just going to do things that I love, and I also think maybe I’m stepping back – hopefully gracefully – from pop music.
I came back to New York, and one of the first things that happened to me when I got back here was working on the Barbie thing. And it’s funny, Dua Lipa’s song “Dance the Night”, every time I turn on the radio, it’s on – and it’s a bop, it’s a banger. I guess I thought maybe I was done, or maybe pop music was done with me. I’m so excited about young producers and the sound of what’s happening in pop, (but) every time I try to pursue that, it doesn’t work and it feels inauthentic. But when I focus on the things I love – like songwriting, arranging and that kind of stuff – that’s where I feel good.
Lauren Krenzel and Susan Nyakundi produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Daoud Tyler-Ameen adapted it for the web.