Barbie’s "I'm Just Ken" is one of two songs from the Warner Bros. feature that are nominated for an Oscar in the Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Song) category. The track’s music and lyrics were written and recorded by Mark Ronson and Andrew Wyatt, and were inspired by an initial conversation with director Greta Gerwig.
Ken, they decided, needed his own song, which would counter Dua Lipa’s “Dance the Night” track, which comes to represents Barbie and her best day ever. According to Ronson, he wasn’t quite sure where “I’m Just Ken” would even be used in the film.
“Maybe it's going to play over the end credits, and who knows, maybe Adam Lambert will sing it? We weren't even really thinking about that…There was never any kind of inkling that Ryan (Gosling) would (sing) whatever we wrote, and it was going to be performed in the film.”
Ronson (pictured) says he got the idea for Ken’s signature song after reading the script and better understanding his place in Barbie Land.
“Ken is tragic,” Ronson recalls. “It felt really interesting to potentially make the Ken song vulnerable and kind of tug on your heartstrings a bit. Ken’s story is more awkward because he's not as smart and enlightened as Barbie. So him getting out his feelings is clumsy and ridiculous. But, I was so taken with it and genuinely moved.”
Ronson says he had the song’s “I’m just Ken, anywhere else I'd be a ten” line as his starting point.
“He's so hot, but he's also just so confused,” Ronson says of Ryan Gosling’s character. “Obviously he likes somebody that does not like him back. So I had this little demo (and) I sent it to Greta, and she really liked the chorus. And I had the line about ‘blond fragility.’ And she was like, ‘Yeah, I love it!’ So I asked my friend Andrew (Wyatt), who I love collaborating with, and we ended up doing most of the stuff together.”
As the song evolved, Gerwig told Ronson that not only would Gosling sing on the track, but would perform on-camera during a long battle scene.
“Then that became a completely different thing,” he recalls. “It was quite an intimate piano ballad, the way we wrote it, but then once we started actually seeing what they shot, and the scenes from the battle, and how ridiculous it was, and how big Ryan's performance was, that's when we started to dress up the arrangement and have it sort of get bigger and bigger and bigger.”
Ronson and Wyatt did all of the writing and initial recording in his private studio in New York, and then went to Power Station for additional sessions. He recorded all of the strings at Abbey Road in the UK. He also brought in a range of well-known talent to add to the track’s grandeur, including guitarists Slash and Wolfgang Van Halen, and new Foo Fighters drummer Josh Freese.
“We definitely took the song within an inch of its life,” Ronson laughs, reflecting on its development, “but [we] just wanted to get it perfect for the sound.”
This year’s Oscar nomination is Ronson’s second, having won an Academy Award for “Best Original Song” as a co-writer on "Shallow,” which was performed by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper for the 2018 film A Star Is Born. Once again, he’s honored for the recognition.
“Especially when you're starting out with something, to really trace it back to these little shreds of inspiration, like the earliest demos, out of lord knows how many songs, and so many great songs written, to be recognized? It's pretty flooring.”