Mark Ronson & Andrew Wyatt on Bringing “Barbie” to Life

Posted in News on December 13, 2023
(L-R) Mark Ronson and Andrew Wyatt
(L-R) Mark Ronson and Andrew Wyatt

After much anticipation, Greta Gerwig’s Barbie arrived in theaters this past summer and swiftly took the world by storm. The movie was both critically hailed and hugely successful, becoming the globally highest-grossing film of the year at $1.44 billion. It was also the highest-grossing film by a solo female director, as well as the 14th highest-grossing film of all time.

An incalculably important part of the film, the music of Barbie has garnered 12 GRAMMY Award nominations. Four of those nominations are shared by two dynamic BMI affiliates, songwriter/producer Mark Ronson and songwriter Andrew Wyatt, a celebrated pair of Oscar and GRAMMY-winning music creators, fellow New Yorkers and longtime collaborators. For their work on Barbie, the duo has earned nods for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media, Best Song Written for Visual Media for “I’m Just Ken” (from Barbie The Album), Best Song Written for Visual Media for “Dance the Night” (from Barbie The Album) and Song of The Year for “Dance The Night.” Additionally, Ronson received a nomination for Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media for Barbie The Album, on which he served as Compilation Producer. This week, “I’m Just Ken” received a nomination for Best Original song, Motion Picture from the Golden Globes.

No stranger to prestigious accolades, Mark Ronson is an internationally renowned songwriter and producer whose list of credits is as long as it is formidable, including co-writing “Shallow” for A Star is Born (which earned him two GRAMMYs, a Golden Globe and an Oscar for Best Original Song) and groundbreaking work with artists like Adele, Paul McCartney, Miley Cyrus, Duran Duran, Queens of the Stone Age and Amy Winehouse, among many others. He was also named a Producer of the Year at the GRAMMYS for his hit “Uptown Funk” with Bruno Mars and received BMI’s Champion Award in 2017. As Ronson’s longtime collaborator, Andrew Wyatt is known for co-writing “Shallow” for A Star is Born, as well as writing with major pop artists like Dua Lipa, Miley Cyrus, Charli XCX, Lykke Li and many others. He was also the lead singer and co-songwriter for Swedish band Miike Snow and released an acclaimed solo album in 2013.

BMI recently caught up with Ronson and Wyatt to talk about how they came to be a part of this historic film, their creative process and much more. Here’s what they had to say.

How did your partnership begin and when did you two start working together?

Andrew Wyatt: The first thing we worked on was Daniel Merriweather.

Mark Ronson: Daniel was this incredible soul singer from Australia who had this Stevie Wonder fixation. He was a young guy, and I could just tell that he would love Andrew. Andrew wrote two incredible songs for him.

Andrew and I were in the same space in our careers when we first met. We were in our early thirties. Neither of us had any real success. We would always joke that we had the record that almost made the Janet Jackson bonus cut. I had so much respect for Andrew. And I could tell right away we were kindred spirits when we talked about Stevie Wonder for hours. And Andrew’s such an incredible, soulful voice. I was a fan of Andrew’s band. They played at Lower East Side bars.

We had been in the same space for so long and watched a lot of our peers have success. When the Amy stuff started to blow up, I felt Andrew was genuinely psyched for me. And then a couple years later, when Andrew had a great amount of success with his band Miike Snow, I was equally excited that it was his time as well.

Andrew Wyatt: It was actually the first success that I ever had with an artist. I wrote a song for him that went to number eight in the UK. It was a long time ago. We’ve been working together in patches ever since.  In the last five years, we’ve been doing more stuff together. Mark has definitely been the catalyst for a lot of my favorite projects. Obviously, I’m not telling you anything new when I say Mark is one of the best producers alive. Working with him has been a very rewarding experience in a lot of ways. We did a ballet and worked with Miley Cyrus together, and now we’ve worked with even more generational voices.

Mark Ronson: In the studio, I’m in awe of Andrew. I don’t have Andrew’s musical ability, orchestration chops, and understanding of harmony. When I work on a project, I always think, “This is a project that I want to do with him.” There are all sorts of things that we work on together. We’ve been workshopping a musical for the past five years. If we hadn’t been doing that, we certainly wouldn’t have been prepared to work on the songs for Barbie because there was a musical theater element in the film. We learned how songs move a story.

Working together, your first original song for film was “Shallow” from A Star is Born. You went on to win the Oscar for Best Song with Lady Gaga. Did that prepare you Barbie? And for Barbie, was the original assignment only two songs?

Mark Ronson: We weren’t really involved with the Atlantic Records conversations, but yes, originally Greta came to us with this funny little PDF document. It was titled “Barbie and Ken hit songs.” It was very tongue in cheek and outlined Barbie’s thoughts and Ken’s inner voice. Gretta explained Barbie’s song as, “It’s the best day ever. It’s in Barbie Land. There are no shadows in Barbie Land because there are seven suns.” The outline had all this crazy eccentric, very funny, clever Greta Gerwig wordplay. And she explained Ken as, “He just wants a hug. He has no genitals, but he loves horses.” All of it made him a tragic figure. We all know what it’s like to be the loser, to not get what you want. I felt a huge draw to the character. Obviously, I’m not a ten here or anywhere else, but there was something about him. I got dragged in emotionally. Even though he’s kind of doofy, I loved him.

On the Ken song, how is it split up? Did you both work on the music together? Do you both work on lyrics together?

Andrew Wyatt: We were a little insecure when we first started writing, especially as Mark had an idea for a chorus at the beginning. Right before we hit send on our first draft, we thought, “Are we overstepping by writing all these funny rhymes?” And Mark said, “You know, I think we should count on them to bring the funny.” But we needed a placeholder in there, so we wrote the lyrics. We already have a jokey rapport in the studio. We have a lot of running jokes that have to do with bit actors from the eighties and nobody remembers their names.

Mark Ronson: We’re obsessed with comedy.

Andrew Wyatt: Yes. Comedy, media, and sometimes the obscure corners of that world. And interestingly enough, Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach are obsessed too. It helped when we were writing the lyrics. We all have a similar comedic sense. We felt comfortable to workshop and throw out a million bad ideas. It was like being in a writers’ room. But to answer your first question, yes, we both do both things.

How did you go from two songs to being the musical architects of Barbie? Not just songs, but also the score. How did that evolve?

Mark Ronson: When we wrote “I’m Just Ken,” we thought, “Who’s going to sing a song like this? Who’s got that voice? Who can deliver it?” Andrew has a great voice and huge range. He sang the demo. But there was never an idea that Ryan was going to sing the song. When Greta asked us to write a Ken song, she got involved in figuring out who would be the best person to sing it.

And then Greta and Noah got really obsessed with the song. They played it for Ryan Gosling who really dug it, and they wrote it into the movie two weeks before they’re supposed to start shooting. It was so exciting. She said, “We can send you storyboards.” And I’m not trying to sound like some kind of boob, but I said, “What are storyboards?” They sent them over and they were beautiful. Perfect anime-type renderings of Ryan singing on the bed. We just thought, “Oh my God. They’re putting our song in the middle of this very expensive movie. I hope we don’t let them down.”

When we got to see the first edit a couple months later, we saw our two-and-a-half-minute song stretched the entire length of this 11-minute battle sequence. It was even longer than it was in the film. And Greta looped parts of the song over and over again. Andrew and I said, “We can’t let you listen to this. This is terrible. No one should see this. Can you give us the scene and let us score it?” And she said yes, and we started working on it. It took us two weeks because we’ve never scored a battle sequence before. It’s a completely different animal, but we loved doing it and we love film scores. We love John Williams, Danny Elfman, Carter Burwell, and everybody in that space.

We eventually sent the score back to Greta and she really liked it. Then she asked us to score the opening credits. She said, “Let’s see what you do here.” We wrote a piece of the score for the opening of Barbie’s Perfect Day, which then became the Lizzo song. Lizzo ended up writing over it, but that was originally our score music. We both fell in love with the film. We were so emotionally invested. Andrew and I were willing to do whatever Greta asked because we were inspired by her vision. We were in love with the film.

At the very last minute, maybe six weeks before they were locking picture, Greta said, “Okay, the film is yours. You can score the rest of it.” We wrote 45 minutes of music in six weeks. But luckily, we had a really strong sense of the film’s emotional core, and it was in our bones by that time.

For the two of you, how does penning film songs differ from writing for a pop artist? How is that a different experience for you all?

Andrew Wyatt: Our last two outings have been both pop and film songs. But when we’re doing music for film, the director’s vision comes first, and we build around that. Whereas when we’re creating music together for an artist, we think how is the song going to fit into the artist’s oeuvre? And it’s often just the artist’s life. And when you’re working with pop stars, it’s often a life that’s being examined under a microscope by the press a lot.

So, it’s quite different in that sense. You can use some of the same tools for songwriting—tension, release, melody, rhythm, chordal rhythm, tempo, and all that stuff. But I think with the content and the sensibility, you’re playing into these worlds that are very specific to the film. One of the first songs that I ever had come out was “PoP! Goes My Heart” with Hugh Grant. And the direction was to write a song that sounds like it was a top five song in 1982.

A Star is Born was its own thing and exists in this world that’s timeless. It sounds weird to say that about your own work, but Gaga produced that song and made it sound like it’s outside of any time period. It could be 1974, it could be now, or it could be 10 years from now.

When you’re sitting in the studio and you’re working with an artist, you pray that they’re coming in with something wonderful and something that will inspire you. When you’re producing for an artist, the idea needs to come from them. The Barbie script was packed, such a wallop of emotion. It’s a songwriter’s dream. You dream about working on something that can hit you with a big enough bout of inspiration that the words just fall out.

Another similarity between A Star is Born and Barbie is that we had two masterful directors: Bradley Cooper and Greta Gerwig. With their storytelling, it elevates our songs because the audience is deeply invested in the characters. And we’re part of the story. We’re part of something that everybody is falling in love with. That is what happens when you write for a great movie. It gives your song a superpower.

What is the difference between writing for an artist versus writing a record that you have 100% creative control over? And how does that differ?

Mark Ronson: That is way too much control for me. I wouldn’t know what to do with that. Forty-five to fifty-five percent is all I need.  I love collaboration. Without Andrew, I wouldn’t be able to write any of the songs for Barbie. We inspire each other. When I have a chord, he’s right next to me handling the next chord. With “I’m Just Ken,” I had an idea for a lyric, Andrew came up with a melody for the verse, and we wrote the chorus together. I love the spark I get from other creative people in the room.

Both of you jointly composed the score. And it was your first experience scoring a picture. Is it something you’re interested in doing again?

Mark Ronson: I would love to do it again, but I know we were spoiled with a wonderful film. I loved coming to work every day and being inspired by the actors’ performances. At the start of each day, we had a little TV in the studio that would slowly rise. It took three minutes to come up. I remember hitting the button over and over again, thinking, “God, I can’t wait. What is this thing going to tell us to do today?”

Andrew Wyatt: And the wonderful thing is every time you do this job, music, you have to figure out new ways to solve problems. If not, you bore yourself. And you’ll probably end up boring everyone else too.

When we started the music for Barbie, we thought, “How do we get this done?” And the answer is somehow. The magic happens in those tiny moments between your genuine labor and effort. Something happens and you don’t even know why. I remember certain moments of the score where I just put my hands down on the piano, and I’d hear Mark’s voice over my shoulder. “That’s nice.” Then we would carry on from there. You find your way. I got lucky enough to speak to Paul Schrader at a mixer in New York. And Paul Schrader said, “I love working with first-time composers because they’re learning how to do this. And it’s a beautiful sound—hearing people’s efforts to create magic without fully understanding what they’re doing. Because there is no way to know, and each movie is different.

Mark Ronson: There isn’t a template we can fire up and immediately start writing. We start with the orchestra. We ask ourselves questions. Are we starting with the synthesizer? Are we starting with piano? Are we starting with the drum beat today? Who knows?

Andrew Wyatt: I hope that never changes. As we compose more films, we’ll have a larger library of music at our fingertips, but then the lexicon will broaden. There is something magical about creating a unique piece.

What advice would you give to aspiring composers and songwriters? Either lessons you’ve learned or mistakes you’ve learned from?

Mark Ronson: It took me a long time to have my first success, and I was making records for probably 15 years. I was making demos in my bedroom and working with unsigned artists. It’s so easy to get caught up in trends, listen to other people’s music, and chase what’s hot. It’s only when I’ve written something that really moves myself that I’ve ever had any kind of real success. It sounds cheesy, but it’s all about sticking to your inner voice and just getting better and better at the thing you love. I still take piano lessons and theory lessons. I’m not saying everybody must do that, but it’s dedication and love that provides you with the most success.

Andrew Wyatt: I would say expose yourself. No, that sounds weird. Give yourself enough exposure to find out what you gravitate towards and then try your hand at it. See if it comes naturally and if there is synergy. Once you figure that out, don’t worry about anything else. It’s like what Mark said, don’t try to do everything. Be interested in everything and throw everything at yourself. Not everything will stick, but it’s important to have confidence that it’s okay and keep searching.


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