Photo by Jacklyn Krol for The Recording Academy
King Princess Talks Working With "Master Of Sound" Mark Ronson & Remixing Meryl Streep's 'Big Little Lies' Shriek
"'Mary-Luiz (Plz Plz),' honey, is going to be the next theme song for 'Big Little Lies,'" the rising singer/songwriter/producer tells the Recording Academy before her Thursday night Lollapalooza set
If you haven't heard of King Princess, aka 20-year-old Mikaela Straus yet, it's a great time to get to know the rising pop singer/songwriter/producer. Her debut album, Cheap Queen, is due out this fall on Zelig Records, Mark Ronson's label, and she was featured on Ronson's recently released breakup album, Late Night Feelings. The child of engineer Oliver Straus (Melissa Etheridge, P!nk), King Princess practically grew up in the studio, and as a result is learning to trust her intuition when it comes to her own work.
Working with Ronson, the seven-time GRAMMY-winning superproducer, has been a major confidence-booster, too. "[I've learned] that my instincts are probably right," she exclusively tells the Recording Academy before her Thursday night Lollapalooza set. "I think that [Ronson] is really respectful of the fact that I have the perspective of a young, queer woman and I'm a young person. That meant the world to me."
Below, King Princess sits down with the Recording Academy to chat about her forthcoming debut, recording at Rick Rubin's famous Shangri-La studio, her love of crafting dance tracks from all kinds of strange sounds (one of the most recent is Meryl Streep's now-iconic Big Little Lies shriek), her dream collaboration and more.
Let’s go miss Lolla <3 wearing a custom lil fit based on my parent 92’ Lolla shirt pic.twitter.com/qoaWARkflo— King Princess (@KingPrincess69) August 2, 2019
You're about to perform here at Lolla. How are you feeling?
I feel really good. I've been playing shows a fk ton this year, and it feels like these moments like Lolla, Coachella, Gov Ball, just like really make me emotional. Because these are the big ones. You dream about this, and you hear about your parents going, and my family's from up in L.A., so Coachella for them was a huge deal. Gov Ball was huge for me. It's really like, those are the moments you're like, "Oh, man."
That's awesome. Living the dream.
No, it's truly, truly living the dream. I have amazing slots, and the stages have been great, and everything's great.
What are you most looking forward to about the festival?
I am most looking forward to my show, and then probably walking around and seeing some other people. Because I love to have those moments after your show where you're like, "I did it, bitch. Let's go walk around, take a breather. Enjoy the festival.
You also performed at a Lolla Aftershow last night, correct?
I did a venue show at Thalia Hall. The sound was amazing, and the kids were like fking losing it. It was just so much fun. Cautious Clay opened for me, who I'm a huge fan of. I was just like, "What a great way to kick off the weekend." Pretty much a practice for what's going to go down on stage.
Do you have a different approach for a festival stage versus a more intimate venue?
Yeah. I feel like any time you play something like this, you just have to account for the fact that you're outdoors, and you're at a festival where most people are drunk, and moving around. It's a different energy you really project, in a way outside, that you don't even have to in an intimate space. Because people are paying to watch you, they're paying to stand there at your specific show. It's more like you're winning attention at a festival, which I like because it's a challenge. It's a challenge to play really good and have your band be really tight.
What's your biggest hope or vision when you come off the stage in a few hours?
Just that, like, everyone who watches it, whether it's on the internet, or live, is just so thrilled to have seen it, and like they saw a great show that day. Because it's like the worst when you want to go see someone and then you don't feel compelled. I love my band, and I love the way we play live. People seem to be really like happy and pleased to have seen us afterward. That's all I care about it. I just care that they like it. That's all I care about it.
I really liked your feature on Mark Ronson's album. What was it like working with him, and on that project?
Him and I have a really interesting relationship, because I think he probably thought that I was more of an artist and less of a producer. It turns out I'm probably more of a producer and less of an artist. I think my brain functions in the studio like a producer's. It's just like working with him, is like sometimes we butt heads, and sometimes we clash because I'm like an apprentice producer under him. That's kind of like our relationship.
He's a master of sound. So, we get in these weird tiffs about how long he takes to get the perfect sound. I'm just like making everything so fast, and he's like, "No, bch. You have to wait, get everything right." Which I appreciate because it teaches me how to slow down and really take time to make something because then you get a record like his record that sounds tailored.
So, that song that we wrote ... I wrote a couple songs, and he was like, "They're not good enough, not good enough," and I'm like, "Fk you." Then I sat down, it was like 3:00 am at [Rick Rubin's] Shangri-La, and I wrote that song with my engineer, Mike, on the piano, in this big white room. I wrote it, and I was like stoned as balls. I was like, "Mark, I think I got it." I played it for him, and he was like, "Yep." That was the biggest challenge, just being like, you know, "It is your record, you produce it."
What was the biggest thing you learned from working with Mark, so far?
That my instincts are probably right. It's like I think that he is really respectful of the fact that I have the perspective of a young, queer woman, and I'm a young person. He's just always been like, "That's the sh*t that people listen to." People listen to "1950" because you feel like you're in my shoes, and that's a hard thing to do when you're trying to appeal to a demographic of people who are completely different from you. He was just like, "I felt it." That meant the world to me, just hearing that my instincts about my production and sounds were right.
Do you have another favorite song from Mark's album?
"Why Hide" with Diana Gordon. It's like the most beautiful song, I think, on the record.
Do you have any other dream collabs you want to speak out and manifest?
I've been saying this a lot, but I want a song with Jack White. I don't know. Somebody should make that happen one day.
How'd you come up with your artist name?
When I was young, it was like, I didn't even realize the true meaning of it. Because I feel like it was just something we kind of joked around about. Like in the studio with my friend, Doug, he'd always call me "King Princess." Later in life, I was like, I just cannot believe that my young self created a name and a concept that was so beyond where I was at with my gender, and my sexuality at that point. Then to look back, and be like, "That is me, I'm the intersection of these two things, these two extremes."
I love that. I feel like our young selves are—
More intuitive than we think, right?
Right. You've put out other music this year, some really great songs, including the title track for your upcoming album. What's your main hope for this album?
That it's just a great album start to finish. All the songs are different in different ways, but the production and my voice is the through-line. I really want people to listen through start to finish, and listen to the story when I'm singing, and the words. Because as much as I love production, it's like production is just kind of like the clothes that are worn by the lyrics. Really my goal is to have everything feel like it was meant to be. There's fast songs, there's slow songs, and all this other good sh*t on there. There are songs that are more conceptual, and songs that are pop songs, and that's kind of how I write, I just let it come out.
Are you producing, or co-producing, on the album?
Yeah, I produced the whole thing. My co-producer is my engineer, but I produce everything. A couple people came by and helped out on songs. My friend Tim Anderson helped produce "Prophet." My friend Tao has a song on the record. He's a really talented producer, young and grew up in the studio with Mark, kind of, a little bit these last few years. He was around for that whole thing, so it was just really cool that people in my direct community worked on the record.
What's your favorite part of the collaborative process?
When you call someone you know would be good at something and just say, "Hey, can you come in and do your work, do what you do?" I think the problem with collaborations is when you end up overextending yourself, and neither party has a specific thing to give. I love bringing in people very specifically, like, my band when I need somebody to come play a ripping guitar solo, like I'll get Jonah to come out and play.
When I really want some incredible live instrumentation, Mark sets up a session with Tommy and the Dap-Kings for me. That sht is really special. My friend Tobias Jesso, Jr. sang on a song. That was like a real last minute, like "I need you to come sing on this thing. I need your help." He just came and f*king killed it.
Last question. I can't not ask about the Meryl Streep scream techno. What inspired that? Are you going to make more techno-leaning tracks?
I have so many [remixes], on SoundCloud. I have a whole folder full, it's called "Remixes." My music is so sad and serious, that there needs to be some sort of creative output that's funny, and gives me joy, and makes my friends laugh. This was this thing that I started to do, that I was just like, "This would be so fking funny." It started with a "Jesus Take the Wheel" remix that I've actually never leaked. I meant to put that one out. So, the first one was a "Jesus Take the Wheel" remix. It goes very hard. I was reinventing these stories that these songs told. I love to do that such a thing. With Meryl, that one for me was just like, the minute I saw that scene, I was like, "That's my next remix." The scream is incredible, tonally. "Mary-Luiz (Plz Plz)," honey, is going to be the next theme song for Big Little Lies.
Photo: Kelly Samson, Gallery Photography
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.
Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.
A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.
This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system.
"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."
He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.
"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.
To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood."
Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes.
Photos: Antoine Antonio/Getty Images; Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images for NARAS; Kevin Winter/Getty Images For MTV; Denise Truscello/Getty Images for iHeartMedia; Don Arnold/Getty Images; Harry Durrant/Getty Images
Behind Mark Ronson's Hits: How 'Boogie Nights,' Five-Hour Jams & Advice From Paul McCartney Inspired His Biggest Singles & Collabs
GRAMMY-winning multihyphenate Mark Ronson details the stories behind 11 of his favorite releases, from "Valerie" and "Uptown Funk" to 'Barbie The Album.'
Mark Ronson's fingerprints are everywhere in pop music.
Whether he's behind the board as a producer, penning earwormy hooks for some music's biggest names, or employing a crate digger's mindset to create his own records, you'd be hard-pressed to find something on your playlist that Ronson hasn't touched. The seven-time GRAMMY winner might as well be considered the industry’s Kevin Bacon — he's worthy of his own "six degrees" game.
Today, Ronson is on his way back to New York City from some time spent in the Hudson Valley — a much-need reprieve after a blockbuster summer that saw his Barbie movie soundtrack top charts around the world.
"I love this film so much and I did something I've never done before by executive producing and overseeing [its music]," he tells GRAMMY.com.
That Ronson still has things to check off his professional bucket list is something of a surprise. The stepson of Foreigner guitarist Mick Jones, Ronson got his start DJing in New York in the '90s, bridging his twin loves of funk and hip-hop. In the latter part of the decade, Diddy hired Ronson to DJ several parties, thus opening up the then-twentysomething to a world of A-list talent. Ronson's elite status only grew over decades — from DJing Paul McCartney's wedding in 2011 (for which he refused to accept payment), to creating the ubiquitous hit "Uptown Funk," and curating the final night of the iconic 2023 Montreux Jazz Festival.
Ronson has released five of his own albums — beginning with 2003's Here Comes The Fuzz and up to 2019's Late Night Feelings — each of which is a star-studded affair, featuring everyone from Miley Cryus and Camilla Cabello to Bruno Mars and Mary J. Blige (as well as the occasional lawsuit over interpolation and sampling). Over the years, he's developed a cadre of session musicians and production collaborators, creating an incredibly pop savvy sound often built on horn-driven funk and soul.
At the bedrock of Ronson's production — and among his best-known works — is Amy Winehouse's GRAMMY-winning album Back To Black. Since that 2006 release, Ronson has collaborated with an ever-increasing number of major acts, composing, arranging, producing, writing or playing on (and sometimes all of the above) works by Lady Gaga, Duran Duran, Dua Lipa, Adele, Queens of the Stone Age, and even Sir Paul himself.
Ronson will add another first to his list: author. A hybrid memoir and cultural history, the still-in-progress 93 'Til Infinity will cover the New York downtown club scene of Ronson's salad days.
"It's really fun to revisit that era, and it was a very specific time in DJing where DJs weren't really famous," he recalls. "There was no stage; sometimes the turntables were shoved in the corner at the end of the bar and you would have to crane your neck to even see the crowd. I sound like Grandpa Simpson, but I loved it."
Ronson is en route to a DJ gig as we speak, though the new dad says he'll be "kicking back into high gear on the book" soon. "[Writing it] requires really falling off for seven hours in the basement, like Stephen King says in his book. But I like that," he says.
Ahead of a celebration of Barbie The Album at the GRAMMY Museum on Sept. 27, Mark Ronson shared the stories behind some of his favorite productions – including the song that makes people "stupidly happy."
"Ooh Wee," Here Comes The Fuzz feat. Ghostface Killah, Nate Dogg, Trife and Saigon (2003)
I went to see Boogie Nights in the theater and I remember this scene where Mark Wahlberg's a busboy on roller skates and in the background there was this song playing that had just this string thing that just hit me so hard. I bought the Boogie Nights soundtrack and it wasn't on there — obviously this is 20 years before Shazam — then I figured out it was the song called "Sunny" by Boney M.
When I was making my first record, I was sort of locked up by myself in the studio on 54th Street just experimenting, making tracks all the time. That string line, I could never figure out what to do with the sample. I tried 80 different tempos and drum beats over it, and it wasn't until I just put that drum break behind it, the drums from the song, and it just all sort of gelled together.
Because that was an era in hip-hop where people weren't really using drum loops or drum breaks anymore. It was about chopping and having hard kicks and snares, like DJ Premiere and Timbaland. The DJ in me was like, f— it, let me just try putting a drum break under it. It all gelled and felt good.
I was a huge Wu-Tang fan, and at that point Ghostface was my favorite out of the group and I loved his solo records. I've never been more nervous in some weird way to talk to somebody — nervous and giddy, and what if I just sound so dorky?
I remember he was like, "Yeah, I get it. I think it's dope. It's like some Saturday Night Fever with Tony Manero s—." I guess because of the strings and it was so disco, and Ghost always had this pension for those disco kind of uptempo beats.
The album had to be handed in and I didn't have a hook that I liked on this song yet. Sylvia Rhone was the head of Elektra and she said, "I could try and get Nate Dogg on it." Of course that was the dream. I sent him the track, and it was probably two days before I had to master the album, on a Sunday. He sent me the files back, and all the waveforms were blank.
I had to call Nate Dogg at like 10 a.m. at home on a Sunday. While he's on the phone, he goes back in the studio and turns all his equipment on, trying to do the session.
The fanboy thing is still very real because I still work with people all the time that I'm a fan of. At that age, being in the studio with M.O.P., Mos Def, Q-Tip, Jack White, Freeway, Nate. I was just trying to keep it together some of the time.
"Rehab" - Amy Winehouse, Back to Black (2006)
"Rehab" just came about in general because Amy was telling me an anecdote. She was really together when we worked — she might not have been sober, but she got her whole life together. She was telling me about this time in her life that was difficult and she was in a really bad place. She said, "And my dad and manager came over and they tried to make me go to rehab and I was like, 'No, no, no.'"
I remember that it instantly sounded like a chorus to me, so we went back to my studio and we made the demo. That was when the Strokes and the Libertines were really big. I remember [the drums] sounded much more like an indie beat, even though it came from soul and Motown and the original rock 'n' roll. She would tease me; she's like, "You trying to make me sound like the bloody Libertines."
When [studio group] the Dap-Kings played it, they just brought it to life. I didn't really know anything about analog recording at that point. I only knew how to make s— sound analog by sampling records, so to hear them all play in the original Daptone studio, all the drums bleeding into the piano…. I felt like I was floating because I couldn't believe that anybody could still make that drum sound in 2006.
Amy couldn't be there for the recording, so I was taking a CD-J into the studio with me and I had her demo vocals on a cappella. I was playing it live with the band so that they could keep pace with the arrangement. I loved it so much.
"Valerie," feat. Amy Winehouse,Version (2007)
Amy had never met the Dap-Kings, even though they had been the band for all the songs that I had done on Back to Black. There was this really lovely day in Brooklyn where I took her to the studio to meet all the guys. The album was already out; there was a very good feeling about it [and] they obviously made something really special together. Amy loved the way the record sounded so much, she was so grateful. They loved her.
While we're all having this love-in in Bushwick, I was finishing my album Version and I said, "Maybe we could just cut a song for my record?" The whole theme of the record had sort of been taking more guitar indie bands like the Smiths, the Jam, the Kaiser Chiefs, and turning those into R&B or soul arrangements. I asked Amy if she knew any songs like that. She's like, "Yeah, they play this one song down at my local. It's called 'Valerie,'" and she played us all the Zutons' version. I didn't really hear it at first.
The first version we did was this very Curtis Mayfield kind of sweet soul. Part of me was just like, This is really good, but I feel like there's a hit version as well. I don't have that kind of crass thing where everything needs to be a hit, but…
Everybody was already packing up their instruments and I didn't know the guys that well yet, so it was kind of a pain in the ass to be like, "Hey, I know everybody just wants to go onto the f—ing bar and get a beer right now, but can we just do one more version where we speed it up a little?" Everybody flips open their guitar cases and we do like two more takes, and that's the version on my album.
"Alligator" - Paul McCartney, NEW (2013)
We've done other things together, but I've only really [worked on] three songs on his album, NEW. "New" I just loved as soon as he sent me the demo, because as a McCartney fan, it gives you the same feeling as "We Can Work It Out"; it just has that amazing uplifting feel. That's just his genius. I love "Alligator" maybe a little more because it's more weird.
He definitely gives you a day to f— up and be an idiot because you're just so nervous to be in the studio with McCartney. By the second day it's like, okay, get your s— together.
I remember running around just like, What sound can I find for Paul McCartney that every other amazing producer who ever recorded him [hasn't found already]? He was like, "Anybody can record a pristine acoustic guitar. Give me something with some characteristic that's iconic. That feels like someone just put the needle down on track one on an album."
That's something I always try to remember: don't just make it sound like a guitar, make it sound like a record.
"Uptown Funk" feat. Bruno Mars, Uptown Special (2015)
My enjoyment of the song is now gauged by the people that I'm playing it for. I was playing at this party at Public Records [in Brooklyn] on Sunday. I knew that I wasn't going to play that song on that night; it wasn't right for that crowd or something. And then an hour into my set, the vibe is really good, and I was just like, f— it and I dropped it, and people went crazy.
I'm a little extra critical sometimes on the more commercial songs, thinking nobody wants to hear this or this doesn't really have a place in this space. I think it's just a song that makes people stupidly happy, and that's cool.
The lyrics [to "Uptown Funk"] came really quick. We had the jam: Bruno was on drums, I was playing bass, Jeff Bhasker was on keys, and then Phil Lawrence was there and we jammed for five hours. We just chopped up our favorite parts of the instrumental jam, and then just started writing lyrics almost like a cipher. Bruno had been playing the Trinidad James song ["All Gold Everything"] in his live sets and playing it over a sort of uptempo, funky James Brown, "Get Up Off That Thing" groove.
We were just throwing about lyrics, throwing a little bit of the cadence of the Trinidad James song. Then when Jeff Bhasker said, "This s—, that ice cold/That Michelle Pfeiffer, that white gold." It was like a great rap line. Then everything started to elevate a little bit from there on up.
That first day, we had the whole first verse and it felt great. Every time we went back in the studio, a lot of the times it would feel labored and not as good as that first verse. So it really took a long time to get in. Sometimes we'd go in the studio for three days and then at the end of the whole session we realized, we actually only liked these four bars.
So we kept building on it, and luckily Bruno didn't really let it die. Bruno was touring Unorthodox Jukebox; I was just flying around the country with a five string bass just to get the song done.
"Uptown Funk" still ended at Daptone…to do the horns last with Dave [Guy] and Neil [Sugarman], me. It's almost like you've always got to go through Daptone to finish something.
Bruno came up with that horn line. He was like, "I know you're going to kill me because you're trying to get away from being the horn guy, but I have this horn line and I think it's kind of killer." He demoed it from whatever backstage room on tour and I was like, Okay, here we go.
"Shallow" - Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born Soundtrack (2018)
It's very rare that I write on a song that I don't have to produce as well. We wrote that song in the middle of sessions for [2016's] Joanne, and then Gaga produced the whole Star is Born soundtrack herself. I remember we all had some tingly feelings when we were writing it.
It wasn't meant to be a duet ever. Then Bradley wrote it into the film; it becomes the beginning of their love story. Bradley showed [me a rough cut] at his house, I remember just being like, he's taking this special song [and] made it put its hooks into you. This film, and the story, and the way this song is unfolding is so special.
Then also shout to Lukas Nelson, because that guitar that he came up with that opens the song was not in our demo, and that is such an iconic, memorable part of the song.
The film and the script was really powerful, and I think that me, [co-writers] Andrew [Wyatt], Anthony [Rossomando], Gaga were all in this sort of heartbreak place. We're all just going through our own dramas in the song. The juju was really good and a little spooky in the studio that night.
"Electricity" - Dua Lipa & Silk City feat. Diplo, Mark Ronson, Electricity (2018)
That song just always makes me happy. I don't have a lot of other songs [that sound] like that. I'm always psyched to play that in a set or to go see Diplo play it live.
When I came up DJing in the mid-'90s in New York, if you're a hip-hop DJ you had to be versed in dancehall, old R&B dance classics, and a little bit of house. So I knew 12 house records, but I love those records.
It came out of a fun jam, just me and Diplo — who I'd known probably at that point for 10, 15 years, but we never got in the studio together. He's just firing up drum s— and I'm just playing on this old tack piano that was in the studio I just moved into. But it also sounded quite housey.
We came up with those chords and [singer/songwriter] Diana Gordon came over. I never met her before and she just started freestyling some melodies, and it was just so soulful instantly.
We'd moved the key a little bit lower for Dua — she has this amazing husky voice — but we still left Diana's demo vocal in. She's singing these mumble, non-word melodies that sound like a sample.
We had that old studio where we did Version and all the Amy demos. It has an old-school elevator that was sort of manual and it would always break down. There were people that were just too afraid, like Cathy Dennis — the brilliant songwriter who wrote "Toxic" and "Can't Get You Out of My Head" — she would just always be like, "I'm taking the stairs." We were on the fifth floor and it was a steep, steep walk up. [Editor's note: The music video for "Electricity" features Ronson and Diplo stuck in an elevator. He notes that he's gotten stuck several times in real life.]
"Nothing Breaks Like a Heart" feat. Miley Cyrus, Late Night Feelings (2019)
I was in L.A. working in Sound Factory [Studios], and I had seen Miley a couple years back sing "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" on the "SNL" 40th anniversary; I had never heard her perform with that stripped-down arrangement. I was just so in love with her voice and the tone. I remember hounding my manager, because usually somebody who knows somebody, but Miley Cyrus was completely unreachable and just in another stratosphere.
I was in the studio with [Dap-King] Tommy Brenneck; he's just such a wonderful player, such a soulful touch. We got this thing going, and then Ilsey [Juber] was saying, like, "What about all these things that break, but nothing breaks like a heart?"
[I thought], You know what? I've been trying to hit this girl up for years and nothing ever happened, but let me just try it one more time. I sent it off to Miley, and I guess she was just in a really motivated part of life. She's like, "This is cool. Where are you guys? I'll be there Monday." She came down Monday to the studio, and then her and Illsey wrote the whole rest of the song.
"Break Up Twice" - Lizzo, Special (2022)
[I produced a few other songs on Special], but they didn't make the cut. There's one that I really love called "Are You Mad" that might hopefully see the light of day once.
We spent a lot of time together and I love working with her because she has a really eccentric/ avant garde music taste. Like, the Mars Volta is her favorite-ever band; she's a conservatoire flute player; then she has a strong Prince heritage because she spent time in Minneapolis and she's been to Paisley Park.
The thing that I really love about her is, even at the status that she was at when we were working, there was never anything too silly or too left field to try. It's really freeing when you're with a big artist who isn't afraid to just f— around and jam and make some s— that you know might not be the thing.
"Break Up Twice" was actually an instrumental that we had done at Diamond Mine with [Daptone family] Tommy [Brenneck], Leon [Michels], Victor [Axelrod] and Nick [Movshon]. I just played that, and it instantly spoke to her and she just started freestyling, adding the harmonies and the sax and the vocal arrangements. I just didn't quite know how versatile and talented that she was when we first went in the studio. I just remember constantly being impressed and amazed.
Barbie: The Album (2023)
I'm really proud of the Dom Fike song ["Hey Blondie"], the Sam Smith song ["Man I Am"], [Dua Lipa's] "Dance and Night," of course. Even the Billie [Eilish] song that we did the string arrangement for. I played the tiniest bit of synths on the Nicki [Minaj]i/Ice [Spice] song.
I love this film so much and I did something I've never done before by executive producing and overseeing it. There's so many songs that I had nothing to do with creatively; sometimes I was just doing admin, hounding Tame Impala to send in a demo.
I'm really proud of "I'm Just Ken." Of course Ryan Gosling is a superstar in a different kind of way, but the fact that he's not some superstar pop artist, and the fact that that song has managed to do what it's done….Obviously it's so much to do with the film and his performance, but I'm really proud of that song. I was so inspired by the script. I just instantly had the idea for that line.
There was never anything in the script that said Ryan was going to sing a song. It was just something where Greta [Gerwig] and him really loved the demo, and she loved it enough to write it into the film, which was just so exciting. It was happening in a way that felt wonderful and organic, and to then get Josh Freese and Slash, and Wolf Van Halen to play on it and even bring it to even this next level of sonic fullness.
On TikTok and Instagram, I've seen people singing it; [even] in Spanish, really intense, really earnest covers. We were never trying to write a parody song or anything that wasn't earnest, because there's nothing parody about the film. I guess the chords have a bit of heartbreak in them, a little melancholy, and Ryan's performance is really lovely.
Barbie score (2023)
We worked equally hard or harder [on the score]. It doesn't have quite the same shine because obviously it's not Billie Eilish, Lizzo, and Dua Lipa, but it's something Andrew [Wyatt] and I did. A piece called "You Failed Me" — that's during both Barbie and Ken's meltdown in the middle of the film — I'm quite proud of that. I really love the "Meeting Ruth" orchestral interpolation of the Billie tune as well.
I've contributed music to other films and little cues and things like that, but this is the first time that Andrew and I really did a whole movie from start to finish while also doing the soundtrack.
It's incredibly humbling, too, because when you make a song for someone's album, you're working. It's certainly the most important thing that's happening. In a film, it could be the second most important thing. You could sometimes say it's the third most important thing after dialogue and the sound effects. All that's programmed into your mind about hooks and things like that it's like, No, actually sometimes get the f— out of the way and just provide a lovely emotional texture for things to sit under things.
The thing that I guess is universal is you're reacting to an emotion. Especially if it's a film that you really feel emotionally partial to, you're watching this wonderful performance on screen and how could you not be inspired by that? We're so spoiled to have this as our first film where we're reacting to the emotional heart of this film, which is so rich.
Photos: MICHAEL TRAN/AFP via Getty Images; Frazer Harrison/FilmMagic; Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images; Samir Hussein/WireImage
Road To 'Barbie The Album': How Mark Ronson Dolled Up The Movie's Polished Pop Soundtrack
On the moodboard, she's the inspo. Greta Gerwig's film 'Barbie' releases worldwide on July 21 — and so does its star-studded, Mark Ronson-produced soundtrack. Take a look at how the fantastic plastic of 'Barbie The Album' came together.
This summer, everyone's hot (pink) with Barbie fever.
In the last few months, seemingly all corners of the world have been painted Barbie pink. From floods of #barbiegirl TikToks to ubiquitous brand collaborations, there's been no shortage of almost alarmingly efficient marketing for Greta Gerwig's upcoming blockbuster Barbie.
Out July 21, the fantasy comedy spotlights Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling as Mattel's classic Barbie doll couple, alongside a slew of other major stars including Issa Rae, Will Ferrell, America Ferrera, Kate McKinnon, Simu Liu, and plenty more.
The highly anticipated Barbie soundtrack is helmed by Mark Ronson, the seven-time GRAMMY-winning producer known for working with artists like Lady Gaga, Paul McCartney, Amy Winehouse, and Miley Cyrus. Ronson's nearly year-long work on Barbie The Album kicked off when he checked his phone and saw a one-word text: "Barbie?"
The text came from producer George Drakoulias, who previously worked with Barbie co-writer Noah Baumbach on critically acclaimed films like Marriage Story and White Noise. Drakoulias shared details about the project, and Ronson was sold.
"I don't read a lot of scripts, but it was just everything I want in a movie," Ronson remembered in a Rolling Stone profile. "I was like, 'If I don't get this gig, this is gonna be my favorite movie of the year.'"
Ronson happily signed on as the soundtrack's executive producer — in his own words, becoming "the Robin to [Gerwig's] Batman" — and he hopped on a preliminary Zoom with Gerwig and Baumbach while they were in England gearing up for production.
As they brainstormed for Barbie The Album, Gerwig sent over a playlist of some of her favorite songs, which featured everything from Andrea True Connection to music from Xanadu, to what Ronson personally dubbed "Peloton pop." Spitballing ideas evolved into a crystal pink vision for Barbie The Album, which would be 17 tracks in total and featuring everyone from Lizzo to FIFTY FIFTY to Tame Impala to even Gosling himself.
Speaking to the New York Times, Gerwig described the film Barbie as an "anarchic dance-party emotional meltdown spiritual quest." In line with the movie's chaotic good, she and Ronson wanted the soundtrack to be many, many things: poppy, playful, whimsical, nostalgic, and most importantly, full-hearted.
With all this in mind, there was more news: Barbie would feature a highly-choreographed dance number, and Ronson was tasked with putting together the film's central groove. Rehearsals were scheduled to hit the floor in two weeks.
Ronson and producer Andrew Wyatt — who would end up scoring the entire film together — got to work, crafting the fluttery, up-tempo beat to "Dance The Night" to power the film's core dance scene. Caroline Ailin also contributed as a songwriter to what would become Barbie's defining lead single.
"It became the Barbie anthem on set," Robbie shared with Rolling Stone.
According to Robbie, Barbie cast members rehearsed to the temporarily lyricless song, following only its whirling beat. That is, until Ronson slid into Dua Lipa's DMs to recruit her for the track. Channeling carefree fun reminiscent of Future Nostalgia, Lipa felt like a perfect fit for the song's retro disco relief. (Gerwig later invited the three-time GRAMMY winner to play the neon-pink-wigged role of Mermaid Barbie.)
"Dance The Night" unmistakably bubbles as the buoyant centerpiece of Barbie The Album; in fact, it's featured just 10 seconds into the film's trailer. As Barbie floats down from her dreamhouse, the song's strings flourish with nu-disco verve, luring viewers in and spiritedly signifying the magic of Barbie Land.
It's this breezy, dance floor-ready energy that Barbie The Album epitomizes. The record refracts the light of a disco ball, equating an evening at a club with a spiritual experience. In Gerwig's world, Barbies are — ironically — never boxed in.
While the album thrums with the rhythm of a nonstop party, Ronson still finds moments to hint at profundity, beneath the film's slick comedy. "Even when the tears are flowin' like diamonds on my face/ I'll still keep the party goin', not one hair out of place," Lipa sings in "Dance The Night."
The track's juxtaposition of sorrow and partying represents Barbie perfectly, nodding to the doll's controversial history. Since its 1959 launch, Barbies emerged as symbols of both female empowerment and unrealistic standards for women.
"I kept thinking: Humans are the people that make dolls and then get mad at the dolls," Gerwig explained to the NYT. "We create them and then they create us and we recreate them and they recreate us. We're in constant conversation with inanimate objects."
This idea of creating and recreating applies not just to the film, but its music, too. A modern musical reimagination filled with nostalgia, Barbie The Album slots in several iconic samples, including Toni Basil's 1981 "Mickey," Janet Jackson's 1997 "Together Again," and Aqua's 1997 "Barbie Girl."
"I was like, 'Greta, how are we going to incorporate this song? We can't do a Barbie movie and not have a nod to Aqua's 'Barbie Girl.' It has to be in there,'" Robbie told Rolling Stone. "And [Greta] was like, 'Don't worry, we're going to find a cool way to incorporate it.'"
Gerwig's response was apparently code for "get Nicki Minaj to hop on the track." Minaj made the top of Ronson and Gerwig's "dream list" of artists for the soundtrack — no doubt because of her reigning title as queen of the Barbz. The fanbase name emerged after the cover of Minaj's debut 2007 mixtape, Playtime Is Over, featured the rapper as a Barbie doll within a Mattel box.
"I feel like people have been asking Nicki to rhyme over some version of 'Barbie Girl' for 15 years now," Ronson estimated in conversation with Rolling Stone.
In her pink carpet interview with "Access Hollywood," Minaj admitted it took her a second to warm up to the track's Aqua sample: "I didn't even want to listen to this song because a lot of people have sent me that sample for years, and I never like it!"
But the rapper knew she wanted to be a part of Barbie. "So the next day, I mustered up the courage to listen to the song, and then I loved the beat, and that sold me," Minaj continued.
Once Minaj jumped on the track, Ronson began chasing down another one of today's hottest names in the rap scene: Ice Spice. The 23-year-old Bronx rapper almost didn't make the track because of her demanding schedule, but one night, she found the time to slide into the studio — just as Ronson was getting ready to go to sleep "like an old guy." He biked to the studio after midnight to track her verses, and "Barbie World" was born.
The track marked a "very full circle moment" for Minaj — as well as for Charli XCX. The pop singer told Rolling Stone that her first live performance was actually of Aqua's "Barbie Girl." Although XCX beheaded her Barbie dolls when she was younger, her a cappella rendition of Aqua's hit earned her a win in a cruise ship talent show.
Years later, XCX traded cruise ships for "lavender Lamborghinis" in her 2016 magnum opus "Vroom Vroom." So when Ronson and Gerwig showed XCX a few Barbie clips to choose from, it's no surprise that XCX was immediately drawn to the car chase scene. XCX's Barbie track "Speed Drive" runs through all the red lights, interpolating Toni Basil's "Mickey" as well as sampling Robyn's cover of Teddybears' "Cobrastyle" to assemble one of the album's many hot girl anthems.
And where there's a hot girl anthem, there's a sad girl anthem. Billie Eilish and Sam Smith were recently revealed to be the album's mystery guests, and Ronson put the former behind the wheel for "What Was I Made For?", with her brother and producer FINNEAS riding shotgun. For the siblings, working on Barbie helped flare a creative spark they felt had been dimming.
"We were really in a zone of feeling like we lost it and feeling like, 'man, I don't know if we can do this anymore,'" Eilish shared with Zane Lowe on Apple Music 1. "Barbie and Greta just pulled it out of me, I don't know."
The seven-time GRAMMY winner shared that writing for Barbie The Album allowed for her to refreshingly write from a new perspective — before realizing that she was actually reflecting on herself.
"I did not think about myself once in the writing process. I was purely inspired by this movie and this character and the way I thought she would feel, and wrote about that," Eilish continued with Lowe. "But I do this thing where… I'm writing for myself and I don't even know it."
Just as Eilish's inspiration came from processing her relationship with Barbie, other musicians featured on the album also held personal connections to the doll.
Barbie was rooted in HAIM's childhood. The sisters grew up in Los Angeles in the '90s and self-labeled themselves as "Barbie specialists." Funnily enough, the siblings were allowed just one VHS tape: a Barbie film.
Ronson and Gerwig fell into the habit of showing soundtrack participants scenes from Barbie during the creative process, offering more context for the pair's vision. The HAIM sisters found themselves watching scenes from Gerwig's Barbie to pen "Home" for the soundtrack.
"I wanted to see the movie first to understand the project because we know the doll as a perfect figure, so I needed to understand the film's message," Karol G told HOLA! USA. "Then we met [with the Barbie team], and they shared the songs they loved and the rhythm they were looking for... I wanted that when they played the music; it sounded like a real party. A Latino party!"
The Colombian reggaetonera collaborated with Panamanian rapper Aldo Ranks, recording the thumping reggaeton banger "WATATI" for the album.
Ronson ensured that Barbie The Album stylishly encompassed a wide number of genres, and its variety serves an asset to the film's worldbuilding.
"[Gerwig] had a vision for a really diverse and unique world that she was creating," Brandon Davis, Executive Vice President and Co-Head of Pop A&R at Atlantic Records, said to Rolling Stone. "That's why you're hearing, for instance, a Karol G record that leans more reggaeton next to a Dominic Fike record that's a nod to Sugar Ray."
The slogan of Mattel's signature doll is simple: "You can be anything." Barbie The Album encapsulates this effortlessly, blurring the soft lines between disco pop and drill. The soundtrack even features an Irish jig, unexpectedly on PinkPantheress' wistful song "Angel."
"The soundtrack reminded me of a 2000s Disney prom scene. I was just like, let's try it and see what they think. I just wanted to have fun," the pop star told ELLE. The chorus' uplifting jig gave "Angel" the necessary "soundtrack vibe" she was looking for.
Before kicking off her musical career, PinkPantheress was originally on an acting path. Having studied Gerwig's filmography in school, she was "gassed beyond belief" to join the Barbie team. "I do not think that anyone knows me. I'm always surprised," PinkPantheress said. "So, the fact that Greta Gerwig [does]..."
PinkPantheress knew that thinking pink meant she was on the right track — the color's in her stage name, after all.
"When I listen to ['Angel'], all I think about is the color pink. And when I think of pink, I think of Barbie," she said.
At the end of the day, it's Barbie's world, and we're just living in it. Gerwig pulled us into this glossy, fuschia-flushed world, and Ronson fluidly soundtracked its complementary pop paradise. Ronson spoke highly of the writer-director, citing not only her impressive innovation and drive but her presence alone as uplifting.
"Greta proves that you can be an incredibly strong-minded visionary, but inspire people by just your goodness alone," Ronson told Vanity Fair. "Everybody just felt so free to create."
This open, creative freedom is what makes Barbie truly Barbie. Mattel’s slogan rings true in Ronson’s soundtrack, pulsing like a Barbie dreamhouse party come to life. Songs range from trend-setting and bubblegum to comedic and quirky, but above all, the rosy soundtrack glimmers with moments of sincerity.
One thing about Barbie? She'll always think outside of the box.