March 2, 2024

Ken is Ryan Gosling at his musical peak

Despite all the ways the film pokes fun at the supposed insignificance of the male Mattel doll, the star of Greta Gerwig Barbie, apparently, Ken. Or maybe, more accurately, it’s Ryan Gosling, who the internet discovered their affinity—and that is, horniness—because of his five-year hiatus from movies. (We do not admit The Gray Man.)

Thanks to some music layers i Barbie, including an ’80s-style power ballad called “I’m Just Ken” and a hysterical rendition of Matchbox Twenty’s “Push,” fans of the Canadian heartthrob manage to fall in love with his music time and time again. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime role that feels decades in the making, considering all the ways that singing (and even dancing) was woven into his career.

[Light spoilers for Barbie follow.]

As a member of the particularly star-studded The All-New Mickey Mouse Club and front man of a spooky rock band at one point, Gosling’s musical history is heavily documented. However, his vocal chops felt mostly like an ace he kept up his sleeve as an actor, as opposed to something he’s constantly waving around. (It’s not Anne Hathaway or Hugh Jackman, per se.) But we’ve seen them in movies before, like Valentine blue and Lars and the real Girl.

But even where the biggest showcase of his vocal prowess would be the Oscar-winning musical La La Land, Gosling singing in a nice muted, non-speaking voice—as the role might very well require. Overall, he doesn’t show much in the film beyond his willingness to participate in such a worthy project and his ability to stay informed. Funnily enough, during the awards season 2016, Twitter users began to spread that clip of Gosling performing Jodeci’s “Cry For You” on Mickey Mouse Club Online Game, alongside the all-male group and co-star Justin Timberlake, as proof of the kind of range and soulfulness his voice could deliver. He obviously gave us other examples of his chops from that clip, even if they weren’t mentioned.

Thank you, Barbie much bigger, flasher, and campier than La La Land. As such, the film’s musical moments require Gosling to bare his heart in a way that’s as serious and witty as opposed to playing it cool. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, he admitted that he would have to tap his own former Disney Mouseketeer to embody the role. “At a certain point, I thought I’d left that baby behind,” Gosling said. “And I needed his help to make this film. So I had to go back and make peace with him and ask for his help.”

All over Barbie and specifically during “I’m Just Ken,” Gosling said appear requested to do, it’s hard not to see that exuberant inner child has been suppressed by his preference for heavy dramatic projects in recent years. (This is very much the energy of a man who was the only boy in his life youth dance crew and He played in an Elvis Presley cover band as a child.) Listening to him sing through auto-tune, it’s also hard not to imagine another universe where Gosling was the Mouse who was chosen as a member of *NSYNC. What could be!

If it wasn’t already there plenty of buzz prizes for Gosling, “I’m Just Ken” gives the audience a singular moment from his performance. By the time he sings the number in the third act of Barbie, however, it feels like the doleful character has already been pushed to its comic limits. (Don’t be fooled by Barbie‘s anti-Ken marketing. His arc is much more than being a significant accessory to his others.)

BARBIE

Warner Bros. Pictures

Similarly, the film sees Ken go from a willing employee of Barbie and a second-class citizen in Barbie Land, along with the rest of the Kens, to her oppressor. Ken accompanies Barbie on an emergency trip to the real world after her perfect PVC body begins to malfunction. There, he enjoys the fruits of patriarchy for the first time and brings this system back to Barbie Land, where he and the rest of the Kens adopt stereotypical bro-y behaviors.

One of them is pulling out a guitar and boring their respective Barbies to death with a Matchbox Twenty cover. (According to the laugh that screened me, many women have had this harrowing experience.) In the end, the Ken triarchy does not prevail, and the platinum blonde doll is relegated to a largely meaningless life, defined by his love of Barbie and Beach.

So he breaks into “I’m Just Ken,” a power ballad that I’ll admit lacks a lot of power. (Mark Ronson, although he’s a master arranger, can’t write catchy pop, sorry!) There’s a funny lyric in the chorus where Ken asks, “Am I destined to live and die the life of a vulnerable blonde?” But unfortunately, this is not the kind of ditty that will stick in your head after you leave the theater. Regardless, the sequence is still hysterical and impressive in size. At one point, the Kens all perform the song in the cotton candy-colored arena, including Gene Kelly in black during the dream ballet by Cyd Charisse in Singing in the rain.

Time will tell if the awards bodies and, in particular, the Academy voters will be equally indifferent to Gosling’s performance or “I’m Just Ken” as the internet already yes. If the latter gets an Oscar nomination, we can only hope that Gosling will be playing the telecast this time instead give it to John Legend.

Read more of our Barbie coverage HERE.

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