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Inside Track: Barbie

Mark Ronson (left) and Andrew Wyatt at the premiere of Barbie in LA.Mark Ronson (left) and Andrew Wyatt at the premiere of Barbie in LA.

The amazing success of the Barbie movie was powered by its music. Mark Ronson and Andrew Wyatt were the producers, songwriters and composers who helped to turn the world pink.

Released in July 2023, Barbie became the highest‑grossing live‑action comedy of all time, Warner Brothers’ highest‑grossing movie, and the highest‑grossing movie of the year. It was also a major event musically. With songs featuring Lizzo, Dua Lipa, Nicki Minaj, Charli XCX, Sam Smith, Billie Eilish, the Kid Laroi and many more, the accompanying album went to number one in many countries, while the instrumental Barbie (Score From The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) became the most successful soundtrack album of the century so far. The two albums received a whopping 11 Grammy nominations between them.

Surprisingly, the score album was written by two people who had no previous experience of writing a movie score: Mark Ronson and Andrew Wyatt. The duo also co‑wrote three and co‑produced five of the songs on Barbie The Album, including two of the biggest hits, Dua Lipa’s ‘Dance The Night’ and Billie Eilish’s ‘What Was I Made For?’

“It feels good to be part of a cultural phenomenon that brought people back into the movie theatres,” says Wyatt. “It’s also really cool because it’s the first scoring gig Mark and I have done together. Mark has done the soundtrack for a movie called Mortdecai [2015, with composer Geoff Zanelli providing the score], but that seemed to be more an extension of what he did on his album Version, with the Daptone horns. This was the first time both of us had to score a film and bring in orchestral elements.

“We worked 10 to 15 hours a day for several months. In addition, because Mark was also doing the executive production of the soundtrack, he got no sleep. And he just had a kid. He’s a beast!”

A scene from the movie: Barbie, played by Margot Robbie.A scene from the movie: Barbie, played by Margot Robbie.

Something In The Woodshed

Andrew Wyatt first came to prominence in 2009 as singer and songwriter with the band Miike Snow, and two years later as co‑writer of Bruno Mars’ megahit ‘Grenade’. He released a solo album called Descender in 2013, and a couple of solo singles in September 2023 as a precursor to a second solo album. In addition, the fourth Miike Snow album will soon see the light of day.

Wyatt has an extremely prolific parallel career as a songwriter and producer, working with artists like Charli XCX, Mark Ronson, Beck, Dua Lipa, Florence + the Machine, Lady Gaga, Liam Gallagher, Lorde, Miley Cyrus, Major Lazer and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Wyatt has also created sound installations, and together with Mark Ronson, wrote music for a ballet called Carbon Life (2012). The Barbie movie thus brought together the full range of Wyatt’s musical interests.

“I see myself as a weirdo who loves to experiment,” he comments. “I’ve spent a lot of time exploring all kinds of domains in music. I find them all fascinating and rewarding, in different ways. There’s always some new skill to acquire. I started my path as a jazz pianist, and in my first band there were people who had played in Ornette Coleman’s band, and Greg Kurstin, who is a great jazz pianist, and saxophonists Chris Potter and Walter Blanding Jr.

“The jazz tradition is closely related to the classical tradition in that the main feature is not to be famous or to create work that is famous. The main thing is what in jazz nomenclature is called ‘woodshedding’. The term comes from the days when jazz musicians in the rural South would go the toolshed, or even the latrine, to practice their trumpet or saxophone, because it would drive the family crazy if they did it in the house.

“Woodshedding became the idea of setting time apart to learn a new musical skill, almost like a researcher, and it’s very different from being famous. I feel very lucky to be able to devote myself to the more academic side of music, and promote innovations. That’s the tradition I come from, and it’s one reason why I have been in the business for so long. I constantly remind myself that the most important thing is to deploy all my talent and intelligence to try and solve problems in new ways.”

All That Jazz

Wyatt’s jazz career goes back to late‑’80s New York, when he played in bands called Fires Of Rome and Funkraphiliacs. The latter featured the aforementioned Greg Kurstin, who went on to become one of the world’s most famous producers. For a while, Wyatt also studied at the School of Jazz and Contemporary Music. “I was kicked out because I never went to class! I felt that the jazz community was trying to roleplay being in the 1950s, and I wanted to make modern music. So I got a job at a studio called Marathon Recordings, which led me on the production path I’ve been on ever since. This was around 1990. I also got a record deal with Capitol as a solo artist. However, I went crazy and became a drug addict for 10 years. I didn’t start making music again until the beginning of this century, when I was about 30.”

Wyatt returned to music by being the bass and keyboard player of a band called the AM, who released one self‑titled album in 2003. He continues, “A few years later, one of the guys I knew from my Capitol days asked if I was interested in writing for some of his artists on his new Downtown Publishing company. I was one of the first to sign for that company. He sent me to Sweden to work with production duo Bloodshy & Avant, which is how Miike Snow was formed.

“Around the same time I met Mark [Ronson], and we became close friends, and have since had a great time working on music. It’s hard to find people that you can have a great creative partnership with, and also get on with personally. We also had luck on our side, because the first song we did together became a hit in the UK in 2009.

“When we first met, I was more the songwriter and Mark the producer. I’d say he’s still more the producer than I. He asks for my opinion, of course, but I tend to trust his instincts. I mean, he’s one of the greatest producers ever in pop music! Over the years his songwriting has improved, and I think as songwriters we’re 50/50 at this point. Sometimes one of us will start a song and the other will finish it, and vice versa.”

Their breakthrough hit song, ‘Change’, was co‑written by Wyatt with the artist, Daniel Merriweather, and produced by Ronson and Wyatt. When Wyatt co‑wrote ‘Grenade’ with Bruno Mars not long afterwards, his status as one of the world’s top songwriters was assured, resulting in a swathe of major credits, amongst them a co‑write of Lady Gaga’s Grammy Award-winning song ‘Shallow’ for the movie A Star Is Born. Less known is the fact that Wyatt co‑wrote much of The Fall (2015), the debut solo album by Emile Haynie, another of the world’s top producers....

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