Belted out on every TikTok it can infect, all those karaoke bars and jukeboxes who see the grim update to their servers that Ryan Gosling has made his mark, it all comes from Barbie. The shock hit of brand merchandising and positive messaging came with a soundtrack stuffed full of talent. Dua Lipa and Billie Eilish are not just storming chart-toppers but now also share their name and work with a man whose meteoric rise over the last few months can be charted to his Kenergy. I’m Just Ken is his song, and Gosling has taken to it as only he can. His dedication to the craft and his genuine reassurances in the promotional material have seen the Barbie single shoehorned in as a surefire summer hit.
Rightly so. To Gosling and the rest of the Barbie crew’s absolute credit, I’m Just Ken is a catchy piece. Not one that will stick around for much longer, although praying for its scrubbing from the local jukebox may be the equivalent of a cultural war crime, the earworm qualities will die off soon. Shamefully, it may come quicker, and most of the neutral parties who are now hearing I’m Just Ken rattled through tinny shopping centre speakers will probably not notice its demise. But those who are attached to the song, those who feel Gosling gave a career-best performance as a plastic doll, will mourn the eventual cultural overturning of I’m Just Ken. All that stands between it and the complete chokehold of our culture is an Academy Award nomination. Keep your eyes peeled.
With Gosling sounding like late-1990s Elvis Costello and a thunderous break that marks the beginning of the chorus, I’m Just Ken may just be the big-budget surprise of the year. Sombre piano ballads soon surge into a loving nod to the synth-heavy spirals of Europe and the 1980s, before fluttering back to those emotive and measured push from Gosling. It manages these frequent genre blends with startling ease. I’m Just Ken maintains a raw energy to it which can be transferred well away from the feature film it was written for. Perhaps that is thanks to its social media boom, the inference made by what, exactly, “Ken” refers to. In the grander scheme, it is a borderline miracle this Gosling track has shifted itself from the film it was clearly penned for.
But what a miracle it is, and I’m Just Ken, for as annoyingly catchy it is, brings with it new highs and hope for the original soundtracks out there. I’m Just Ken may be as wriggly and infectious as a Squeeze single but it explores a wider commentary never quite grasped at until now. Independence and dependence in equal measure are studied in a three-and-a-half-minute track that has warped the minds of those who listen to it. You cannot argue with the status or quality of the track, and the manner of its explosive rise and cultural relevance is arguably tied to the success of the movie. But with Gosling bringing in a sincere and stunning vocal performance, teeing up quality lyrics that suit the mood of the movie and of the mind of those listening, it is hard not to appreciate I’m Just Ken.