With the SAG-AFTRA strike finally over, MoMA plunged ahead with its 16th annual “The Contenders” series, supported by Chanel and running through January 10. On Thursday night, attendees at the museum were treated to a screening of Barbie and a special discussion between Dua Lipa—dressed in Chanel couture—producer Mark Ronson, and musician and songwriter Andrew Wyatt, who delved into the creation of their song “Dance the Night” for the movie’s soundtrack. The conversation, moderated by Rajendra Roy, chief curator of film at MoMA, provided insight into the collaborative process behind the film’s chart-topping, party-ready hit; touched on Lipa, Ronson, and Wyatt’s campaign for a best song nomination at the 2024 Oscars; and unpacked the concept of “dance-crying.” See some video highlights below.
Mark Ronson on being approached by Greta Gerwig to work on Barbie:
Mark Ronson: Somebody texted me and said, “Hey, do you want to talk to Greta Gerwig about the new movie she’s doing?” I was such a fan of Lady Bird and Little Women. And [Gerwig] said, “I’m doing Barbie.” It sounded so wild and outlandish and cool. And then I read the script that she wrote with Noah [Baumbach], and I just loved it so much and I kind of just got it. And [Gerwig] said, “I need two songs in the beginning.” She sent me this funny PDF that said, Some Outlines for Barbie and Ken Hit Songs’ which was kind of tongue-in-cheek. It was like, right, we all want to write a hit!
Dua Lipa and Mark Ronson on writing “Dance the Night”
MR: [Greta] said, “There’s a Barbie song, which is going to be at the end of her best day ever, and just at this moment before the world shifts for her, but it just has to be the most fun, disco, effusive record. And then there needs to be a Ken song,” and she’s like, “I don’t know what that is…It just should be a song from his point of view.” It was never supposed to have this much music or be such a musical, and it just all sort of unraveled from there.
Dua Lipa: It was such a different experience, where when I’m writing a song for myself, I come with the idea of how I’m feeling or what I want to write about. This way, I was embodying a character, and I already had the assignment and I had the story behind Barbie’s best day ever. Then she starts having these thoughts about death, and it was like, Okay, how do we create the perfect disco song with an underlying story that shows a little bit of a shaky ground? I think first we did a version based on a dance rehearsal that we saw, and what Greta had told us was about to happen in the movie. And so we kind of went a little bit deeper into the more tumultuous side of Barbie’s existential crisis. And then I think when we saw it with the picture, and we were listening to the song while watching it, then our perspective kind of changed a little bit and we were like, Okay, maybe we’ve got to pull her back to the light a little bit, because we got to give Barbie her optimism as well. Even when things aren’t going right, you can dance through it. I think that’s essentially the message of the song. And I think that optimism is so vital to the human experience overall, no matter what you’re going through. Being able to push through, in some way.
Lipa on writing for a film soundtrack
DL: I think music—and disco music in particular—was always such a big form of the expression of freedom, and it gave people a sense of community and togetherness. [Disco] was always the kind of music that really brought people together. And so to have that kind of duality—of the happy-sad, or [as] I like to call it, “dance crying”—I felt like that was really important. So we went in and we rewrote [the song], and then we also started working on the lyrics a little bit more like a score. There were moments where, while we were seeing the picture and listening to the song, Barbie does a move like this, and I’m like, Oh, we have to just say, “Come along for the ride!” Intertwining the lyric to the movie felt like such a unique and different experience—unlike anything I’d ever worked on before.
Ronson and Wyatt’s advice for Lipa as she enters the Oscar campaign trail—nearly five years after they won with Lady Gaga for “Shallow”
Andrew Wyatt: Well, Dua is already one of those people that if you see her at a party or if you’re at an event, you’re like, Wow, is this a dream? But that was the one thing about the whole Oscars thing, is you’ll be in a room and you’re sitting and Daniel Craig is here. It was like, I had a dream that I was sitting in a room with Helen Mirren, and Daniel Craig was dancing with his wife over here, and Willem Dafoe walked in carrying two drinks. Dua is already one of those people, so [she] should probably feel quite at ease. But I think it’s important to take in that the whole thing’s just a big trip. It’s just all weird. And that’s okay.
MR: Also, to be honest, we really didn’t have to do much because Lady Gaga was [there]. We’re lowly songwriters. And [she is] Dua Lipa—people get excited, and it’s very glamorous and glitzy. But to be honest, we didn’t have to do half as much as what you’re going to have to do. I’m so sorry.
Dua Lipa on the possibility of doing more acting
DL: Gosh, maybe. I really just loved the experience. I absolutely loved working with Greta, and even though it was a small role, just kind of diving into a new character and exploring that was really, really fun. I also worked on a film with Matthew Vaughn called Argylle, which comes out in February. So I’m very excited about that too. But music is really my number one love. It’s something that I feel like with every album and every session and every song that I put out, I find my feet a little bit more, and I get more confident and I believe in myself and my craft and who I am as an artist and as a performer more. And I’m really enjoying being in that space as a songwriter and as an artist. And so music will always be number one for me, and then we’ll see. We’ll take baby steps.