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Dua Lipa Thinks Greta Gerwig “Defied All Odds” on Barbie and Was Happy to Come Along for the Ride

The pop star tells Vanity Fair about “Dance the Night,” her secret contributions to the film during a busy world tour, and what she learned from reuniting with her “Electricity” partner Mark Ronson.
dua lipa
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Early in the filming of Barbie, director Greta Gerwig and composer and producer Mark Ronson had settled on a track to score the film’s first big dance scene. But no disco song is complete without its diva, so soon Ronson sent a direct message to pop’s reigning disco queen, Dua Lipa, and asked her to come on board for what would eventually become “Dance the Night.”

Ronson and Lipa first worked together, along with Diplo, on 2018’s “Electricity,” a house-inspired track which helped set her down the path to her 2020 album, Future Nostalgia. When Ronson reached out this time around, Lipa’s schedule was packed. She was in the middle of a world tour and she had already started working on the music for her third album, which is slated to come out next year. But for Barbie, she knew she needed to make the time.

“I’ve been such a fan of Greta’s work. So my first response was, yes, please. I would love to do it! But I was on tour pretty relentlessly last year,” she said. “So my only worry was, am I going to be able to make the time to go to the studio and work on this song? Luckily we found time, and I flew to New York.” 

One of Gerwig’s main inspirations early in the process was the Bee Gees and their contributions to the iconic 1977 soundtrack for Saturday Night Fever, which put the disco sound firmly in the mainstream and spawned four of number ones on the Billboard Hot 100. It was a touchstone that Lipa was more than happy to indulge in, even if her upcoming work, including the new single “Houdini,” is playing with a different set of inspirations.

“When you think back to just that soundtrack alone, it’s such a mammoth of a record musically. And then combined with the movie, it made it culturally shifting in a way,” she said. “I felt like I had departed from my disco influences, but when I got asked to do this, I was like, you know what? I think I can dig back in and write another disco-leaning song; I was in my Future Nostalgia world anyways. I was like, I can do this. And I was just so excited to be a part of it!”

An earlier version that Ronson and Lipa wrote together was a bit more melancholy, following Barbie’s path in the film, but eventually they decided that it wasn’t the right mood for the party, which caps off what was supposed to be a perfect day in Barbie Land. When a preliminary version of the scene was ready, they reconvened in the studio for a few rewrites that brought the verses into direct conversation with the onscreen activity.

“In the song, it was really important for me to capture the idea that I can basically dance through anything. Even if things are going wrong, I’ll never let it show on my face what’s happening,” she said. “It was also just so fun to get so involved in the storyline and the perspective, and just we dug so much until we felt like we got the perfect lyrics to fit that moment entirely.”

Ronson later shared a video clip from that day to his Instagram account; in it, you see Lipa focused on the task, eyes fixed on the screen. She is well known for her skill in lyrically conjuring a nighttime world from scratch, but working on “Dance the Night” allowed her to flex different muscles. “Because writing for film isn’t something that I’ve done before, that was when I realized the power of possibly being able to write lyrics like a score,” she explained. “I can basically narrate a story, and narrate what’s happening in the scene, to really merge the two worlds together, the music and the movie. [The song] can be its own stand-alone thing, but also when together it’s 100% tailored for that very moment in the film.”

But the traces of the original gloom still linger in the song, which helps keep things on track when the dance scene is derailed by Barbie’s earliest irrepressible thoughts of death. That emotional juxtaposition is what Lipa also loved about the film. “The thing is, Greta just really defied all odds,” she said. “Nobody knew what to expect from the Barbie film and for it to be able to hit so many chords, from it being so fun and happy and funny, to then really hitting the heartstrings and touching on something really emotional and having you, especially as a woman, contemplate your place and what’s expected of you.”

Her cameo as a mermaid came along later, in between a different set of tour dates, when she stopped in London for a day on set. “It was a crazy back-to-back! It was like, okay, today I’m going to go and put on four different colored wigs and a mermaid tail, and tomorrow I’m going to fly and get up onstage again and do something completely different,” she said. “I felt like I was holding the biggest secret in the world from the song to the little cameo, which was fun and exciting.”

It was also a reunion with John Cena, who she met working on the film Argylle, which will be released in February. “It seems like I can’t seem to do anything without him! He’s really my emotional support actor,” she said. “It was fab, and he’s amazing, and I absolutely love working with John. He’s such a great guy and so lovely.”

Lipa said she was happy to see Barbiemania take off over the summer, and even joined in with a pink look at the film’s July premiere. “Everyone can embrace it in their own way,” she said of Barbie’s spirit. “That collective excitement of people wanting to get together and dress up or make a real night out of going to see the film, it felt like a celebration all the way through. You’d see a bunch of people going to or heading to the cinema, and you’d know exactly what film they were watching by the way that they were dressed, because it was such a freedom of expression.”

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