Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
With the new Barbie movie coming out this weekend, it is the perfect time to revisit Aqua’s classic number one hit that reached that top spot in multiple countries across the globe. Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice have even contributed a version of the song for the soundtrack. It’s not so much a cover as a rap over “Barbie Girl” played in the background, but it’s still a great throwback with a new twist.
The new movie has brought up some capital-D discourse about Barbie. Is it feminist? Is it anti-feminist? Does Greta Gerwig at the helm make us more or less nervous about the outcome? Either way, as the trailer advertises: “If you love Barbie. If you hate Barbie. This movie is for you.” The movie has a star-studded cast, with Margot Robbie as Barbie and Ryan Gosling as Ken at the helm (since this is a music blog after all, Dua Lipa plays Mermaid Barbie).
As I was getting my head into Barbie World, compiling covers of this song, I realized that I was definitely listening to a clean version as a kid. I was used to hearing “I’m a blonde, single girl,” not “I’m a blonde, bimbo girl.” Maybe my Barbie memories have more of a girl power tinge than Aqua’s. I guess this version means that Ken hasn’t yet fully convinced Barbie of his charms. Mattel, Barbie’s manufacturer, actually sued Aqua because of this “bimbo”-induced disrespect of their trademark. The court ruled in favor of the band with potentially the best closing statement of a ruling ever: “The parties are advised to chill.” I can’t make this up. Just think, without this ruling we might not have this song to rediscover in this moment.
No matter what your Barbie vibe is, there is a cover of “Barbie Girl” for you.
Melodicka Bros – Barbie Girl (Aqua cover)
Margot Robbie as Barbie asking “Do you guys ever think about dying?” mid-dance sequence, record scratch and all, has already become a meme after being featured in the movie’s trailer. This cover goes out to Sad Barbies everywhere. A deep orchestral start yields to an emotional guitar played by the Ken of this cover. Somehow this come-hither song now sounds like a breakup song. This effect is increased by the music video itself where “Barbie” and “Ken” are never in the same shot. The original song is very Barbie-centric, but Ken steals the show in this cover. At about the 2:30 mark, he breaks out an amazing guitar solo that has the vibe of a Spanish guitar love song. At the very end “Ken” lets out not a vocalized, agonized “whyyyyy”, but the physical mime of that as the music fades out.
Home Grown – Barbie Girl (Aqua cover)
Riot grrrl Barbie anyone (maybe that’s more in line with the Bratz dolls, though)? This cover starts with some strong power chords and an unapologetic “I’m a Barbie girl in a Barbie world,” making it an anthem rather than a mocking. Home Grown speeds up the chorus, paced by skilled drumming (headbanging optional). Throughout, there are plenty of extreme falsetto and deeply gruff vocals to double-down on the contrast between the Barbie and Ken narratives. As the song goes on, the verses speed up along with the already fast chorus, making this cover clock in at less than half the times of the original. It’s a quick but wild ride.
Rockmusiklinjen – Barbie Girl (Aqua cover)
Maybe you’re a more easy-listening type and want to hear Barbie and Ken crooning to one another. “Come on Barbie, let’s go party” is delivered so earnestly in this slow-jam version. It’s almost like a “Baby It’s Cold Outside” (if you don’t think too much about the lyrics, of course). I’d personally love to hear Ryan Gosling, the new movie’s Ken, take this on. The tempo is slowed way down, and the enunciation of certain lines sounds like a drawn-out slam poetry version. The effect of these changes make this song almost unrecognizable from the original, again if you aren’t paying attention to the actual lyrics. The original song is polarizing, and I have a sense that this cover will be, too. However, I’m not ashamed to say that I’m charmed by the super-serious delivery of some of the more cringey lines like “hanky panky” and “bimbo friend.”
Scala & Kolacny Brothers – Barbie Girl (Aqua cover)
Now we are all Barbie Girls joining our voices together in this cover. With just a lone accompanying piano and a full, eerie chorus, this cover delivers a somber reflection on what it means to be in a Barbie World. However, at the 2:30 mark the tone seems to subtly change from a lament to a celebration. The singers are reclaiming the title of “Barbie girl.” From this point, the “come on Barbie, let’s go party” lines hit differently. The chorus’s increased volume highlights the strength of their community, joining forces to navigate the world’s challenges. “Imagination, life is your creation” indeed.
Stantough – Barbie Girl (Aqua cover)
Barbie not only has many moods, but also spans history. The first Barbie doll was introduced in 1959, not quite medieval times, but with all of the various forms Barbie has taken over the years, Medieval Barbie doesn’t seem so out of the realm of possibility. This Princess of England one is the closest I could find. This cover is reminiscent of Peter and the Wolf, the narrative now told by different instruments in this instrumental cover.
The lute opens while the harp “sings” the first lines. Then the pan flute joins in on Ken’s “come on Barbie, let’s go party” part. With that, the “bardcore” sound really kicks in. Deep drums anchor the continual lightness while instrumental character roles change up throughout, keeping the listener alert. At one point a lighter flute, sometimes paired with harp, becomes Barbie and a deeper sound from a mandolin becomes Ken. If you like to listen to instrumental music while you are working, throw this on your playlist to give you a little pick me up.
Obligatory bonus metal version:
Jonathan Young – Barbie Girl (Aqua cover)
I know metal covers are not everyone’s cup of tea, but I would be remiss if I didn’t include one here for the fans. You can see from the video that there was a major demand for this kind of cover, and the final product delivers. Favoring heavy metal instrumentation and gravelly vocals, this one doesn’t go full-on screamo until the three-minute mark where the menace kicks in, but it would still be quite the cover version to be blasted out of the coveted Barbie convertible.