(Editor’s note: The following article contains spoilers for “Barbie”.)
Matchbox Twenty frontman Rob Thomas is convinced his 1997 hit “Push” isn’t the butt of the “Barbie” joke and is actually a loving homage.
The song, which was criticized upon its release for lyrics that allegedly glorified domestic violence, is used at a key moment when the Kens of Barbie Land think they’ve finally won the attention of all the Barbies, amid the pastel putsch of the Ken Kingdom to install their own version of patriarchy. Not just Ryan Gosling’s Ken, but all Kens serenade their Barbies with “Push” thinking they’ve won over the Barbies – and on their terms.
But the Barbies have already been deprogrammed by their patriarchal brainwashing and are just playing along, making the Kens think they are actually interested in them (and just as importantly, as interested in They interests). It’s one of the things that ultimately leads to the Barbies reclaiming their land while the Kens are so distracted by stroking their egos that they forget to participate in the vote to change Barbie Land’s constitution, something they originally initiated themselves.
In an interview with United States todayThomas doesn’t see how “Push” could be a punchline here, though.
“I want to preface this by saying I thought it was funny. But in ‘Bring It On’ (Kirsten Dunst’s character) she has this dumb boyfriend. And there’s a scene where she was in her dorm room with a Matchbox Twenty poster in the background. There was a whole period during the ’90s where the more successful we were, the more objective we were. We were an easy takedown,” she said.
“When I got the ‘Barbie’ call, they said, ‘Ken’s by the fireplace, playing the song and it’s his favorite band,'” added Thomas. “So I did it thinking I was going to be the butt of the joke, and that was fine with me. I have pretty tough skin. But Julie Greenwald (from Atlantic Records) came to the Hollywood Bowl a month or two ago. She had just seen the movie and was like, ‘You come out of it loving Ken and loving ‘Push.” And I was like, ‘Aww. All right, really good!’”
Certainly, Greta Gerwig may have affection for “Push.” She told IndieWire’s Kate Erbland as much, adding the male-aligned references in the film, “I love everything.” Pop-rock of the late ’90s and early 2000s seems to be a particularly soft spot for the up-and-coming auteur: Think of how Saoirse Ronan professes her love for the Dave Matthews Band’s “Crash Into Me” in “Lady Bird.”
But there’s undoubtedly something different about the way “Push” is used in “Barbie” versus “Crash Into Me” in that earlier film — or the Indigo Girls’ song “Closer to Fine” in “Barbie,” which is used as a triumphant anthem for Barbie to sing as she makes her way from Barbie Land to the real world. (Hopefully “Barbie” is the smash hit that will help the Indigo Girls documentary “It’s Only Life After All” find a distributor.) One is used as a soundtrack to adventures and new discoveries, and the other to offer male comfort food that blinds them to their reality.