[Editor’s note: The following article contains spoilers for “Barbie.”]
Matchbox Twenty frontman Rob Thomas is convinced that his 1997 hit “Push” is not the butt of the joke in “Barbie” and that it’s 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 Kens’ pastel putsch of the realm to install their version of patriarchy. Not just Ryan Gosling’s Ken, but all of the Kens serenade their Barbies with “Push” thinking they’ve won the Barbies over — and on their terms.
But the Barbies have already been deprogrammed of their patriarchal brainwashing and are just playing along, making the Kens think they’re really interested in them (and just as importantly, as interested in their interests). It’s one of the things that ultimately builds to the Barbies reclaiming their land while the Kens are so distracted by having their egos stroked they forget to attend the vote to change Barbie Land’s constitution, something that they had originally initiated themselves.
In an interview with USA Today, Thomas does not see how “Push” might be a punchline here, though.
“I want to preface this by saying that I thought it was hilarious. But in ‘Bring It On,’ [Kirsten Dunst’s character] has this douchey boyfriend. And there’s a scene where he was in his dorm room with a Matchbox Twenty poster in the background. There was a whole period during the ‘90s where the more successful we got, the bigger target we were. We were an easy takedown,” he said.
“When I got the call for ‘Barbie,’ they told me, ‘Ken’s by the fireside, he’s playing the song and it’s his favorite band,’” Thomas added. “So I did this thinking I’d be the butt of the joke, and I was fine with that. I’m pretty thick-skinned. 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. Alright, really good!’”
Certainly, Greta Gerwig may herself have affection for “Push.” She said as much to IndieWire’s Kate Erbland, adding of the male-aligned references in the movie, “I love all of it.” Late-’90s and early-2000s pop-rock seems to be a particular soft spot for the rising auteur: Think of how Saoirse Ronan professes her love for Dave Matthews Band’s “Crash Into Me” in “Lady Bird.”
But there’s undoubtedly something different about the way “Push” is used in “Barbie” as opposed to “Crash Into Me” in that earlier film — or the Indigo Girls’ song “Closer to Fine” in “Barbie,” which is used as the triumphant anthem for Barbie to sing while making her way from Barbie Land to the real world. (Hopefully, “Barbie” being the smash hit it is will help the Indigo Girls’ doc “It’s Only Life After All” find a distributor.) One is used as the soundtrack for adventure and new discoveries, and the other for offering male comfort food that blinds them to their reality.