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Why ‘I’m Just Ken’ is a musical masterpiece

According to Spotify Stats, “I’m Just Ken” has been my fourth most played song for the past 4 weeks – a hard-earned figure for someone who has music playing in the background virtually all day.

Since Ryan Gosling (he sang it himself!) stole our hearts with this “80s power ballad,” I’ve pondered over the source of all the magic and Kenergy of this song, which debuted at No. 87 back in July – Gosling’s first entry into the Billboard Hot 100.

First off, the talent behind it – in addition to Gosling’s vocals – should have been no surprise to me, with Guns N’ Roses lead Slash on the guitar and contributions from Josh Freese (Foo Fighters) on drums and the rhythm guitar of Wolfgang Van Halen (Van Halen).

Instrumentally, the song leads with tender and contemplative piano, slowly rising in energy as guitars and drums enter the mix – paired to both the Ken civil war in the movie and Ken’s expression of his own desires and struggles – and a segue into 80s synth for the Ken dance-off and eventual crescendo, the emotional peak of the song.

And lyrically, the song tells a very particular story: Ken’s evolution from his obsession over Barbie – and the competition this brought with the other Kens around him – through the captivation of performative hyper-masculinity, to the realization the romance would be one-sided “no matter what [he does].” As the song and paired dance number – which felt straight out of “Greased Lightning” – bring it all together for the finale, Ken’s realization that he needs to find himself first, in brotherhood with the other Kens instead of competition, completes his metamorphosis.

It’s a powerful musical depiction of a transformation I’ve seen many of the guys in my life go through – and being surrounded by so many who are working on feeling “Kenough” in themselves, or are already somewhat there, it brought me near to tears in that AMC theater.

As Natalie Wynn once profoundly said in her “Envy” video essay: would you rather concede to obsess over what you lack, or would you rather “get off the floor, stop chasing the dragon, and say ‘yes’ to life?” “I’m Just Ken” is the picture of a man realizing he needs to say “yes” to life. 

And it is beautiful.


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