A long awaited day has finally arrived: the cinematic collision of matter and antimatter represented by the two biggest and perhaps most thematically divergent summer blockbusters opening on the same date. To all who celebrate, a very happy Barbenheimer to you.
The conversation around “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” runs the risk of relying on lazy stereotypes about gender essentialism and taste: men are from Mars, and women are from Venus; “Oppenheimer” is for boys, and “Barbie” is for girls. But what I find so amusing about a lot of the “Barbenheimer” memes is the way they also subtly make fun of those assumptions and treat the idea of “masculine” and “feminine” aesthetics as something more artificial, interchangeable and downright laughable than they might at first appear to be.
I admit that the Barbenheimer memes are still making me laugh. (Well, the good ones.) Even the jokes about how ridiculously overdone the Barbenheimer memes are at this point are making me laugh. I wanted to make my own contribution. So, behold — Barbenheimer: The Playlist.
Sometimes a good playlist is all about cohesion and tonal similarity. But when compiling a collection of songs, I also love playing around with aesthetic contrasts — the wilder, the better. And I definitely went a little wild on this one.
Yes, this playlist segues one of Leonard Cohen’s most depressing songs ever into Natasha Bedingfield’s feel-good mid-aughts radio hit “Unwritten.” It also follows a Nine Inch Nails song with a fake pop song that interpolates (a generous word in this context) that same Nine Inch Nails song. One thing it does not contain is “Barbie Girl.” Even I know my limits.
But for all its zany juxtaposition, I hope you find something to enjoy in each of this playlist’s extremes. We all contain multitudes — in each of us, an inner “Barbie” and an inner “Oppenheimer.” Here’s a soundtrack to satisfy of both them.
1. Dolly Mixture: “Baby It’s You”
The Shirelles were the first group to record the sweetly swooning “Baby It’s You” — written by Burt Bacharach, Luther Dixon and Mack David — a hit, but I love the driving tempo of this version from 1980, by the underrated British post-punk band Dolly Mixture. (Get it? Dolly?) (Listen on YouTube)
2. Nine Inch Nails: “Head Like a Hole”
Trent Reznor’s recording career began with a gnashing roar, as this pummeling track kicked off Nine Inch Nails’ 1989 debut album “Pretty Hate Machine.” The chorus sounds like someone upending an entire drawer of cutlery, and it still absolutely and unequivocally rules. RIP J. Robert Oppenheimer; you would have loved Nine Inch Nails. Maybe. (Listen on YouTube)
3. Ashley O: “On a Roll”
In a 2019 episode of the sci-fi anthology show “Black Mirror,” Miley Cyrus played Ashley O, a fictitious pop star with a Barbie-pink bob and a creepy holographic alter ego. One of Ashley O’s hits, hilariously, interpolates “Head Like a Hole” and changes its most brutal lyrics to empty, #girlboss-worthy slogans: “I’m on a roll, riding so high, achieving my goals.” (Reznor, a fan of the show, approved the use of his music, including a rework of “Hurt” called “Flirt,” which, tragically, did not make the episode.) “On a Roll” is so dystopian and absurd that it is legitimately enjoyable — or at least catchier than anything heard on “The Idol.” (Listen on YouTube)
4. Mclusky: “To Hell With Good Intentions”
“And we’re all going straight to hell!” yells Andrew Falkous, from the middle of an inferno of guitar noise, on this propulsive and darkly funny single from the Welsh rock band’s beloved 2002 album “Mclusky Do Dallas.” (Listen on YouTube)
5. Hannah Diamond: “Every Night”
Excessively sugary, synthetically glossy and slightly uncanny, “Every Night,” from 2014, sounds as though it were written and performed by an AI program schooled on ’90s Jock Jams and Max Martin hits. But it’s actually the work of Hannah Diamond, the British musician and visual artist who has worked with the experimental pop collective PC Music. (Her recent single, “Affirmations,” has a slight Ashley O vibe about it, too.) (Listen on YouTube)
6. Leonard Cohen: “Avalanche”
The morose opening track of Cohen’s “Songs of Love and Hate,” from 1971, “Avalanche” is … definitely one of the songs of hate. (Listen on YouTube)
7. Natasha Bedingfield: “Unwritten”
8. Lou Reed: “Waves of Fear”
Here’s Lou Reed doing his best Danzig, from his 1982 solo album “The Blue Mask” — one of the middle-period gems buried in his vast discography. The song is both cartoonishly macabre and a very convincing evocation of an anxiety attack: “Waves of fear, pulsing with death/I curse my tremors, I jump at my own step.” (Listen on YouTube)
9. Sophie: “Immaterial”
The great electronic performer and producer Sophie, who died in 2021, looks beyond the limitations of the material world and reaches for something transcendent and liberatory on this swirling pop fantasy. It’s from her first and only full-length album, “Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides,” from 2018. (Listen on YouTube)
10. The Gap Band: “You Dropped a Bomb on Me”
This is the way this playlist ends. Not with a whimper, but with a jam. (Listen on YouTube)
I’ve got more songs than a song convention,
The Amplifier Playlist
Listen on Spotify. We update this playlist with each new newsletter.
“Barbenheimer: The Unofficial Playlist” track list
Track 1: Dolly Mixture, “Baby It’s You”
Track 2: Nine Inch Nails, “Head Like a Hole”
Track 3: Ashley O, “On a Roll”
Track 4: Mclusky, “To Hell With Good Intentions”
Track 5: Hannah Diamond, “Every Night”
Track 6: Leonard Cohen, “Avalanche”
Track 7: Natasha Bedingfield, “Unwritten”
Track 8: Lou Reed, “Waves of Fear”
Track 9: Sophie, “Immaterial”
Track 10: The Gap Band, “You Dropped a Bomb on Me”
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