In 1997 Aqua came out with the song “Barbie Girl”, which has become incredibly popular and nearly instantly recognizable over the years since. That same year Mattel sued the group for copyright and trademark infringement over the song, claiming that it slandered Barbie and turned her into a “blonde bimbo” and a sex object. They lost their lawsuit and their appeal. Recently, however, they appear to be trying to claim the song as their own and have used clips of it with altered lyrics in commercials and just this year released a “music video” starring the doll herself singing her version of the song. Here’s Barbie’s music video version of (a very altered) “Barbie Girl”.
I think it’s more than a little hypocritical of Mattel to sue over this song and then use it in their own marketing. They must be licencing it from Aqua, which means they’re paying for the right to use it. This means that they’re now paying for the right to use (and alter) a song that they were previously very much against. The fact that they’ve changed the lyrics quite a bit suggests that they’re still not terribly fond of the song, either. And since Mattel never mentions that the lyrics have been changed, I have to wonder if they hope people will learn their version instead of the original.
Looking at just the music video itself, without any of the politics around it, I’m not that impressed. I still get the impression that Barbie isn’t that brilliant or deep. And the problem isn’t actually the doll herself. I think if they’d stuck to all dolls in the video, they might have been fine. The problem is that the outfits Barbie and her friends can get away with just fine look really trashy on the real people in the ad. The real people doing the choreography in the doll-like outfits does evoke “bimbos” and sex objects, not “an inspiration” or “a star” while the dolls look perfectly fine!
I think this was a pretty big misstep for Mattel. I can understand wanting to use a song that evokes their doll and is already so popular. The problem is that they’ve got so much history with that song that isn’t pretty (and was only a decade ago, so not as forgotten as I’m sure they’d like it to be, either) and then their execution of the song actually seems to evoke more of the negative qualities that they were originally fighting against than the original did, despite their changes to the lyrics! While it might have been possible for Mattel to use this song to good effect, this was definitely not it. Hopefully they’ll do better next time.