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Ryan Gosling, Slash and 65 Kens lead Oscars audience in ‘I’m Just Ken’ singalong

Ashley Lee – Los Angeles Times (TNS)

“Can you feel the Kenergy?”

That was the question asked from the Dolby Theatre stage on Sunday night, when Ryan Gosling and a collection of Kens took over the 2024 Oscars with an elaborate performance of the “Barbie” showstopper “I’m Just Ken.” 

Gosling — reprising his Oscar-nominated performance as Ken, Barbie’s anxiety-ridden, try-hard, beta-status boyfriend — donned a vibrant pink suit, matching gloves and dark sunglasses to lead the live rendition of the anthem, in which Ken melodiously reconsiders the patriarchal expectations put on men.

He kicked off the performance from the audience, sitting between a giggling Billie Eilish and Margot Robbie, and then went onstage to dance emotionally with his fellow cowboy-hatted Kens (an ensemble of 65 male dancers). Yes, karate chops, hip thrusts and giant Barbie heads were involved.

Gosling also was joined onstage by the song’s co-writer Mark Ronson, Guns N’ Roses’ Slash and Wolfgang Van Halen, plus his co-stars Kingsley Ben-Adir, Simu Liu, Ncuti Gatwa and Scott Evans.

Inside the Dolby Theatre, bright pink screens displayed the lyrics to the final verse, encouraging the crowd to join in some surprise Barbie-oke for the last of the original song contenders. The crowd was on its feet, clapping, cheering and dancing, with Greta Gerwig, America Ferrera and Emma Stone singing into Gosling’s microphone as he danced past them.

The song grows from rock ballad to ’80s synthpop and also features an instrumental cameo by Foo Fighters’ Josh Freese. As the movie broke numerous box-office records last summer, “I’m Just Ken” hit No. 87 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and spurred three subsequent renditions, including a Christmas take.

A live version of the track was teased as “an absolutely bananas spectacle” by Ronson, who co-wrote the song with Andrew Wyatt, on the E! red carpet. “We’re only gonna get to perform this song maybe once with Ryan, and he’s put us all on his shoulders — or Ken’s shoulders.”

The movie’s ambitious musical number — featuring striking choreography by Jennifer White and Lisa Welham — is packed with clever jokes, film references and social commentary about the pressures put on men to perform their masculinity. Part power ballad, part battle sequence and part dream ballet, the sequence begins with Gosling’s Ken lamenting his lack of purpose beyond Barbie, then leads into a “beach-off” with his nemesis (Liu) and ends with a shared acceptance with his fellow Kens of a not-so-toxic brotherhood in Barbieland.

“One thing that Ryan brought to it was a degree of empathy,” “Barbie” director and co-writer Greta Gerwig recently told The Times of Gosling’s performance. “Yes, it’s funny. Yes, there’s things in it that are complex and have lots of places that can be uncomfortable, but there’s not a villain in the movie, and there’s no one who is not deserving of our sympathy or our empathy.”

The ceremony, which aired live on ABC, included performances of the other nominated original songs: Jon Batiste’s “It Never Went Away” from “American Symphony,” Becky G’s “The Fire Inside” from “Flamin’ Hot,” Scott George and the Osage Singers’ “Wahzhazhe (A Song for My People)” from “Killers of the Flower Moon” and the winner, Eilish and Finneas O’Connell’s “What Was I Made For?,”also from “Barbie.”

“I love Greta Gerwig so much, and I can so see her saying, ‘I want there to be this crazy dance montage ballad scene, and we need this song of this crazy character,’ played so well by Ryan,” Finneas previously told The Times of “I’m Just Ken.” Added Eilish, “It’s so perfect for the movie. It’s so perfect for Ken. And just the goofiness and the silliness of that character.”

©2024 Los Angeles Times. Visit latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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