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The Indigo Girls on how their song ended up in 'Barbie,' which is up for 8 Oscars


"Barbie" is up for eight Academy Awards this year, among them, in the category of best original song, Billie Eilish's "What Was I Made For?". But there's also another song that will forever more be linked to "Barbie."


INDIGO GIRLS: (Singing) I went to the doctor. I went to the mountains. I looked to the children. I drank from the fountains.

KELLY: You know it. That's the Indigo Girls.

AMY RAY: We were both like, Barbie (laughter)? They want to use Indigo Girls in a Barbie movie (laughter)?

KELLY: That's right. "Closer To Fine," their 1989 single, is featured prominently in the "Barbie" movie, directed by Greta Gerwig.


MARGOT ROBBIE AND RYAN GOSLING: (As Barbie and Ken, singing) Closer I am to...

(As Barbie and Ken, screaming).

RYAN GOSLING: (As Ken) I'm coming with you.


KELLY: The "Barbie" release was such an exciting time for Amy Ray and Emily Saliers - the Indigo Girls - that, last July, we called them to talk about it. We caught Amy at home in Georgia, Emily on vacation in Europe.

EMILY SALIERS: So I saw it in a theater where I couldn't even figure out how to order a popcorn, sat there in an assigned seat. We grabbed the last three tickets and couldn't sit together - my wife, my friend and I - and there were Danish subtitles. So it was completely surreal. And I knew that the song would be in the scene where Barbie is driving out of Barbieland and into the real world, and then Ken pops up in the back seat and shocks her. And they're singing this song. So I knew it was going to be in that scene, but it ended up being in three different scenes. So it was absolutely a total shock, first of all, to be seeing it premiering in that environment and, second of all, to have it appear that many times in the movie. And most of all, I loved the movie. I loved it.

KELLY: (Laughter) Amy, where were you when you watched? Were you home in Georgia?

RAY: Well, I have not seen it. I'm watching it on Thursday. I have a date with my partner, Carrie. We're actually going to take our child, and her two dads are going. So it's going to be a double date with our 9-year-old to see the "Barbie" movie. You know, it's too fun to not go as a family.

KELLY: Yeah. I mean, just to give people a little bit of backdrop of why this is surreal, the - what? - there's a dissonance - I don't know what the right word is. But Barbie, we know, is this gorgeous blonde. She has a gorgeous, blonde boyfriend, Ken. They are, you know, the poster children for not just unreasonable beauty standards, but for heterosexual love. They're straight. And there's Barbie, and we see her belting out this song written and made famous by you two - poster children, if I can say it, for earnest, lesbian folk singers. Is that fair? I mean, it's absolutely brilliant. How do you think about this?

SALIERS: Well, I think that - we did find out that Greta herself picked the song, and that was such an honor and felt really good to know that because both Amy and I appreciate and love her work so much. I think that when we found out we were asked to be any part of the Barbie movie, we knew that it had to be subversive in some way and felt excited about watching that come to life on the screen. And I think, after having seen the movie, I left - you know, my wife and my friend and I - we started talking about all the issues that were covered in the movie. In the end, it's very thought-provoking, and they ask questions about what it means to be human, to be who we are and what roles we get forced into being. And patriarchy and heteronormativity and all those things come to play in the movie. So having seen the movie, it's really no surprise in the end that she might have picked our song, even though it's a thrill of a lifetime.

KELLY: Amy, how about you? How are you thinking about this?

RAY: I think of it as manna from heaven at this late point in our career to have something like that happen with a director that's somebody we really respect. It's just flattering and an honor and for it to be part of a - sort of an attempt to dismantle some of the notions around Barbie. I - you know, I've always felt like kids, they sort of take toys like that, and they do what they want with them. I mean, like, we used to play with Ken and Barbie and put Ken together with Ken and Barbie with Barbie. And I played with GI Joes and...

KELLY: Yeah.

RAY: ...You know, for me, I always give credit to children for being able to just find their way through these things. I just think, like, it's good to think about these things. And we're in a world right now where there's, like, this backlash against all the progress that the LGBTQ community has made. And it's great to have something in mainstream culture that sort of hints at all the subversiveness that we need to be thinking about because we're in the middle of a time when there's so much hate being thrown at people that are othered. And this is just a great, mainstream, funny - I mean, what a great cast. And just to be even a little part of it is - for me, is a moment.

KELLY: I love that way of thinking about it because, I mean, you're nodding at this, but people have not always been kind. The Indigo Girls have been the punchline of jokes. Y'all were out and queer and open about it before that was anywhere near as mainstream as it is now. I was going to ask if this feels like revenge. It sounds more like redemption. Am I hearing that right?

SALIERS: I mean, I would never say revenge. I would say validation. The song is the same song it was when it got recorded in 1988 and came out in '89. It's the same song. It's just the times that have changed and the evolution of thought that has shifted, even though Amy mentions the backlash, which is harsh. But same song all these years later - not revenge - just a very interesting look at what happens with human beings. It's just kind of bizarre the way things shift and change.

KELLY: Well, and how great - you mentioned you have a 9-year-old daughter, Amy, who you're going to take with you to see this. How great to have a new generation of girls and hopefully their brothers and guy friends, too, walking around with this song stuck in their head the way I did (laughter) as a kid back in the 1980s.

RAY: I mean, it's so sweet. And the song is such a great song and a great singalong. And, you know, this is the kind of thing where it's like - you hope generations, you know, pass it down to each other and the community just expands because it's all about that. It's all about people sharing music and feeling good and joy and feeling good about themselves and just, you know, realizing life is a - can be a beautiful thing and try to believe in yourself.

KELLY: Well, I never ask singers I'm interviewing to do this 'cause I never want to put y'all on the spot. But if I kick off the refrain, would y'all join me and sing us out?

RAY: Yeah, sure (laughter).


RAY: How are you going to kick it off? Do you have a guitar, Mary Louise?

KELLY: I'm going to sing it to you, and then you're going to jump in and hopefully cover me up. Here we go.

(Singing) I went to the doctor. I went to the mountains.

SALIERS: (Singing) I looked to the children. I drank from the fountains. There's more than one answer to these questions, pointing me in a crooked line. The less I seek my source for some definitive...

AMY RAY AND EMILY SALIERS: (Singing) Closer I am to fine.

RAY: (Laughter).

KELLY: Yoo-hoo (ph). That was Emily Saliers and Amy Ray, the Indigo Girls, talking to us about "Closer To Fine." Thanks so much to you both.

SALIERS: Thanks, Mary Louise.

RAY: Thanks, Mary Louise.


INDIGO GIRLS: (Singing) I went to the doctor. I went to the mountains. I looked to the children. I drank from the fountains. Yeah, we go to the doctor... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Noah Caldwell
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Sarah Handel
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Mary Louise Kelly
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.