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Sam Smith Sings From Ken’s Perspective In “Man I Am”

Non-binary and queer artist Sam Smith calls out toxic masculinity and sexism in “Man I Am” from the Barbie movie soundtrack.

Non-binary and queer artist Sam Smith calls out toxic masculinity and sexism in “Man I Am” from the Barbie movie soundtrack.
Sam Smith. @samsmith On Twitter

Barbie The Album

The film that has the internet in shambles, Barbie, premiered in theaters this past Friday July 21, 2023. Barbie The Album hit streaming services the same day with tracks from a diverse compilation of musicians. Some of the big-name artists include Dua Lipa, Billie Eilish, Lizzo, Nicki Minaj, Ice Spice and PinkPantheress. The singers/rappers were disclosed prior to release, except for one special musician. The final TBA artist of the tracklist had social media in a frenzy. The mystery artist turned out to be none other than Grammy Award winning singer Sam Smith. Further, the Barbie soundtrack garnered nearly 20 million streams in its release day on Spotify.

Smith shares via Instagram about featuring on the Barbie soundtrack:

I cannot begin to express how incredibly excited I am to be a part of the soundtrack to this already iconic film. I was invited by the incredible @iammarkronson and Greta Gerwig to write a song from the perspective of Ken for one of the scenes and we honestly had so much fun with this. I cannot wait for you to hear what we’ve created together 💪🏻 👅

Man I Am is out 21st July

Along with @barbiethemovie @barbiethealbum 🌸👛💖

BARBIE LAND HERE WE COME!!!!

Non-binary and queer artist Sam Smith calls out toxic masculinity and sexism in “Man I Am” from the Barbie movie soundtrack.
Sam Smith for Barbie Film World Premiere. @samsmith Via Twitter

“Man I Am”

Firstly, “Man I Am” screams dance-pop- a genre invented and pioneered by Black queer people. House, techno, and dance pop light up the dance floors at gay clubs. However, Smith sings from the perspective of Ken, touching on how inner homophobia and toxic masculinity attribute to his insecurities. The “Unholy” singer begins “Man I Am” by singing in a lower range, hyping up the “gym bros.” Gym bros are known as the men that eat, sleep, breathe exercise and have a high protein intake. Women like Barbie pose a threat to hyper-masculine men like gym bros, because she is independent, empowered and fearless. “It’s your time to break through / Bad man to the rescue / Barbie, your time is up / You will not take our voice.”

Ken’s Battle With Toxic Masculinity

Switching to their normal vocal register, the pre-chorus in “Man I Am” sees Ken denying he is gay but admits to being on the “lay low.” “See, I’m the groove catcher, hottest thing / Six-pack and tight G-string / No, I’m not gay, bro / But I’ve been on that lay low / Strip clubs and dollar bills / Wall Street and dirty deals.”

The phrase “lay low” or “down low” is commonly used to describe someone who participates in gay activities but discreetly. Besides addressing Ken’s internalized homophobia, the chorus depicts the fears that men have surrounding women empowerment and feminism.

“That’s just the man I am / Super sleazy, born to be easy / And all the papers say that there’s no Ken without Barbie / But, baby, there’s no woman who could possibly stop me.” 

Sam Smith’s shift between their lower register and normal vocal register represents the stereotypical masculine versus feminine voice. “Man I Am” reassures all the hyper-masculine men like Ken, that women will not overtake the patriarchal society they benefit from. And their fragile masculinity will be protected. But what’s ironic is the song is sung by a non-binary person who refuses to conform to gender norms. Smith embraces their gender identity and queerness. Featuring production by Mark Ronson and Ricky Reed, “Man I Am” has an important message but also serves as a club banger for the Summertime. 

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