Warner Bros.

IT’S ON. Iron your bandana. Pop a tie-dye hoodie on the giant prop statuettes. Saddle up some hobbyhorses for the cruise down Hollywood Boulevard. Ryan Gosling is all but confirmed to sing ‘I’m Just Ken’, his Oscar-nominated keynote treatise on masculinity from Barbie, live at the Oscars. The Kenergy is building.

Gosling had been coy about it—“It might be too much of a risk to have me do it,” he told Variety earlier this month—but this really was the most obvious move that the Oscars could have made. The most successful movie of the year, plus a proper A-lister who also appears to be an actual human being, to the power of a song which is 80 per cent power ballad, 15 per cent fitness video and five per cent reminder that Slash from Guns ‘N’ Roses is still alive. It. Is. A. Done. Deal. It might even be the first comedy song bit at an Oscars ceremony which isn’t absolutely mortifying for everyone involved. Remember Seth Macfarlane doing ‘We Saw Your Boobs’? Yeah, exactly.

And though he might have played hard to get, or mildly inconvenient to get at any rate, this will be the Gosling’s zenith. He’s gone from being a very handsome, slightly arch leading man who leaned a bit arthouse to a frosty-tipped embodiment of multiplex megastardom, while somehow still appearing unwilling to play the game.

But he is, of course, playing the game beautifully. He’ll be performing a song from the biggest movie of the year, at the Oscars, where he’s nominated for an award. And yet him singing ‘I’m Just Ken’ at the ceremony still feels somehow subversive. You know that there was absolutely no chance Bradley Cooper wasn’t going to sing ‘Shallow’ with Lady Gaga in 2019, for instance. That was nailed down. A chance to look very serious with a proper musician? Yer man Coops is there with knobs on. He would not, however, reprise a comedy song in a big production number, because he is Bradley Cooper, and nowadays Bradley Cooper is a very serious guy. That’s the lot of the A-list actor: you say no to most things. The other side of the coin here is Tom Holland, who you’d need to physically restrain from joining in with any and all comedy numbers.

Gosling, though, feels like someone who could always be persuaded, but who will probably cock an eyebrow at whatever’s going on. It’s a mark of the particular star niche which Gosling has managed to carve out for himself that this feels like a coup. From the beginning he was a particularly outsiderish kind of insider: he became a Mouseketeer, but was frequently outshone by Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. His early filmography was an odd mix of sports flicks and hardline psychological thrillers before The Notebook propelled him into straightforward romantic lead territory which he then almost immediately started to backpedal from. He had a Best Actor Oscar nomination for Half Nelson, but it wasn’t entirely clear who Ryan Gosling was.

Then in 2011 two movies defined what he could do better than pretty much anyone. Drive took that swoonsome romanticism and an ability to look great while wearing literally anything and put it to work in the kind of hard-boiled role Steve McQueen would have killed for, all skull-smashing and icily executed J-turns; and Crazy Stupid Love gave his comic gifts full wing. He’s still a conspicuously Canadian presence in the American entertainment biz, looking slightly askance at the whole carry-on while very much tethered to it.

Up to the pandemic it looked like Gosling was going to lean heavily into thinky blockbusters where his characters do a lot of staring into the middle distance and not blinking – see First Man and Blade Runner 2049 – but between playing Ken and the upcoming action comedy The Fall Guy he seems to have decided to loosen up again. The twin threads of Goslingness – arthouse muscle and easy, natural comic flair – are twisted together in Barbie, via the skills of indie legends Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach as well as some well deployed capped-sleeve tees that make Gosling’s arms look gigantic. It’s the logical endpoint of early Gosling, the perfect use of all his gifts: arch but sincere, played with such intensity and commitment you could never mistake him for taking it seriously.

So singing ‘I’m Just Ken’ could well end up being the cherry on the top. He’s already figured in the pre-show trails with Jimmy Kimmel and Kate McKinnon, doing Ken. This is Peak Gosling. But if there’s anything to be learned from the rest of his career, it’s that he moves on as soon as he’s settled into a particular mode. The Fall Guy definitely looks very Ken-adjacent. And maybe one more Ken-type part is Kenough.

This story originally appeared on Esquire UK.


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