While it might be tempting to ignore or write-off the soundtracks for recent mega-blockbuster young adult franchises, the last five years has made this increasingly hard to do. In an effort to both create a sonic landscape for their films and create brand identity, studios have been turning to the world of indie rock. It’s hardly a new idea, going back to the 90s it’s easy to forget that films like Romeo & Juliet and Great Expectations featured original music by bands like Radiohead and Pulp. It almost is a bit heartening listening to these soundtracks and imaging the pre-teens hearing many of these great artists for the first time to find an alternative to what the radio has fed them. That said, Lionsgate deserves special credit for handing the reigns of their entire soundtrack for their biggest franchise over to Lorde. The 18-year old artist is right in the franchise’s target demographics and has a clear passion for a franchise that she likely grew up on.
Those who have seen the latest entry in the Hunger Games franchise know that given the split in the final chapter, this film is less concerned with action and more medatative than previous installments. This is a film more than anything concerned with both a growing social rebellion and the deep emotional and psychological scars of past trauma. The soundtrack flirts between these two emotions quite well, with some songs almost feeling like a rallying cry while others seem to look more inward to the film’s broken protagonists.
One song that sharply finds a middle ground between the two is CHVRCHES’ “Dead Air.” The Scottish synth-pop trio create an anthem about finding strength in pain and loss, a fitting topic for a film filled with much of that. Another weirdly similar and successful song is actually Major Lazer and Ariana Grande’s duet, “All My Love.” The song’s aesthetic is straight-up club jam but the lyrics actually come from a place far more hurt. It’s at once a song that works for the film’s protagonists as it does for a break-up.
That’s not to say every contribution is a home-run. Opening track, “Meltdown,” flows a lot better than it should given the number of artists from Pusha-T to Haim featured on it, but the song feels like an arbitrary effort to feature hip-hop music. And while I was initially excited by the prospect of a collaboration between The Chemical Brothers & Miguel, the song feels like little more than a more dance remix of a Miguel B-side.
The center piece, however, is Lorde’s own contributions. In an early scene in Mockingjay, a leader of the rebellion tries to put together a slickly produced promo featuring Katniss to inspire the oppressed impoverished. The promo goes to script, but doesn’t really convey the right emotion. This actually kind of is an apt metaphor for the film’s big single, “Yellow Flicker Beat.” It’s a catchy, anthemic tune that hits the right notes, but actually isn’t that representative of the film which it’s the theme for.
The soundtrack does however feature a reworked version by Kanye West, one that surprisingly comes closer to the film’s tone and themes than Lorde’s original effort. Kanye’s more minimalist foreboding production reflects the mood of the film while still showcasing Lorde’s soaring vocals. Lorde’s second effort is a cover of Bright Eyes’ “Ladder Song.” Lorde’s cover is actually a beautiful reinterpretation, one that hits the same notes of the original while feeling like something fresh and new.
It also should be said that I’m also impressed with the vast amount of strong female talent that Lorde has recruited for the film’s soundtrack. For a franchise that showcases such a strong complex heroine for young girls, the soundtrack follows suit with some of the most impressive original female voices in music today. The film’s soundtrack isn’t always perfect, but it has a clear strength, vision, and quality. As both a interpretation of the film it represents and something of a musical starter-kit for it’s target demographic, I couldn’t feel more pleased.