Lorde’s Curated ‘Hunger Games’ Soundtrack Isn’t Really a Soundtrack

By  · Published on December 8th, 2014

Lorde’s Curated ‘Hunger Games’ Soundtrack Isn’t Really a Soundtrack


2014 was the year of great soundtracks. Thanks to films like Guardians of the Galaxy and Boyhood, soundtracks full of recognizable songs have never been more important to the movie going experience. But there is one soundtrack that was promoted as much as the film itself – the one curated by Lorde for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1.

There is always a good amount of hype and publicity leading up to the release of a movie in a popular franchise series, and The Hunger Games is no exception, but along with the expected appearances of the cast at various premieres and interviews, a large part of the promotional focus for Mockingjay Part 1 was put on the film’s music. Thanks to Lorde’s involvement as “curator,” Mockingjay’s soundtrack almost became a star in its own right getting attention from MTV, Billboard, and Rolling Stone.

Even Katniss Everdeen herself (Jennifer Lawrence) told the media while doing press for Mockingjay in London, “I think Katniss would be a huge Lorde fan.” And while that may be true, none of the music Lorde selected (or collaborated on) for the soundtrack made it into the final film. (Save for the soundtrack’s one single, “Yellow Flicker Beat,” but that only plays over the credits.)

So what was the point?

Philly.com’s Dan DeLuca posed the same question and came to the conclusion that songs from today’s popular artists like CHVRCHES, Tove Lo, and Ariana Grande would not make sense in a film like Mockingjay, explaining, “It would be weird, for instance, to put a Kanye West song in a movie set in the unspecified post-apocalyptic future.” A good point, especially when Mockingjay does deliver a wonderful score from James Newton Howard that provides the film with needed emotional weight while not tying it to specific time period. (Unlike the soundtracks for Guardians of the Galaxy or Boyhood that were necessary in rooting their films to specific eras.) Katniss might be a fan of Lorde, or fellow strong, female artists like Joan Jett or Aretha Franklin. However, playing music from any of these artists, while appropriate for the character, would inevitably date the movie or create a Knight’s Tale-like tonal disruption.

DeLuca goes on to say that the music from the Mockingjay soundtrack doesn’t need to be in the film because the soundtrack is a “marketing companion and brand-extender.”

But isn’t a soundtrack full of songs that have no real connection to the film itself (other than some lyrics that may reference certain plot points) really just a bonus feature like behind the scenes footage or commentary? Shouldn’t it be something bound for the Blu-ray?

These features are entertaining and certainly enhance the experience, but they are in no way integral parts of the actual movie. If a song Lorde wrote with Mockingjay in mind is not used in it, how is that any more a part of the film than the piece of plastic that comes in a fast food bag?

Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” reached the number one spot on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart in 1986, but the song took on a whole new meaning (and popularity) four years later when it was placed in Say Anything… and made forever iconic when John Cusack’s Lloyd Dobler played it through a box boom held over his head.

Chuck Berry had a hit on his hands back in 1958 with “Johnny B. Goode” when it rose to number 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. But fans of Back to the Future (which came out in 1985) will always picture Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) rocking out to the tune as he played it for his parents at their Under the Sea dance.

These songs have their own identities (and their own success), but took on a whole new meaning thanks to the way they were placed in their respective films.

The word soundtrack is defined as the “sound recorded on a motion-picture film” or, more specifically, “the narrow band on one or both sides of a motion-picture film on which sound is recorded.” Simply put – the idea of a soundtrack is music that is featured directly in or tied to a film, not an album of music that one of the film’s characters may be a fan of.

With Mockingjay now out in theaters, there is a song that is getting a lot of attention (and some serious chart time), but it is none of the songs on the soundtrack. “The Hanging Tree” is the only song featured in the film and is first sung by Lawrence’s Katniss, but is then repeated as an anthem by the rebels of Panem. Having one of the film’s main characters sing a song will certainly help get it attention, but more importantly, when music is allowed to play an active role in a film’s narrative, an emotional connection between the film and the music is created, instead of keeping the two apart as separate entities.

Hearing a song as it is placed or used in a film is what makes people want to run out and buy that film’s soundtrack. An album of specifically chosen songs that are not in the film might as well be another version of ‘Now That’s What I Call Music’ that has a movie poster affixed to its cover.

It is an interesting idea to have a companion piece to further the feeling of a film, but regardless of who puts the album together, can you really call it a soundtrack if none of the songs even have a direct connection to the film itself? Of course not.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 is currently in theaters and the soundtrack is available on iTunes and Amazon.

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