Album of the Week: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, various artists
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1
Another year, another Hunger Games. But the real winner of this year's games is Lorde, who blows her competition out of the water with this expertly assembled soundtrack, featuring a diverse group of young musicians who represent the cutting edge of pop.
Musically, she's by no means the best of the bunch: Tove Lo, Charli XCX, Tinashe and Raury all offer more infectious, alluring and surprising original numbers. But as a curator, Lorde shows an incredibly canny understanding of what young people want.
Each song blends crisp electronic beats and big hooks with dark, dancing undertones and gloomy synths. That equation defines inventive popular music today, largely designed and delivered by Swedish songwriter powerhouses such as Max Martin and Shellback (who are responsible for much of Taylor Swift's 1989). It's a distinct genre shift from the franchise's first soundtrack, which featured Arcade Fire and the Decembrists.
The album opens with Meltdown, a fist-pumping anthem featuring Lorde, Pusha T, Q-Tip and Haim that would fit perfectly into the debauched rich-kid clubs of District 1. From there, things get more sophisticated: Charli XCX delivers a sublimely sugary confection and Raury emotes beautifully. Grace Jones makes an appearance. Bigger stars including Maroon 5, Swift and Coldplay all abandoned early commitments to appear on the soundtrack, but the loss of them is our gain.
The performers here are mostly women. The entire soundtrack balances the (feminine) blend of world-weary anger and wide-eyed resolve that perfectly encapsulates the flinty appeal of Hunger Games' heroine Katniss Everdeen. In 18 months, Lorde has gone from unknown teenager to global tastemaker.