New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

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Review: ‘The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes’ soundtrack creates a world of haunting acoustics

The new prequel’s soundtrack features folk ballads that transport listeners straight to Panem.
“The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes” was released on Nov. 17, 2023. (Courtesy of Lionsgate)

“The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes,” a new prequel film to “The Hunger Games” trilogy, features a soundtrack that enriches the storyline while matching the film’s dystopian setting. The original films featured masterpieces like Lorde’s “Yellow Flicker Beat” and Taylor Swift’s “Safe & Sound,” and the new movie carries on this legacy by highlighting popular singers like Olivia Rodrigo.

Rodrigo’s haunting vocals breeze through harmonies on “Can’t Catch Me Now,” the opening number and most popular on the soundtrack. The lyrics subtly allude to the film’s plot while still being relatable to a wider audience. Lyrics like “There’s snow fallin’ over the city / You thought that it would wash away” allude to both the protagonist Coriolanus Snow’s (Tom Blyth) family motto, “Snow lands on top,” and his eventual future as the authoritarian president in the original “Hunger Games” films. At the same time, they’re subtle enough to not be painfully linked to the movie, allowing the song independence from the movie.

Rachel Zegler (Lucy Gray Baird) redefines “The Hanging Tree” in the film, a song that was originally sung by Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss Everdeen) in “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1.” This new version adds to the folky nature of the song both within the story by cementing its history in Panem and in mainstream culture by highlighting its popularity.

The soundtrack is noticeably more stripped back in energy and instrumentals than any of the original movies. It is rooted in folk music and fantasy, as opposed to heavy production and thrill. Songs like “District 12 Stomp” and Billy Strings’ “Cabin Song” create subtle moments of human rhythm. Rhythmic acoustic guitar on Flatland Cavalry’s “Wool” slowly builds up with subtle percussion to create a looming push towards action and an eerie sense of being watched, which is echoed in lyrics like “Who? Who? Is it a monster or a fool? / Peekin’ out behind the wool.” This song serves as a powerful metaphor for the constant surveillance — both known and unknown — the Capitol has over the districts.

Zegler’s voice is a through line across the entire soundtrack and film. Her background in musical theater gives her the melodic quality necessary to carry the soundtrack, even though the movie isn’t a musical itself. Her character, Lucy Gray Baird, is part of a nomadic musician group called the Covey. Music is embedded in Lucy Gray’s identity. She weaves her way through folktales and battles with smooth, rich vocals. The soundtrack uses both Zegler and the fictional Covey band on the songs “Nothing You Can Take From Me” and “Pure As the Driven Snow,” which add a sense of reality to the fictional world and underscores the chemistry between Zegler’s character and the band. The attention to detail in creating accurate music for a fictional band is a testament to the film’s commitment to living up to its origins, but also in carving its own reputation.

With subtle and thoughtful nods to the plot of the film and a consistent sound that features Zegler’s musicality, the soundtrack for “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes” is a necessary part of the film’s story. This music makes Panem’s atmosphere come alive, breathing new life and history into an already beloved fictional world.

Contact Eliana Brown at [email protected]

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