The brain trust behind The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (in theaters Nov. 21 through Lionsgate) knew exactly what they were doing when they recruited New Zealand pop whiz Lorde to oversee the film’s soundtrack: She’s the closest musical analogue to protagonist Katniss Everdeen, preternaturally wise and idiosyncratic. Thanks to her vision, and her grip on the series’ most important thematic elements, the 50 minutes of music behind Mockingjay Part 1 ably function as both a glance at 2014’s finest purveyors of complex, downcast pop and a complement to the start of the series’ chaotic, brutal conclusion. Its diversity is impressive, with artists from almost every phylum of popular music contributing: alt darlings Haim and Bat for Lashes, rising electro-pop stars Charli XCX and Tove Lo, veteran godheads Q-Tip and Grace Jones and even self-prescribed god Kanye West. But despite their roots in several different genres, the contributors all strike appropriate notes, thanks to clever use of recurring Hunger Games imagery (fire, empty space, primal aggression) and a shared focus on texture and shadow, rather than melody and brightness.
The songs that have the most impact tend to feature Lorde in some capacity, even if it’s just as a voice in the background, and make explicit statements about authoritarianism and class that align with those expressed in the Hunger Games franchise. Belgian superstar Stromae‘s pop-rap posse cut “Meltdown,” featuring Pusha T, calls out the film’s image-obsessed bourgeoisie of the Capitol with language that would be just as appropriate for real-life society, tearing through the artifice as Lorde delivers the chorus alongside a harmonizing Haim and Q-Tip breathlessly attacks the beat. Her haunting solo lead single, “Yellow Flicker Beat,” which West remixes later on the album, is a perfect anthem for Katniss, a “princess cut from marble.”
Other album high points frame pained vocals against electronics either cool and sterile (Chvrches‘ sparkling “Dead Air”) or grungy and abrasive (The Chemical Brothers, Miguel and Lorde’s team effort “This Is Not a Game”). They’re resonant given the film’s context, but they’re also sterling musically — and it’s that balancing act that makes this one of the finest original soundtracks in recent memory.
Watch Lorde talk to Billboard about curating the soundtrack: