It’s hard to think of a better person than Lorde to pick songs for the soundtrack to a Hunger Games movie – and not just because everything about her suggests she’d be dynamite with a crossbow. Before the 18-year-old singer’s tough, witchy musings from the dark end of teenage wasteland made her a star, she had more in common with the kids in the multiplexes than the celebrities on the screen. Like a good fan, she’s thrown herself into the role of musical curator for the third installment of the YA sci-fi series, putting together a wide-ranging album that fits the movie while giving us a cohesive image of her own rule-breaking pop ideal. As with most good soundtracks, this is a pretty great mixtape, too.
The first Hunger Games soundtrack, in 2012, leaned heavily on alt-folk and country; the 2013 sequel, Catching Fire, got an Eighties power-ballad vibe. Mockingjay, unsurprisingly, sounds a lot like Lorde: effortlessly eclectic, dreamily hard-hitting, owing as much to goth and indie as to dance music and hip-hop. This is a world where street-rap titan Pusha T of Clipse and spooky, art-damaged artist Bat for Lashes both feel at home. It can mean anything from Swedish singer Tove Lo’s truth-attack introspect to Tinashe’s hauntingly spaced-out club jams to Chvrches’ synth-pop heart storms.
What ties it all together is a brooding intensity that fits perfectly with The Hunger Games’ dystopic mood. Many of the artists on the album write lyrics that mirror the trilogy’s story of teenage rebels caught up in a violent insurrection against their oppressive overlords. “This Is Not a Game” sees arty R&B loverman Miguel dropping some gladiatorial revolutionary jive over a block-rocking assault from dance godfathers the Chemical Brothers. On “Meltdown,” Lorde, Pusha T, Q-Tip and Haim team up for a thick, agitated groove that sounds like an all-night dance party in war-torn District 13.
Lorde gets three solo tracks, the best of which is “Yellow Flicker Beat” – a forlorn rager with girl-on-fire lyrics that could apply to Hunger Games heroine Katniss Everdeen or any outcast following her adventures along at home. (Kanye West’s remix of the song is even more bracing, an ambient-noise hellscape that could give Trent Reznor nightmares.) Lorde’s other arresting moment is “Ladder Song,” a soft lullaby with lyrics written by Conor Oberst about “fall[ing]asleep reading science fiction.”
The artists on Mockingjay are mostly in their twenties or younger, which makes sense given their target audience. But two of the best songs come from heroes with ancient New Wave heydays. Duran Duran’s Simon Le Bon plays the posh hook boy alongside U.K. troublemaker Charli XCX on the Victorian-crunk cut “Kingdom.” And the album’s most intense track by far is the pummeling dub seizure “Original Beast,” by eternal disco mutant Grace Jones. It’s a perfect example of how Lorde reaches into the wild-style past to push pop into a bold new future.