You can’t contain the cultural reach of “The Hunger Games.” After dominating bestseller lists and box office charts, the phenomenon is infiltrating the music world. A song from “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part I,” with vocals by Jennifer Lawrence, has landed on the singles charts in Australia (at number 12) and the U.K. (14). According to Billboard, the U.S. charts may follow.
The U.K. Singles Chart suddenly looks like a game of “which of these things is not like the other?” There’s the dirge-like tune “The Hanging Tree,” currently sandwiched between the soulful love song “Like I Can” by Sam Smith (Sample lyric: “He’ll never love you like I can, can, can”) and another soulful love song, “6 Words” by Wretch 32 (Sample lyric: “I found my treasure in you”).
“The Hanging Tree” has decidedly darker themes. Sample lyric: “Are you, are you coming to the tree where they strung up a man they say murdered three?” It sounds a lot more like “Tom Dooley,” popularized by the Kingston Trio more than 50 years ago, than Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off” (which is incidentally 12 spots behind “The Hanging Tree” on the U.K. charts). It’s a repetitive folk song that begins quietly with just Lawrence singing a capella, but it builds “Bolero”-style, with instruments joining in and finally a whole chorus of singers.
Vulture has the scoop on how the song came to be. The lyrics showed up in the book, by Suzanne Collins, and members of the indie folk band the Lumineers collaborated on the track.
The song could follow the path of “Cups,” which became a surprise hit after Anna Kendrick sang it in “Pitch Perfect.” It, too, has a throwback feel. (It’s based on a 1931 song.) And it wouldn’t be the first time an actress transformed into a pop star, but Lawrence — per usual — doesn’t follow the typical route. She may be the most reluctant singer making a run for the pop charts. Try to imagine Iggy Azalea weeping every time she has to record a song. That’s what happened with Lawrence, according to an interview with David Letterman.
“I do not like singing in front of other people. That’s like my biggest fear,” the actress said. “I cried on set that day. . . It was awful.”
When Letterman asked her what song she sang in the movie, she replied: “’The Hanging Tree,’ which is where I felt like going the morning I showed up.”
Self-deprecation aside, Lawrence sounds good on the track with her raspy voice matching the dark narrative and Appalachian style of the music.
As for the movie, “Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part I” has raked in more than $480 million worldwide in 10 days. So even if the song doesn’t become the next “Let it Go,” cultural domination is still a possibility.