“Hunger Games” prequel film “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” is full of references to the four films that come after it, but the biggest connection between this movie and those is musical.
As sourced in Suzanne Collins’ prequel novel, Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler) wrote “The Hanging Tree” inspired by historical events in District 12, which she and Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth) both witnessed. The song takes on more meaning when imbued with the backstory of Panem and how President Snow came to be as the Hunger Games also developed.
“Hunger Games” fans will remember it’s a song that Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen sings in “Mockingjay.” Producer Nina Jacobson, who has produced all the “Hunger Games” movies, told TheWrap that music is key to this franchise.
“What I loved was that this adaptation really made me think about how critical music has always been to these movies. I was very moved by ‘The Hanging Tree’ or by the lullaby. Those moments in the original movies are really impactful,” she said. “I love how Suzanne was interested in music as a way in which stories are passed down, music as this legacy from the past to the future. We’ve seen the events that made [Lucy Gray] write that song, and that that song would then be passed down, that her defiance onstage with her little curtsy might have even been part of the lore that was passed down.”
Francis Lawrence, who also directed “Catching Fire” and both parts of “Mockingjay” clarified that Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss did not descend directly from Lucy Gray, but the connection could go beyond a typical song passed down orally and the curtsy that both Lucy Gray and Katniss incorporate into their signature performances.
“She’s not related to Lucy Gray, but she is supposedly — I think that Suzanne told me that she is related to Maude Ivory, the little blonde one,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence, who plays guitar himself, pointed out how both “The Hanging Tree” and more of the music sets the tone for Katniss’ Panem that viewers already know and love.
“It’s like origins of songs and characters and behavior, and the games and all of that. Part of it’s the music — you actually get to see the hanging tree for the first time, she’s been there so she’s writing a song, she’s talking about an event that we’ve just witnessed,” he added. “That’s all fun stuff, but then we also got to build out a lot more music from that sort of turn of the century kind of Appalachia, country bluegrass zone, which was really, really fun.”
Jacobson credited author Suzanne Collins, calling her “an incredible student of country music, the origins of what we think of as folk or country,” as well as record producer Dave Cobb, who “was obsessed with a lot of the same musical references and origins as she was.”
Rachel Zegler sets herself apart from Jennifer Lawrence in multiple ways, but one of the most apparent is her singing background.
“Of course, there was the challenge of pulling off a movie where you have a character who actually sings onstage. She is playing a performer. That still feels like a big leap,” Jacobson said. “It’s certainly not something Katniss Everdeen would ever be caught dead doing. Having a character like Lucy Gray and getting to give her that stage and to see the incredible arrangements and Rachel’s command over the songs and her range, her ability to blow the roof off. She sang live virtually every take, every time that you’re seeing her sing in the movie. She’s not singing playback.”
Olivia Rodrigo’s “Can’t Catch Me Now,” which plays over the end credits, provides the pop music angle for the prequel film, attaching another artist of momentum to Collins’ young adult dystopian story.
“I loved how organically it sits within the world of the movie within the music from both this movie and the series,” Jacobson said of Rodrigo’s song. “We thought it was critical, if you’re going to have an end credit song at all — because it can be a hassle — that you hold on to the mood and the feeling that you want to leave audiences with. That is really a very fine point. It’s really easy to end up on the wrong side of that and feel like you’ve just slapped a song on just to get people’s attention. The first time that we heard the song, and its haunting melody, and the fact that we were able to get the artists we got is very exciting.”
“The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” is now in theaters.
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