Lorde showcases her adventurous approach to pop with Kanye, Haim and more on a blockbuser soundtrack
At the beginning of this month, Ella Yelich-O’Connor, the girl from an Auckland suburb who is known to millions as Lorde, celebrated her 18th birthday. While others before her have topped the charts before they could legally buy a round, Lorde is surely the first to be given control of a major movie soundtrack too. And Mockingjay Part 1 really is major. The previous two Hunger Games films gave teenagers too young for Twilight a phenomenon to obsess over, making millions in ticket sales in the process. This third instalment is the most hyped yet. Even Lorde – who in January was included in Forbes magazine’s ’30 Under 30’ list of people “who are changing our world” – must have freaked out when she was asked to curate the soundtrack.
If she did, this impressive and surprisingly cohesive 14-track compilation doesn’t give her away. Thanks to a ginormous hit single in ‘Royals’ and last year’s debut album ‘Pure Heroine’, Lorde has some serious pulling power. She’s used it to assemble an enviable cast list. This soundtrack boasts contributions from hip pop acts (Chvrches, Haim, Charli XCX), emerging talents (Atlanta rapper Raury and R&B singer Tinashe) and 1980s legends (Grace Jones, Duran Duran’s Simon Le Bon), plus unlikely collaborations uniting LA R&B singer Miguel with The Chemical Brothers and electronic collective Major Lazer with 21-year-old pop sensation Ariana Grande. Even Kanye West has pitched in. Lorde has admitted that she hestitated before calling him, but when she finally plucked up the courage to ask, Kanye said yes – a measure of her power.
Lorde’s approach to curation is hands on, so this album feels like more than a well-connected teenager’s mixtape. In addition to a luxurious, Paul Epworth-produced new song ‘Yellow Flicker Beat’, she provides a creepy cover of ‘Ladder Song’ by Bright Eyes, and croons the chorus on ‘Meltdown’, a bombastic electro stomp from Belgian producer Stromae that also features Haim on backing vocals and raps from Q-Tip and Pusha T. Her contribution to ‘This Is Not A Game’ is simply a three-word refrain, but drawled by Lorde, “there it is” somehow binds Miguel’s soulful verses and The Chemical Brothers’ buzzing synth hooks. Even when Lorde doesn’t actually appear on a track, her string-pulling impresses: Simon Le Bon turning up on Charli XCX’s dreampop ballad ‘Kingdom’ is particularly outlandish.
The only letdowns are minor: it’s a shame Haim’s contribution is limited to those backing vocals on ‘Meltdown’, and Kanye West’s spooky remix of ‘Yellow Flicker Beat’ – simply titled ‘Flicker’ – might have been better still if he’d bothered to rap on it. Bat For Lashes’ cover of ‘Plan The Escape’ by cult US songwriter-producer Son Lux is atmospheric enough, but feels slight next to the anthemic original songs supplied by others: Chvrches’ ‘Dead Air’ rivals their best electropop tunes; a tense lament called ‘Lost Souls’ will add to Raury’s swelling reputation; and Swedish singer Tove Lo shows her knack for dark, catchy pop with ‘Scream My Name’. Major Lazer, Ariana Grande and Grace Jones make more eccentric contributions. The former pair sound like they’re holding a rave in the rainforest on ‘All My Love’, and Jones’ reggae-flecked ‘Original Beast’ rumbles with lyrical boldness: “You broke the mould when you made me”.
Lorde might say the same about herself. This is more than just a superior soundtrack album, and the 18-year-old prodigy can mark it off as another job expertly done. Her approach to alternative pop music is frighteningly adventurous.