Here's My Beef With Taylor Swift’s Hunger Games Song
The problem with Taylor Swift’s Hunger Games single “Safe & Sound” is – sorry, Swifties – Taylor Swift. Taken on its own it’s a perfectly lovely slice of discordant Americana pop that wisps beautifully with Swift’s reedy warbling as she sings about protecting loved ones as a war rages outside. But as a Hunger Games song… as what promises to be the Hunger Games song associated with the movie (besides Rue’s iconic ditty within the film), it leaves something to be desired precisely because Swift is singing in the spirit and voice of Katniss Everdeen. And you, my adorable little Taylor, are no Katniss Everdeen.
Here’s the thing: I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the oeuvre of Taylor Swift. Do I sing along every time “Love Story” comes on the radio? Fine, yes. Will I ever forget the ear-bleedingly bad live performance she gave at the 2010 Grammys, as horrified duet partner Stevie Nicks gamely powered through? Never. It haunts my waking dreams. And yet Swift is just too bubbly and cute to loathe, dammit. Remember her in Valentine’s Day, all track shorts and legs and smiles? She’s like a crinkle-haired bubblegum-singing bunny rabbit. There is no hating her.
So it’s not that I hate Swift as I listen to the twangy strains of “Safe & Sound,” as backed by the band The Civil Wars. But as the first song released from the Hunger Games soundtrack it’s the film’s leading pop single, the one that will be associated with the beloved book’s adaptation from the get go in mainstream media. And it’s kind of disappointing that Swift’s voice is so overpoweringly front and center whilst crooning about life from Katniss’s perspective.
Consider another recent pop single from a beloved YA film franchise: Bruno Mars’s Breaking Dawn ditty. Now that’s a catchy, hook-filled number that dances the line between Mars’s signature sound (okay, so it sounds exactly like a Bruno Mars song) while being vaguely related to the themes of the film. Something about if you go away it will rain and your father not approving of your “troublesome” boyfriend. Sure. Why not? Bruno Mars isn’t singing as if he’s Bella Swan. We are not meant to identify him with our heroine, hence Mars seems as if he was simply influenced to write a love song after Netflixing Twilight or something. In Swift’s case, she’s singing as if she is Katniss. And therein lies the problem.
Give this song to a singer with a less confrontational voice (Gillian Welch, if she was 17?) and it’d be instantly more palatable. The showy breathiness of Swift’s voice never lets you forget that it’s Taylor Swift singing. I imagine this playing over the end credits of The Hunger Games, a seemingly contemplative coda to the senseless carnage Katniss lives through in the series’ first installment, and Swift’s voice needling its way into my head from the first verse, breaking through my Hunger Games afterglow. TAYLOR SWIFT TAYLOR SWIFT TAYLOR SWIFT is all I fear I’ll be able to think as I exit the theater come March. Worse: The idea of Taylor Swift channeling Katniss Everdeen – singing her life with her words! Killing me softly, and not in a good way! -- is an unfathomable vision that does not compute. Put Swift in the Cornucopia and she’d be the first to go down, no question. I’d almost rather Jennifer Lawrence sung the theme song herself.
I know it makes total sense for Lionsgate given the tween/teen/YA demographic of The Hunger Games movies, which aim to fill the Twilight gap, and the universal truth that all 13-year-olds love and worship Taylor Swift. But not all of us Hunger Games fans are members of the Taylor Swift fan club. Can we at least graduate to less wimpy pop stars (How about Demi Lovato? She’s been to rehab!) for the Catching Fire soundtrack?