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?

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  • Peg says:

    Agree 100%. Taylor is Taylor and Kat is Kat and they seem nothing alike in my mind. This is a sweet song, but Kat is much stronger than this voice presented.

  • Earnest says:

    You know what? This article forced me to listen to the song again, and now it's really growing on me.

    I don't think it'll be a Kiss From A Rose or a an (Everything I Do) I Do It For You, but I'm really starting to enjoy it!

    • Jen Yamato says:

      I would totally karaoke this song years from now, just perhaps not as often as I do Kiss from a Rose, Everything I Do, OR All For Love from the Three Musketeers soundtrack. 🙂

  • Dietrich James says:

    Good lord Jen, calm it down a little bit. You don't see it fighting in? I see it as a nice and haunting end to the film, as Kat gets ready for the next chapter. It's not like Taylor stole your fruit loops.

    It's kind of akin to using 'Mad World' for the Gears of War commercials. There's something fantastic about the juxtaposition.

    Look at that... I got to use a big word! Where's my cookie?!

  • Joe says:

    You complain too much. This song is not in the movie if i remember correctly. Its part of an companion inspired by the "Hunger Games". Taylor Swift or no Taylor Swift, this song is incredibly good.

    • Jen Yamato says:

      Thank goodness. Still - first single, first association with the movie and the kind of name-star pop tune that plays over end credits, comes with an official music video, is used to sell a movie, etc.. A good enough song on its own, I just find it utterly distracting to think of in tandem with The Hunger Games.

      • Kathy says:

        Taylor Swift is not trying to "be" Katniss Everdeen. I understand that you have a problem with her voice, but she's just roleplaying. She co-wrote the song as a way to channel Katniss. She is not making a statement that she feels she is strong, she is a warrior, she can handle the most challenging situations. I don't understand why you cannot see that. It's a song, not a literal role.

  • B says:

    Taylor is a great songwriter, but her voice is not right for this song. While I love the instrumentation and lyrics, I really wish it was The Civil Wars singing this song instead of Taylor

    • A says:

      I feel exactly the same way. The Civil Wars would have been perfect, especially seeing as they, you know, wrote the song.

      • Dee says:

        I agree! It's painfully obvious that The Civil Wars wrote the song. Especially based on their other songs. This is no tweeny, pop, "I love him but I'm the geek" that Taylor Swift always writes about.

  • Jamie says:

    I can't stand Taylor Swift because I feel like she, um, can't sing. But I wanted to be fair and listen to the song first before jumping to conclusions...and after four minutes of vaguely melodic breathing, I would have preferred to just hear The Civil Wars take this on. I get that it's supposed to be Katniss, so perhaps more of a spotlight on Joy Williams for this one, with John Paul White providing amazing harmony. And then just let them become bigger stars by having a song on the Hunger Games soundtrack.

  • Tommy Marx says:

    I couldn't agree less. I'm not a major fan of Taylor Swift. I like her "White Horse" song, but I've never had the desire to buy one of her singles, let alone an entire album. Yet every time I hear this particular sign, I think of Katniss comforting Rue as she lies dying. Maybe it's because I don't care enough about Taylor to be tormented by a bad performance (hint to Jen: please avoid seeing a live performance by Faith Hill, Mary J. Blige, or pretty much anyone that isn't Adele if you are a fan of performers who can remain on pitch), but I don't hear her at all. Instead, I hear a young girl mourning the loss of an even younger girl who didn't deserve such a horrific fate.

    • Jen Yamato says:

      Holy smokes, you saw Mary J. live and she was off?? That actually makes me sad.

      • Tommy Marx says:

        That was not my intention. I love Mary J. and think she is phenomenally talented. But I've seen her a few times on various TV specials where she hasn't been perfect. That doesn't make her anything less than awesome in my opinion. It just means that in a stressful situation, accompanied by sound systems that have to constantly be adjusted and acoustics that can make it difficult to hear true pitch, even the most talented of singers can wander off pitch. To judge Taylor Swift so harshly for one bad performance seems rather vindictive. And again, I say this as someone who isn't even a big fan, but does recognize her incredible talent.

        • Jen Yamato says:

          Point taken, and it's not like I want to remember her screeching every time I think of her. It just happens. To her credit she warbles very sweetly on this Hunger Games song and her songs about sitting on bleachers and pining for high school boys are very catchy.

          • Tommy Marx says:

            LMAO @ "sitting on bleachers and pining for high school boys". That does seem to be 90% of her oeuvre. 🙂

  • Joe says:

    B- Taylor is credited as the main songwriter for this. I guess she did not want anybody else singing her song. I am sure they do not give out credits just for blue eyes.

    Why is this teen-queen aura of hers making some people so bothered? She is critically more acclaimed than Lady Gaga, Adele. Look it up. And as i said- where do people even get the idea its gonna be in the film?

    • Jen Yamato says:

      Some reports said it came from the HG soundtrack although I believe Joe is correct, it's from a companion album that includes songs by The Decemberists, etc. A separate soundtrack album is to be released, although I'm not sure if that's score only or includes additional songs. I'm guessing the former.

      Anyways, this Swift song *sounds* and seems exactly like the kind of pop star-fronted soundtrack song that plays over end credits. I'd bet like $5 that we hear it over the credit roll, unless Lionsgate has something less obvious and conventional in mind.

  • Mike says:

    And the cynics are outraged. Great song by a great singer. I could write a long response about why she deserves to be on the soundtrack but reading all this ranting and complaining wasted enough of my time.

    • Mike says:

      When i say ranting and complaining, I'm not talking about the article itself. That makes a good point and as big as a Taylor Swift fan i am. I agree with most of it. The ranting and complaining comes from the worthless obnoxious "she can't sing" or anything that mentions Adele.

      • Cassie says:

        I agree 😀

      • Tommy Marx says:

        Oh wow. Someone doesn't like Adele. What a major surprise on these here Internets. She's not blond, skinny, or vacuous, so thank the Gods we have someone like you to let us know talent is bad unless it's connected to someone you personally like.

        Adele is able to handle her nerves and give a riveting performance in a highly stressful situation. Taylor, like most singers, is not.

        My point wasn't that this makes Adele better; the wonderful thing about being an adult is that you learn that music isn't a competition (ooo, Britney is better! No, Gaga is! No, Riri for the win!!!). My point was that it's ludicrous to let a bad performance by Taylor color everything she does as Jen does. That seems, at least to me, a major overreaction to one bad performance.

        • Mike says:

          My bad, I didn't understand what you meant. The TSwift superfan in me kicks in when I read that she cant sing.(wouldnt be a fan if that was true) Anyway, not hating on Adele (i actually like her) I was just saying this article didn't really have anything to do with the fact that Adele sings good live. I also never mentioned anything about music being a competition. But since you know all about stereotypes on these here internets, Im sure you assumed that because I am a Taylor Swift (only cuz shes "blonde and skinny" lol) fan I am a 12 year old spoiled sallow brat. There's a saying abut Assuming things...

  • Leigh says:

    Yo Jen Yamato! No kidding Taylor is no Katniss Everdeen. Duh. She is everything and more of anyone out there and everyone can see through your lies

  • Jayne says:

    Omg. The actress who plays katniss, recorded the song katniss sings. Taylor is not supposed to be katniss. Get your facts straight before you write an article.

  • Cassie says:

    What's wrong with singing as a character I think that is cool I like write stuff from the point of veiw of characters(poetry stories some lyrics) it's fun and help imagine from their PoV(point of veiw...)and it lets you imagine whats happening or the char. by listening to it. If you didn't know if Taylor was singing it and you watched it would you complain? Her music is inspirational and beautiful if you don't like her thats your veiw if she asked me if she should do this song I'd say "go for it. you'd do great at it, don't let anyone tell you differently its their opinion" and if you don't aggree with me ohwell again your veiw (please don't hate me or anything.....its my opinion...)

    • Jen Yamato says:

      Nothing's wrong with that! I just don't think it fits in this case, and this song having the marketing push and profile that it does it's very distracting to me.

  • Anna says:

    Ofcourse Taylor is nothing like Katniss. Katniss is tough, deep, strong. Taylor is the overly innocent, perpetually teenage fairy princess but she is one major thing-- a big, huge name/franchise herself and that will attract a large teenage fan base, so that's good for the film. I don't see the motive of including her in the soundtrack as anything more than that.

  • Enchantedtomeetyoutay says:

    Taylor is more deserving of being on the album than A lot of artists. And who cares about the cynics anyways, taylor has her fans who won't listen to people who don't know what they are talking about. Long live t-swizzle

  • Ryan says:

    I disagree. Just because Swift is not a Katniss Everdeen does not mean she can't pull it off with a song like this. This song is haunting and captures, in my opinion, the parts when Katniss and Peeta are in the cave, when Katniss says bye to Prim, and after Katniss sings Rue's lullaby. At first, you may not believe she would be a good choice to have on the soundtrack because of her innocence and stuff, but this song is excellent for the movie.

  • Ryan says:

    I'm a HG fan who happens to be also a Taylor Swift fan. And no I'm not a teenager and not all of her fans are only consists of 13 yr olds. So, this is win-win situation for me. And this song is perfect in the cave scene or for Rue.

    And btw, yes Katniss is strong and independent and Taylor too. People see her as innocent and fragile which I think there's nothing wrong with that but she's more than that. God, the woman is the CEO of her own company. She manage her life and her career by herself. She makes her own decisions. She writes, sing, play and produces her own songs/records. I just think she's genuinely super nice and for some reason, people are annoyed because of that. Which I don't understand the logic.

  • anticip8ing hungergames says:

    hey! i actually like this song! you were right with what you said about it playing over the credits, though cuz that's definitely where it belongs. this song just wouldn't fit with the intense speed and action of this movie. but i disagree with (just about) everything else...yes, the point of view when writing this song is Katniss's, but that doesn't mean that she thinks she IS Katniss. dont get me wrong, its not like i'm a huge t-swift fanatic, but i do enjoy how when she writes, the lyrics actually mean something. the lyrics of this song certainly mean something for this movie. but that's just my opinion 😉

  • Leigh says:

    Attention Jen Yamato!

    Taylor Swift Wins Four(4) "Taste of Country Awards"!!!


    Artist of the Year!

    Tour of the Year!

    Video of the Year!

    and, her new kitten,
    Meredith, Pet of the Year! 🙂

  • Sarah says:

    Sounds more like a personal attack on Swift than a beef with the song choice for the movie. Strange, kind of creepy anger directed towards the artist chosen to sing the song who, might I add, does a pretty good job......take the song for what it is. It's a good piece.

    • CaraP says:

      On point and then she goes on to call that whiny Bruno Mars blather from Twilight good. Give me a break. Click whoring at it's worst. I won't be coming back.

  • Pod says:

    @Jen: Who would have thought that a post about Taylor Swift would bring about the most # of comments on Movieline? My beef with Swifty is that she'll be part of Hooper's Les Miz. Evan Rachel Wood would have been such an against-the-grain casting coup.

  • D Trotter says:

    Amazing how people having such a limited knowledge of Swift, nevertheless continue to spew these cliched opinions (the sugar-and-spice Disney Princess who can't sing, created by marketing and foisted upon the stupid masses).

    It's nice to have opinions, but, please, do some research.

    Swift thumbed her noise at the biggest record company in Nashville when they tried to control her, signed with a company that didn't even have a building, transformed it into a top label. She's the CEO of her own company, writes her own songs, and has final say on her album production, videos, concert presentations, and everything to do with her career. In a town and a genre dominated by males, where the "way things are done" is decided by good ol' boys, BIG labels and teams of songwriters, Swift knocked over the apple cart. Now she's winning awards that females almost never win (let alone at her age). And when she messed up her duet with Stevie, she never said a word in defense; she just went out and put on one incredible live performance after another, without auto-tune, in one of the highest-grossing concert tours in the world last year.

    Sounds like one tough cookie to me. Maybe she has more Katniss in her than you think!

  • k-lo says:

    oh shut up. The girl can sing.

  • Shy says:

    I don’t why it’s such a big problem to someone. I don’t like Taylor Swift. I can’t stand her. But I really like the song. It’s sad and really suits Hunger Games. Apart from all the action it’s a sad story about sacrifice for your family and sadness.

  • Grace says:

    Ew stop you don't even know her..

  • a blats says:

    Honestly, I don't seem to understand why people make such a big deal over small things. Sure, you don't like the song, but is that really something to write about? Don't you have anything better to give us about the movie? And do you really base your opinions off of one performance she did years ago now? I'm not sure what you are trying to get at here, but to me it seems like you have nothing better to write about and feel like bashing someone who did a song that may have been a risk, but at least she wasn't afraid to.