She's a princess cut from marble, smoother than a storm. And she moves through town, quiet like a fight.
The low hum that begins "Yellow Flicker Beat" takes the viewer from the final shot of the transformed heroine Katniss Everdeen to the closing credits of "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1."
"I liked the idea of the film ending on this close-up of Katniss' face, and then this very creepy, cracked hum kind of signaling your entry into her head, her deepest thoughts and secrets," says New Zealand singer-songwriter Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O'Connor, better known as Lorde. "I'd been listening to a lot of spirituals, songs like 'Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,' and I loved the crackling, flawed sounds, both of the old recordings and the delivery of the vocals, so that definitely had some influence."
The song captures the extreme ambivalence of Jennifer Lawrence's protagonist as she decides whether to allow herself to be used as the rebellion's figurehead in the coming civil war at the heart of the blockbuster franchise's penultimate installment. Although Katniss' sympathies rest firmly with the 99% in the film's dystopian world, she struggles with the stresses of her newfound notoriety and its dreadful responsibilities.
It wasn't completely unfamiliar ground for the 18-year-old songwriter.
"This was my first time writing for a film, and it was important to me that it still felt like my song, not something that would feel out of place at one of my shows," Lorde says via email. "I wanted the song to feel almost stream-of-consciousness, very much Katniss' innermost thoughts, and when writing it, I could feel the lines blurring, my authorial voice overlapping with hers."
And my necklace is of rope / I tie it and untie. People talk to me, but nothing ever hits home / People talk to me, and all the voices just burn holes.
There were palpable intersections for the songwriter.
"Obviously I'm not angry in the way that she is at the end of the film, but I could identify with that feeling of everyone wanting Katniss to do a certain thing, and the pressure of that expectation."
Lorde took over the world last year with the hit "Royals," which has been covered live by Bruce Springsteen, and none other than David Bowie told the singer that hearing her was "like listening to tomorrow."
She contributed a wildly revisionist cover of Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" to the series' second film, "Hunger Games: Catching Fire." When it was time to put together the music for "Mockingjay — Part I," the powers that be asked her to "curate" its songs.
"I was very fortunate to have been 100% left alone for the curation," she says of a soundtrack that includes the languid indie pop of singer-songwriter Bat for Lashes, Kanye West reworking "Yellow Flicker Beat" into something even more menacing, and updated electronica from '80s icons Grace Jones and Simon Le Bon. "I had a very clear idea of the kinds of artists I wanted for this project, and the kinds of songs from each."
Still, Lorde's key contribution is "Yellow Flicker Beat," which catches the Girl on Fire on the verge of stepping into a holocaust. The quiet of that hum explodes into a chorus declaring, "This is the start / Of how it all ends."
"Katniss has so much swirling under the surface, so many different voices both internal and external telling her what to do. A storm isn't smooth, a fight isn't quiet, and I don't think Katniss is just one thing at once," she says.
"I also liked the 'fingers laced together and I made a little prison, and I'm locking up everyone who ever laid a finger on me' part — it alluded to the 'playing God' nature of Katniss' role as Mockingjay and is probably the most empowering line I've ever written."