The sound of teen angst: From The Hunger Games to How I Live Now

Top pop stars are finding adolescent movies are the way to a huge audience

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The Independent Culture

The electronica artist Jon Hopkins is on a roll at the moment as his solo album Immunity enjoys the support of a Mercury nomination. Now he can look forward to the release of his most high-profile soundtrack yet, for forthcoming movie How I Live Now. Hopkins earned an Ivor Novello nomination in 2011 for his work on the low-budget science-fiction film Monsters, having collaborated with his mentor Brian Eno a couple of years previously to score Peter Jackson's gloopy supernatural adaptation The Lovely Bones. Still to be released is the British thriller Uwantme2killhim?, for which the London-based Hopkins has also provided music, though it is his work for director Kevin Macdonald's latest project that is set to propel the musician into the movie mainstream.

For How I Live Now is the latest entrant in the burgeoning genre of teen movies based on best-selling books – a seemingly sure-fire source of hits that is not only attracting big-name directors but also a glittering array of pop stars and credible artists to provide accompanying music.

The relationship has been somewhat chequered. It starts with the drum rolls of Bill Haley & His Comets' “Rock Around the Clock” over the opening credits of 1955's youthquake-generating Blackboard Jungle, which helped the barnstorming anthem to become a major hit. During the latter half of the decade, teen idols on both sides of the Atlantic were encouraged to pursue parallel careers in music and film, with Elvis Presley inspiring moves to the silver screen for Tommy Steele and Cliff Richard.

A rare high point for teen movies and contemporary pop came in the mid-1980s as the sassy “Brat Pack” films featuring Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe and Molly Ringwald demanded an up-to-date soundtrack, music and image melding most successfully in John Hughes's contributions. 1985's The Breakfast Club broke Simple Minds in the US when they agreed to record the song that became their only Stateside No 1, “Don't You (Forget About Me)”. The critical plaudits, though, go to Pretty in Pink, apparently inspired by new wave outfit The Psychedelic Furs' 1981 single of the same name, re-recorded for the teen romance's soundtrack that also featured New Order, The Smiths and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.

While the Brat Pack era tended to focus on coming-of-age angst, these young-adult films apply those same themes in more exotic settings, the worlds of fantasy and science fiction. The change was instigated by the Harry Potter phenomenon. Soundtracks for the film spin-offs, though, relied on familiar orchestral motifs, bar an electrifying cameo in 2005's The Goblet of Fire from The Weird Sisters, a group featuring Jarvis Cocker from Pulp and Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead.

Taylor Swift, whose music appeared on the first ‘Hunger Games’ soundtrack

While romance remained a sub-plot in the Potter series, the relationship between Bella and Edward was central to the Twilight saga. From the off, film adaptations of the four books in the series mixed histrionic pop-metal with more esoteric sounds, so that for the opening 2008 film, Paramore and Muse shared space with Perry Farrell and Iron & Wine. For the second instalment, New Moon, the franchise could command original writing from a wider range of artists. Thom Yorke contributed “Hearing Damage”, while Bon Iver and St Vincent collaborated on “Roslyn”.

THE MORE RECENT Hunger Games series at first took a different direction, steering towards contemporary country, roots and folk to chime with its occasionally pastoral settings – Taylor Swift received a Grammy nomination for “Safe & Sound”, alongside contributions from The Civil Wars, Carolina Chocolate Drops and Neko Case. Perhaps the biggest coup was a rare appearance from Arcade Fire on an album subtitled Songs From District 12 and Beyond, pointing to the fact that many tracks did not appear in the film itself.

The line-up for the forthcoming Hunger Games: Catching Fire promises to be even more heavyweight. Coldplay have already topped iTunes charts with “Atlas”, their first original contribution to a film soundtrack. Also on board are Patti Smith, Christina Aguilera and The National. No telling yet whether this smorgasbord will be as satisfying as Hopkins's work on the more grungey How I Live Now. Especially as beside his instrumental score comes the gorgeous “Garden's Heart'” – a collaboration with Natasha Khan.

'How I Live Now – Motion Picture Soundtrack, Original Music by Jon Hopkins' is out now on Just Music. The 'Hunger Games: Catching Fire Soundtrack' is out on Tuesday 19 November