“Can’t Catch Me Now,” the original song Olivia Rodrigo co-wrote and performed for the soundtrack of The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes, follows in a grand tradition.
The movies in this series have come with iconic tie-in songs, from The Hunger Games’ Arcade Fire anthem “Abraham’s Daughter” and the folksy Taylor Swift and The Civil Wars joint piece “Safe and Sound” to Lorde’s chilling “Yellow Flicker Beat” in Mockingjay – Part 1. The Hunger Games series’ soundtrack is full of bangers. Even though the series is packed with action and set in a dystopian future, singer-songwriter music plays a huge role in shaping the world of Panem, especially the Appalachian roots of District 12.
For this particular movie, music was even more important than usual. The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes follows a young Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth) as he mentors District 12 tribute and songstress Lucy Gray Baird (West Side Story’s Rachel Zegler). Much of the plot is driven by Lucy Gray’s natural showmanship and her captivating songs, and the third act of the movie really drives home the impact music has across the entire Hunger Games world, present and past.
[Ed. note: Spoilers ahead for a significant moment at the end of The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes.]
Naturally, director Francis Lawrence, who returns to the Hunger Games franchise after his work on Catching Fire and the Mockingjay movies, had a lot of thoughts about what the closing-credits song should sound like, and how it should reflect the story. So many thoughts, in fact, that when Lawrence got together with Rodrigo after she watched the movie to talk about the collaboration, he sheepishly says he ranted at her a bit about what he wanted out of her song.
“I remember I sort of talked at her for 45 minutes,” Lawrence tells Polygon. “About the movie and about the themes and about the ending, and the mystery at the end, and how I thought the song should feel in terms of being a little haunting, and what it could do for us narratively with lyrics. She took a bunch of notes.”
Lawrence didn’t know how the song would turn out, and he felt a little guilty for droning on: “I just talked to her for an hour!” But when he heard the results, Lawrence realized he didn’t need to be worried. “Can’t Catch Me Now” is just as haunting and mesmerizing as Lawrence wished: a crooned epilogue for Lucy Gray’s story. At the end of the movie, Lucy Gray vanishes, seemingly into thin air. Coriolanus searches for her, beating the ground with his fists when he realizes she’s left him. But even though she’s physically gone, her presence lingers. You’ll see my face in every place, but you can’t catch me now, Rodrigo sings, and it’s like Lucy Gray’s voice echoing in Snow’s head.
The mystery of what exactly happened to Lucy Gray isn’t answered in Songbirds & Snakes, or even really addressed in the original Hunger Games books and movies, which take place after her time. But Rodrigo’s song emphasizes that her memory lingers. It haunts Snow and everything that transpires in the main series.
Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes is in theaters now. Watch the official video for “Can’t Catch Me Now” below.