And that’s it for Roy. I said “sort of”…
Katherine St Asaph: The Hunger Games franchise is a wildly successful triumph of having its cake and feasting on its profits too. There’s the teen-dystopia trick of presenting a world that’s at once so unquestionably broken that any sane person would cheer on its Ragnarok (conveniently sweeping liberals, conservatives and everyone else smoothly into its box-office take) and the sort of world in which the audience proxy becomes a heroine, a celebrity, and a girl that both Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth profess instant, impossibly romantic, mostly-chaste love for; there’s also the PR element, how The Hunger Games fictionalizes the storyboarding and deliverables of PR relationships and reality plotlines and stirring propaganda films and ad spots — and stirring propaganda folk songs, so (fake-)real in a world so really fake that Panem is moved to action as “The Hanging Tree” is moved to radio for yet another revenue stream. What else do you even make of this? Lawrence’s voice is fine, with a decent folky crackle and knowing weariness; she’s easily as good as Lorde and certainly far better than many indie vocalists of note, and any problems could and would be fixed with Auto Tune (of the Michael Bublé sort) were authenticity not the goal. The strings (which swell too soon) and choral arrangement (with the sops mixed way high) probably appeal to people who felt stirrings of something a little out of time in school choir or church. The language is old-fashioned in a labored way, and the narrative is odd, like maybe it’s been bowdlerized (if you make plans to meet at midnight under a tree in a ballad, you’re either gonna fuck or you’re fuuuuucked); there is something uncomfortable about evoking murders and hangings and maybe implied lynchings for more realness, but what can you do? The remix is stupid, like some ’90s idea of a grafted-on beat, but Avicii has made bank off that exact same brand of stupid, so here we are. “The Hanging Tree” has lasted far longer on the charts than its movie’s peak season, so either someone’s paying its place or all this really does resonate; is this just where we are as a society, how far we strain for something more? Lord knows I get it, considering how much time I spend in anxiety spirals about bits updating and numbers on screens decreasing and “heated” “conversations” about “content,” and lord knows the makers get it even better. It’s so cynical. It works so well.
Anthony Easton: This is so empty and portends so much, and it just keeps getting worse. The faux folk introduction with the hints at hanging are offensive in how they ignore history — I know we are all sick of conversations about white people appropriating black culture, but is there a worse example than how this hints and flirts with narratives of grotesque lynching? That slight buzzing around the 45-second line is intended to make the simple singing of Lawrence gain gravitas, but that line takes over, just as her limited voices gnaw in repetitive annoyance. The chorus begins, and it sounds like one of those attempts to add meaning through volume, the kind of clumsy mistake first-year liturgics scholars make. But nothing is worse than when the chorus drops off and we have that string swelling into rapturously absurd nonsense. For a wide variety of reasons, the Hunger movies are toxic, but considering how much weight this puts on so little work, this is a highlight of a blank sigil.
Megan Harrington: I think there’s a sort of automatic resentment that surfaces when actors — particularly women — attempt making music. Actors are inherently inauthentic; the more artificial and constructed they are, the more they succeed within their medium. Musicians are supposed to be the exact opposite, showing us their most deconstructed and pure selves. Further, it’s obnoxious that an individual should be so spoiled with wealth generating talents; even if fame isn’t technically a zero sum game, there’s a sense that if an actor has a hit record she stole that position from an otherwise deserving musician. That might be true, but Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t deserve the particular vitriol that’s accompanied Billboard ascent of “The Hanging Tree.” What Lawrence lacks as a singer she makes up for with acting, letting her voice go low and crackle to hit the appropriate emotional stakes. The song is both slight and cinematic, meant to fit inside a much larger narrative, a single illustration in a long storybook. Its chart success is both threatening and incidental; nobody’s fault and indicative of a serious problem with the formula.
Alfred Soto: Louder. LOUDER!
Cédric Le Merrer: And lo, the Fellowship arrived at the audition and sang “Cups”, using Gimli’s helm as a prop, but neither President Donald Sutherland nor the All-Father Odin turned their seat to face them. Having already been tired of solemn a capellas by a dwarf song many The Hobbit movies ago, host Yoda signified the director to turn the lights back on. “Not the right stage for this shit pop music is.”
Maxwell Cavaseno: #AMERICANA and Hans Zimmer-style garbage scores will kill us all.
David Sheffieck: This is a weird one, a civil rights anthem for a fantasy world that’s getting some notice and has an incredibly strange remix that drains it of all poignancy. But how much meaning does it have to begin with? The phrase, “The Hanging Tree” could mean any number of things in the world of The Hunger Games, but it means only one thing in the U.S., and it’s both something that’s been addressed in song much more powerfully than this and something the country hasn’t come to terms with even now. So I listen to “The Hanging Tree” and I feel uncomfortable, but it’s less about the feelings it actually creates and more about the feelings it evokes: of songs and struggles and terrors that long predate it, of a terrible world that’s many times worse than the fantasy one it inhabits because it’s a real one. I don’t know what it says that people are embracing this song, and I’m not sure I want to. It gets a  because I don’t know whether that’s a fault with me, or the song, or if they’re inseparable; and because it’s certainly a well-crafted track, regardless of what that craft has resulted in.
Crystal Leww: “The Hanging Tree” was written by The Lumineers, which like, yeah, that makes sense. I never thought that I’d say this, but I kind of wish that those faux-folksters had sung this instead. Jennifer Lawrence is a fine actress, but she’s not a singer, and this sounds listless: a symbol without the feeling, a chant without the conviction.
Patrick St. Michel: The remix is awkward — a shuffling dance track anchored by mournful invitations to die with a lover, sure! — but at least it’s lively. The original version probably works in the context of a movie, but ripped from that its just string-guided boredom, and begs for anything to liven it up.
Will Adams: This gossamer, dirge-y original certainly works better than the truly bizarre Rebel remix (which sounds like “Tom’s Diner” For Dummies) that’s been getting radio spins. Still, Lawrence sings like she’s trying to open her mouth as little as possible, and divorced from its cinematic context, “The Hanging Tree” is musical puffery, unimportant and uninteresting.
Ashley Ellerson: I doubt Jennifer Lawrence had much to do with “The Hanging Tree” (or rather its remix) becoming a radio single because it doesn’t sound re-recorded to make her voice ring stronger. Lawrence is no singer, but in the context of the film, that is no issue. As with most protest and revolution songs, the lyrics are repetitive so supporters can easily commit them to memory. My initial reaction was a long eye roll when I heard this on the radio, but it speaks volumes to fans of the series and youth worldwide. In a time of social unrest around the globe, the kids need an anthem that transcends fiction.
Ramzi Awn: Jennifer Lawrence leads this epic admirably, but Scarlett Johansson would have done a better job with it. Nonetheless, the quality of the production does not fall on deaf ears, and the Celtic Woman landscape in “The Hanging Tree” is not a downside. Probably not a song for the weak of heartstrings, however.
Rebecca A. Gowns: I first heard this song on the radio — introduced as “a new single from the latest Hunger Games movie, sung by Jennifer Lawrence” — and the experience was a nauseating one. The song’s reverberations with “Strange Fruit” felt very strong to me, and then it felt weird and gross that a song about lynching should be coming out in this day and age as sung by Jennifer Lawrence and in service to the marketing of a blockbuster movie, which has been furthermore infamously criticized as having a whitewashed cast (as per usual). I researched it a bit more, and some people are saying that this song is an attempt to harken back to old American folk tunes about damned men — more of a ghost story or a folk tale that has reverberations throughout history. However tidy this explanation of intent is, one must look at the aural narrative that it’s being placed into. I can’t handle hearing this song sandwiched in-between Drake and Beyoncé and Meaghan Trainor and Iggy Azalea. This cultural moment that we are at right now is fraught with tension; the political discourse is more present; the LIVING HISTORY that we are in right now is a continual unfolding of pain and horror, and amongst it all, we have Jennifer Lawrence singing a twee song about a strange hanging tree. The song could be appropriate, even welcome, if it had an entirely different set of hands creating it. As it stands, it rings false.