With the November 17th release of The Hunger Games prequel, The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes, comes a wave of newfound folk fanatics. Familiar names like Flatland Cavalry, Sierra Ferrell, Bella White & more have original songs on the film's soundtrack. These are my thoughts on the rise and fall of umbrella term "Americana" in pop culture, as highlighted by the release of this film.
The Hunger Games series mimics the social and cultural pressures of Americana roots entangled in a dystopian society. The storyline of The Hunger Games heavily focuses on citizens of the mining district, a job riddled with strife in American history throughout the Appalachian trail and majority West Virginia. The book and movie series also pit the blue collared districts against the luxury district, or the "1 percent" of financial wealth, a continual American political debate.
Bluegrass, Folk, and Americana genres of "Country" music spill from coal mining communities and other blue collar, rough handed jobs through the United States, but rarely hit the American Billboard Top 100 outside of genre specific charts. Popular or "pop" country has always maintained a foothold in American music, but sub-genres like Songwriter, Bluegrass, and Folk cycle through in popularity depending on the socioeconomic climate of the US and typically rear popularity during political strife and warfare.
So is the American Songwriter on the rise, and does the release of this soundtrack support our claim?
With its heavy Americana influenced storyline, it's no surprise that Grammy award winning producer Dave Cobb chose to keep Bluegrass at the forefront of selecting the "Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes" soundtrack.
It is important to note from this soundtrack is 2024 Bluegrass Grammy Nominee Molly Tuttle, who played the guitar parts for the prequels lead character Lucy Gray Baird and whose band participated in the movie's "Covey Band." More and more we're seeing true songwriters enter Hollywood with musical acting roles like Tuttle's instrumentals and artists like Sturgill Simpson performing in HBO's The Righteous Gemstones. Simpson also guest appeared alongside songwriter Jason Isbell in "Killers of the Flower Moon" released on October 20th this year.
It is my belief that songwriters are actively growing in popularity and Americana (including sub-genres Bluegrass and Folk) is gaining recognition. In order to talk about this, I must recognize the attention artists like Noah Kahan and Zach Bryan have brought to songwriting on a global scale. Regardless of my own personal beliefs (spoiler alert: I'm not a Zach Bryan fan, don't come for me!), it is blatantly obvious that Bryan's raw songwriting (think original album DeAnn and its ragtag hotel bathroom recording) is what American listeners are yearning for. The need for over-produced pop garbage is being overthrown by unrefined genuine music with deep lyrics. Kahan also created massive waves for the songwriting industry through internationally viral TikTok releases which started a still-used trend of posting meaningful lyrics along with an "unstaged" or relatable video of the artist singing/playing along.
With that being said, there's been a notable rise in songwriters through most social platforms. Our favorite Americana artists are selling out major venues and going on world tours. Hollywood is slowly accepting the grunge and crude attitudes of songwriters to actors. And more often are we seeing the nationwide growth of "Humble Folks" with deep American roots overcome pop culture.
I'm intrigued to see what music the new year brings forth and where it falls in popularity. I leave this article open ended, as I believe we are in the midst of the rise-- but it's too soon to really tell. If you have an opinion on any of the above discourse, please leave a comment! I'd love to know if you agree or disagree with my music observations.