Is Billie Eilish's "No Time to Die" Actually a Perfect Bond Theme?
Singer Billie Eilish just released the highly anticipated new theme song for the upcoming James Bond film, No Time to Die, and contrary to many people's fears, Eilish’s subdued and moody ballad is already winning over fans of both her music and one of OO7's longest and most beloved traditions.
Full disclosure. When it was first announced that director Cary Fukunaga and MGM were turning to eighteen-year-old Billie Eilish to write and sing title song for the 25th entry in the Bond franchise, I was a little skeptical. Correction. I was massively skeptical.
When we think of some of the great Bond themes in the franchise, names like Shirley Bassey (Goldfinger, Diamonds are Forever, Moonraker), Nancy Sinatra (You Only Live Twice), and Carly Simon (The Spy Who Loved Me) come to find.
Since 1962, musical legends like Bassey, Sinatra, Tom Jones (Thunderball), Paul McCartney (Live and Let Die), Louis Armstrong (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), Gladys Knight (License to Kill), Tina Turner (Goldeneye), and Adele (Skyfall) have made their mark on the Bond franchise and the set the tone for the stories they established in the pre-credits sequence of each film.
There have even been some a few pop sensations mixed in, with Duran Duran (A View to a Kill), a-ha (The Living Daylights), Garbage (The World is Not Enough), Madonna (Die Another Day), Jack White/Alicia Keys (Quantum of Solace) each being given a turn at the mic.
And now… Billie Eilish has joined their esteemed ranks.
Now if that names seems as odd as the patch of sour-apple-green hair on the top of Eilish’s head, you and I are on the same page.
Angsty teen. Pop sensation. Voice as low and depressing as a moody whisper. Was this the right fit for Bond or just an attempt to attract a younger audience to one of Hollywood’s oldest franchises?
You may love Billie Eilish's music or despise it, but Rick Beato might have been on to something when he argued that Eilish has become the Kurt Cobain of her generation.
Bond themes, however, are famous for being theatrical and grandiose, with soaring vocals and sweeping stringed melodies leading the charge. Billie Eilish’s voice, like her music, has none of that.
So is “No Time to Die” an awkward experiment or a perfect fit for today’s OO7?
Stripped of all grandeur, glamour, and theatrically, “No Time to Die” is a brooding, emotional, and subdued mirror of who James Bond has become, at least throughout the four Daniel Craig entries.
Let’s not forget what Bond has dealt with in the previous four films:
In Casino Royale (2006), Bond had fallen in love, only to realize that the love of his life had betrayed him before dying in his arms.
In Skyfall (2012), Bond was stripped of everything he relied on (or hidden behind) as he tried to protect his secret service mother, M (Judy Dench). And in the end, he watched his surrogate mother and the one person who believed in him die in his arms.
And in Spectre (2015), the ghosts of Bond’s past returned to shatter any hope he might have of solace or absolution. This time, however, Bond was able to walk away from MI:6 and the life that had brought him so much pain in hopes of starting a new life with Madeleine Swam (Lea Seydoux).
Now, heading into No Time to Die, we have to wonder: is it too late for James Bond? Has Bond’s soul been fractured beyond repair, as he feared might happen if he stayed in the game too long? Will he ever find solace or absolution for the things he’s done? Will he ever be able to forgive Vesper and the ones he’s failed? How long will his “retirement” last?
The fact that James Bond is back for another mission in No Time to Die, may have already answered that question for us.
I’ve said it before: the trajectory of Bond’s life (at least this Bond) is ultimately tragedy.
This is the theme the Bond writers have been building to since Casino Royale.
Of course, James Bond will always be sophisticated, resourceful, witty, persistent, and calm under pressure. These are admirable traits. But the recent Bond films have also shown us a much more complex hero, a man who is deeply tormented by the cost of his profession and the lives he has taken without necessarily emasculating one of cinema's greatest heroes. Let's hope that never changes.
Following the tone set by its predecessors in Adele’s “Skyfall” and Sam Smith’s “Writing’s on the Wall”, Billie Eilish’s “No Time to Die” has the tone of a life that has been broken and a heart that’s been lied to and betrayed. And how does one feel when they are broken with nothing left to live for? Hollow and alone?
In this instance, Eilish’s moody, whispery, ethereal voice, balanced with traditional Bond instrumentation and motifs captures these emotions quite effectively.
And as far as the lyrics go, Eilish reinforces the notion of betrayal and “falling for a lie.”
Accepting that the one she trusted was never actually on her side and had her fooled the entire time, Eilish’s narrator closes herself off from the world, singing, “now you’ll never see me cry. There’s just no time to die.”
That may seem remarkably angsty and fitting for a teen melodrama, but with more traditional Bond orchestration and classic chords it is also unmistakably James Bond.
There are many moments in “No Time to Die” where we are waiting for things to pick up and build to a triumphant chorus, the kind we’re used to hearing from traditional Bond themes. But this time, that chorus and belting high note are subdued or withheld altogether. But maybe that’s intentional.
Maybe the subdued nature of “No Time to Die” is meant to reflect all that’s been denied to this character in these films. So instead of Bond being given the absolution he desires (and probably deserves), whether through redemption or his ultimate death, maybe Bond is destined to remain closed off and alone, saving the world but losing his soul in the process, an emotion felt deeply in “No Time to Die”.
Now that is a moving and tragic arc for a hero who’s never really had an arc up until now. It’s also a theme I hope No Time to Die explores to the fullest in what is Daniel Craig’s final outing as OO7.
Now the question becomes: does “No Time to Die” speak to events that have already happened in Bond’s life or ones that are about to occur? Is this song sung from Bond’s point of view or someone else’s? We’ll have to wait and see.
So while I was initially unwilling to get on the Billie Eilish train for No Time to Die, I have found that this song honors the legacy of James Bond and the character’s journey, while providing an ominous, foreshadowing of what might coming next for Craig's OO7.
We’ll find out if my theories about Bond are correct when No Time to Die arrives in theaters… eventually.
If you haven’t listened to Billie Eilish’s new theme, I encourage you to do so when you get the chance.Billie Eilish is no Shirley Bassey and "No Time to Die" is a much different Bond theme compared to songs like "Thunderball" or "Skyfall".
Some will love it; others will hate it, but that's true of almost every Bond film anyway. Regardless, it's worth a listen.
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