Billie Eilish's "No Time to Die" is the Perfect Bond Theme for Today's OO7
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 the perfect theme for today’s OO7.
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 film in the Bond franchise, I was a little skeptical.
When you think of some of the great Bond themes in history, you remember names like Shirley Bassey (Goldfinger, Diamonds are Forever, Moonraker), Nancy Sinatra (You Only Live Twice), and Carly Simon (The Spy Who Loved Me).
Since 1962, musical legends in 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 lent their voices to the Bond franchise and the set the tone for the films that followed. 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 taking a turn at the mic.
And now… Billie Eilish has joined their ranks.
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 operating on the same wavelength.
Angsty teen. Pop sensation. Voice as low as a whisper. Was this the right fit for Bond or just an attempt to attract a younger audience to one of Hollywood’s oldest franchises?
Bond themes are famous for being bold, theatrical, and grandiose, with soaring vocals and sweeping melodies leading the charge. Billie Eilish’s voice, like her music, has none of that. So why is “No Time to Die” actually a perfect fit for today’s James Bond?
Stripped of all grandeur, glamour, and theatrically, “No Time to Die” is a brooding, emotional, and subdued mirror of who James Bond has become in the modern era. Lonely, brooding, broken, and subdued.
And let’s not forget:
In Casino Royale (2006), Bond actually did fall in love (Vesper), only to see that woman die in his arms, having been lied to and betrayed along the way.
In Skyfall (2012), Bond was stripped of everything he relied on (or hid behind) as he tried to protect 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 and absolution. In the end, 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 Madelein Swam (Lea Seydoux). But we have to wonder, is it too late for James Bond? Has Bond’s soul been fragmented 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? And how long will his “retirement” last?
The fact that James Bond is back for another mission in No Time to Die, may answer that question for us.
I’ve said it before: the trajectory of Bond’s life is ultimately tragedy.
This is the theme the Bond writers have been building to since Casino Royale.
With James Bond, author Ian Flemming tried to create the “ideal” man, with all the martinis, womanizing, and violence. And men idolized that ideal for decades. Only recently, however, has the Bond franchise, like society, recognized that the “ideal” man of early Bond isn’t that good, admirable, or honest.
Of course, James Bond will always be classy, sophisticated, resourceful, witty, persistent, and calm under pressure. These are admirable enough traits. But the recent Bond films have also shown us a much more complex hero, a man who is deeply tormented by the costs of his profession and the lives he has taken.
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 emotional resonance of a life that’s 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 whispery, ethereal voice, balanced with traditional Bond instrumentation, captures these emotions to thematic perfection, perhaps more than most Bond themes we’ve heard in the series thus far.
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.”
There are many moments in “No Time to Die” where you’re just 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 on his journey. So instead of Bond being given the absolution he desires (and 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 deeply felt in “No Time to Die”.
That is a moving and tragic arc for one of the longest running heroes 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 might be 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 about to occur? 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 beautifully honors the legacy of James Bond and the character’s journey up to this point, while also providing a wonderful, if not ominous, bit of foreshadowing of what is to come.
I am a fan.
No Time to Die arrives in theaters later this year. Check back to Perspectives off the Page that week for my thoughts on the film itself. And if you haven’t listened to Billie Eilish’s new theme, I encourage you to do so when you get the chance.
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