Billie Eilish delivers what’s possibly the most gorgeous 007 theme. And one to likely go beyond the limitations of the OST
By Emma Ng
Billie Eilish has really been in the news since winning four Grammys last month. Aside from the strides she has made in fashion, we have noted here in SOTD how lovely her voice is. And to that, I want to add: she sings, not scream. And that appealingly just-sing vocal is what makes her work in the latest Bond (25th) theme song so captivating. At the first listening of No Time to Die, what struck me—and beautifully so—is how free of histrionics the track is, not just vocally, but musically too.
I am now having trouble reconciling No Time to Die with the typical opening title sequence of Bond films, with their swirling graphics and the suggestively naked woman (women?) dancing as if the audience would not imagine she has no clothes on, or is near-nude (never mind if on occasions, body-con dresses could be discerned, or heels). How is Ms Eilish’s mellow sound and unrushed phrasing going to soundtrack what’s traditionally a visual expression that leans on art-as-titillation posturing? I try to imagine and all I can come up with is oversized, boxy Chanel pantsuit! Will Ms Eilish work into her contract that any visual accompanying her music must obscure, especially in the depicting of silhouetted women, any overt sexiness and sexuality (her own outline a perfect example)?
No Time to Die plays like Bond themes of yore coming together, but that would be simplistic, even if the chorus harks back to the melodic preferences of the past. To me, there’s something suitably Brit about Ms Eilish’s sound, made more alluring with a lo-fi warmth. It opens softly—almost a hush—with the piano, and then she intones, “I should have known/I’d leave alone/just goes to show/that the blood you bleed is just the blood you owe”. Ms Eilish turns 18 this December. Does that sound like a teenager to you? The opening lines set the mood and theme of the song: balladic, bleak, brill.
How is it that Bond himself and the numerous screen writers have never thought that “licence to kill” could pay back, and that it takes a teenager (and her co-writer-brother, Finneas O’Connor) to see the deserving turn? I don’t profess to know what every line means even having heard the music on loop all afternoon (or try to see if the lyrics foretell what is going to happen to Mr Bond in the upcoming film), but there is something too mature and too true and too heartfelt when someone so young sings, “Are you death or paradise?/Now you’ll never see me cry/there’s just no time to die”. It really hit me. Or, maybe, it’s Valentine’s?
I have never been so drawn to a Bond theme, not even Adele’s grand-sounding, jazz-sure Skyfall. And I don’t even remember what Sam Smith’s Writing’s On The Wall sounds like. Ms Eilish’s pull is as much her close-mic singing as her ability to draw you in: she seems to be directing every word, every note at you, alone. She does not get pitchy; she does not belt, she doesn’t try to impress; she does not over-colour. (Doubters should listen to her sing Yesterday at the Oscars.) I, too, like that the arrangement of the track is lush, a compelling counterpoint to the writing duo’s often bleak, melancholic, and off-kilter style. The sum: tasteful. Never thought I’d say that about a Bond theme song.
Photo: Universal Music Group