Billie Eilish has scored another hit with her new single, “No Time to Die,” the theme song for the upcoming James Bond film of the same name. I put off listening to it because I hate all popular things on principle—and like all popular things, I am now shocked to find that I like it.
The track debuted at 16 on the Billboard Hot 100, and it’s Eilish’s first No. 1 single in the U.K. Eilish and her brother Finneas co-wrote “No Time to Die,” which also features orchestral backing composed by Matt Dunkley and Hans Zimmer, as well as guitar work by Johnny Marr of the Smiths.
Until her phenomenal success in every award show this season, I realized I had not taken Eilish seriously as an artist. Maybe it’s because she’s my age (and what have I achieved yet?), the fact my sister thinks she’s an “industry plant”, or the mental image I get of Dr. Doofenshmirtz cartoonishly cackling when she snarls, “I’m the bad guy.” Maybe that last one’s just me.
Still, I was ready to dismiss this new single because, after the list of legacies who have composed for Bond films, Eilish still seems new to the music scene. Others probably had higher expectations than me, since really, Eilish isn’t amateur at all, she’s the only woman to win all four major Grammys in one night.
“No Time to Die” surpassed my cynical predictions, but it probably surpassed those with optimistic expectations as well. Eilish’s breathy tone doesn’t sound childish, but instead reflective and purposeful, with added reverb that supports her powerful belting mid-song, which seems to pay tribute to Adele’s “Skyfall,” a previous Bond classic. This is not surprising, given Eilish’s admiration of Adele: “My belt is not even close to a fucking Adele belt,” she said, “Adele is like a literal God.”
Trying to copy the huge belting throughout “Skyfall” would be a mistake, but Eilish chooses one moment in the bridge to give it her all, sustaining the lyric “die” over a crescendoing orchestra. Beautiful vibrato creeps through that could signal a healthy mixed belt developing as her voice matures. Too many young singers push their belt too early (including, sadly, Adele) and this can cause serious long-term damage, so Eilish is saving her future career.
Eilish gracefully reflects the history of successful Bond songs in her harmonization (the minor ninth chord, famous from Norman’s original theme, rattles behind her crooning). She has the traditional violins and brass creating a tone of intrigue and elegance, but she elevates the song, sticking to her own personal music style.
Billie and Finneas wrote the song after learning about the film’s plot, and the lyrics hint at romance and betrayal: “Was I stupid to love you?” she sings in a soft falsetto. “Fool me once, fool me twice,” sung in the middle of the chorus remind me that this is about an action film where heads will roll, not just a melancholy British bachelor lamenting over an old bottle of Scotch. Yet, maybe this tone is appropriate for Daniel Craig’s last Bond film, as he, and Bond, are not getting any younger. Eilish’s thoughts on love, coming from a teenager, are almost refreshing.
“No Time to Die” delivers on every expectation for a Bond song. It’s unsettling, with moody lyrics you have to strain to make out. It has bold orchestration that strikes an interesting juxtaposition with her fatalistic singing. Listen to this song while crying over a breakup, or when murdering a couple of enemies of the state—it’s versatile.