Billie Eilish’s nomination for the new James Bond theme, “No Time to Die,” breaks with long-held Grammy precedent: it appears to be the first nominated in the “best song written for visual media” category for a movie that won’t open for months.
The song was released during the 2019-2020 eligibility period, on Feb. 13, in anticipation of an April release of the movie. But the COVID-19 pandemic forced a delay to November, then another to April 2021, so the Eilish song is out there but no one has seen the movie for which it was written.
Eilish is co-credited with her brother Finneas O’Connell for the title song, which peaked at No. 16 on the Billboard charts in America and debuted at No. 1 in Great Britain. They released a video (directed by veteran Bond title designer Daniel Kleinman) on Oct. 1, just before the film’s release got bumped again.
The movie song category dates back to 1987, when it was called “song written specifically for motion picture or television.” Only two previous Bond themes have been nominated: “You Know My Name,” the theme for “Casino Royale” in 2007, and Adele’s “Skyfall” in 2013; the latter won.
The Eilish song would have been an obvious nominee, had the movie been released on schedule, but as it stands, the song will have been out for more than a year before Daniel Craig’s final outing as 007 hits theaters. Recording Academy executives undoubtedly apparently deemed it eligible as it was a major hit, and it was already on preliminary ballots before the movie’s multiple delays began racking up.
The Grammy eligibility window is a consistent problem for artists and labels; this year’s ran from Sept. 1, 2019 to Aug. 31, 2020. And since most of the big movie soundtracks tend to accompany major film releases – generally in the October to December release period – that makes the Grammys generally appear to be a year behind in the Visual Media categories.
The last two Grammy years are a perfect example. Lady Gaga songs from the 2018 “A Star Is Born” won in consecutive years. A single of “Shallow” was released just in time for the 2017-18 Grammys, just prior to the film’s release, and “I’ll Never Love Again,” from the album released a few days later, qualified for the 2018-19 Grammys. Both won, marking the first time that the same film managed to generate wins at the Grammys two years in a row.
The “No Time to Die” nomination was expected, as were “Into the Unknown” (from “Frozen 2”) and “Stand Up” (from “Harriet”), both of which were 2019 Oscar nominees. The surprises in the song category were “Carried Me With You,” the Brandi Carlile song from this year’s Disney-Pixar film “Onward,” and “Beautiful Ghosts,” the Taylor Swift song from the much-maligned 2019 film version of “Cats,” which did contend at the most recent Golden Globe, though it didn’t go on to field an Oscar nomination.
Similarly, three of the five nominees for best score soundtrack were 2019 Academy Award nominees: Hildur Guðnadóttir’s “Joker,” which won the Oscar; Thomas Newman’s “1917”; and John Williams’ “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.” Also nominated were Max Richter’s music for the 2019 sci-fi film “Ad Astra”; and the sole surprise in the category, jazz artist Kamasi Washington’s score for the 2020 Michelle Obama documentary “Becoming.”
Least predictable among the Visual Media categories was the compilation soundtrack list, which included the music from three 2019 film releases: “Frozen 2,” “Jojo Rabbit” and the Mister Rogers film “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” The surprise entries are two 2020 comedy films: the Keanu Reeves-Alex Winter reunion “Bill & Ted Face the Music” and the Will Ferrell romp “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga.”
Film composers also figured in two instrumental categories: “Plumfield,” a track from Alexandre Desplat’s “Little Women” soundtrack, was nominated for best instrumental composition, and “Bathroom Dance,” a track from Guðnadóttir’s “Joker” album, received a nod for best arrangement, instrumental or a cappella.