Beginning in the latter portion of 2014, speculation began to emerge as to which recording artist would have the privilege of bestowing upon the world the highly anticipated theme song accompanying the 24th Bond film, Spectre. At the time such publications emerged, popular choices handpicked to sing the tune by the media and fans alike included Radiohead, Ellie Goulding, and even the return of "Skyfall" chanteuse Adele. Still, no other options were as popular as the queen of noir pop herself, Lana Del Rey, and the king of melancholic self-loathing sadness, Sam Smith. These two very similar artists with polarizing personality traits were poised and pitted against each other by entertainment sites, media blogs, and rabid fandoms. Alas, we can fast forward to September of 2015, and the bittersweet victor is Sam Smith. The 23 year old British crooner was crowned by EON Entertainment as Adele's successor. Bittersweet is his victory indeed, as upon its release on September 25, 2015, Smith's song was met with mostly negative reviews and a public outcry from committed 007 fans.
Yes, this man is responsible for the new Spectre theme song, "Writing's On the Wall," which The Atlantic is calling radically wimpy.
"Smith sounds so fragile there that you could argue he’s subverting the franchise, or betraying it. The James Bond character is lizardlike and amoral, a sex machine who’s always made to regret the rare instances when he allows a woman to hold power over him. The Daniel Craig era has complicated this notion, but not to the extent that Smith now has. Handwringing about a supposed cultural assault on masculinity awaits, no doubt."
To understand the vantage point being taken by the majority of critics, one must first listen to the song.
Now, to comprehend the seemingly unanimous outcry from fans, we must start at the conception of the franchise. The fictional character James Bond, international super spy (otherwise known as 007: the man with a license to kill), was created in 1953 by Ian Fleming, a British writer, who initially immortalized him in the novel, Casino Royale. For more than six decades, the titular character has been the epitome of the male bravado, a masculine killing machine with a dashing sense of understated fashion, fast cars, sleek gadgets, and a penchant for ardent, yet brief, romantic liaisons with sultry women. In essence he is what many men would aspire to be – envied, admired, and feared.
The film franchise commenced in 1962 with the release of Dr. No, and in the 53 years that ensued it has been relentlessly and tiredly copied time and time again. Still, the Bond brand remains undeterred and unmatched. It is understandable why such an enormous and international fan base retains disdain towards Smith's rendition of the latest theme song.
"How do I live? How do I breathe? When you're not here I'm suffocating. I want to feel love run through my blood. Tell me is this where I give it all up? For you I have to risk it all. 'Cause the writing's on the wall."
Although The Atlantic argues that "Writing's On the Wall" is effeminate and detached from previous themes, I do not fault Smith for writing a song that sounds like a discarded track from his debut album, "In the Lonely Hour." After all, he claims to have written it in only 20 minutes. Regardless of Smith's sexual orientation or motive behind the song itself, "Writing's On the Wall" is just not a very good Bond theme. Is it weak? I think so. With lyrics that emote worthlessness and a depraved sense of inability to breathe without some forlorn notion of romance, the song does not have the essence of James Bond. Is it a bad song? By all means no! Should it be utilized in Sam Smith's rerelease of his debut album? Sure. But should it represent the next installment of 007? No, not at all.
Lana Del Rey's rebranding in 2012 launched her into the public eye, under much scrutiny, but it also allowed her to create a solid following of very diverse characters. Since her inception, many of her albums such as "Born To Die," "Paradise," and "Ultraviolence" have garnered great controversy, due to their nihilism, alleged misogyny, and their contrived inability to address feminism. Her sound is very anti-pop, yet her popularity only grows, because her music is cinematic, obscure, and tugs at the heartstrings. You could take almost any track from her previous discography and insert it into the Bond universe and it would fit like a glove. Cuts like "Million Dollar Man," "Body Electric," and "Shades of Cool" embody the troubled perspective of the archetypal Bond girl, a young, beautiful woman with a deadly attraction to the terminated and brooding hero himself. Despite having a slew of lucrative movie themes under her belt, such as The Great Gatsby's "Young and Beautiful," Maleficent's "Once Upon a Dream, Big Eyes' "I Can Fly," and this year's Age of Adeline contribution "Life Is Beautiful," Del Rey was turned down in favor of Sam Smith.
This was the unjustly rejected track.
The title of the song "24" is apt and intelligent as Spectre is the 24th film in the Bond franchise. It is now included as the 12th track on Del Rey's junior release "Honeymoon," and serves as a distant reminder of what a compelling Bond theme would have sounded like had the producers let Lana do what she does best, compose and sing cinematic songs that portray hurt, passion, and death, in only the way James Bond can glamorize such thematics to the point of envy.
"Give me your heat. Give me your diamonds. You hit that street and my crooked lust. You count to three while they're all dying. You're hard to reach, you're cold to touch."
Lana Del Rey truly takes the franchise back to the golden days of Shirley Bassey's "Diamonds Are Forever" and Carly Simon's "Nobody Does It Better" as the homage is uncanny and creates a mystifying aura of grandeur, glamour and damsels in distress. With the release of Spectre right around the corner, it is highly unlikely that Sam Smith's "Writing's On the Wall" will be replaced and discarded, but one can hope. The world may never know, but for me, this song was meant to die another day.
Do you like the new Bond theme? Does the new theme song live up to its predecessor? Or was choosing Sam Smith as the male version of Adele a bad choice?