5 Songs That Prove Sia is a Pop Genius
Sia, the Australian pop phenomenon and songwriter behind hits like Rihanna’s “Diamonds”, Beyoncé’s “Pretty Hurts” and David Guetta’s “Titanium,” is unlike any other pop artist around.
To begin with, she doesn’t want to be star. She doesn’t want to be famous. And really, you could stop right there.
Her reluctance to show her face in public — opting to wear a platinum blonde wig to cover her eyes and most of her face — is, in essence, what separates the 40-year old singer from her peers. Instead Sia, whose full name is Sia Kate Isobelle Furler, insists on leading a private and anonymous life, while of course perfecting pop songcraft to a bona fide art form.
In 2014 she was quoted to say:
“I don’t want to be famous, or recognizable. I don’t want to be critiqued about the way that I look on the internet. I’ve been writing pop songs for pop stars now for a couple of years and I’ve become friends with them and see what their life is like and that’s not something I want.”
Hence the giant wig.
Obviously, the fact that Sia is in no way your average songwriter, but happens to be a freakishly gifted writer of pop songs scoring hit song after hit song – either for someone else or in her own name – tends to complicate the singer’s longing for privacy.
Somehow though, Sia has succeeded in evading the public’s hungry gaze, only showing her face on very rare occasions where she decided that it made sense. Not the media.
Recording her own music as far back as 1997, while increasingly penning tunes for stars like Christina Aguilera and lending her vocals to Flight of the Conchords, Sia’s 2014 album 1000 Forms of Fear marked her artistic and commercial breakthrough. In bold and bright terms, it displays the singer’s incredible knack for writing hook-filled, roaring and confessional power ballads about enduring and overcoming the agonizing pain of being alive.
This genuine Weltschmerz, however private it may have been, struck a universal tone that resonated with a big audience (the album reached #1 in the U.S., Canada and Australia), maybe due to the fact that Sia hid behind different voices and characters in her songs. On one track she sounds like Rihanna. On another she takes on the sandpaper voice of Amy Winehouse.
On her new album Sia hasn’t changed this approach. She even went a few steps further, naming the album This Is Acting as if to clarify: This is not me. All of this – the pop star-image, the songs, this life with everything that it entails of myths, glamour and gossip – is not real. It’s an illusion. It’s acting.
In that way, she evokes the spirit of the recently passed David Bowie, who throughout the ’70s reinvented himself through different characters, never revealing his true inner self. Quite simply because it doesn’t exist. The inner self is a lie. Sia seems to say the same with her new album. The inner self doesn’t have a core. Or a truth. Instead it consists of many different personalities. All of them fighting for attention, or the opposite, fighting for the right be left alone.
In light of the release of This Is Acting, we’ve picked five standout tracks from Sia’s career, showing her incredible range as both a songwriter and a performer.
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1. Breathe Me
In 2004 Sia released her third album, Colour the Small One, featuring the song “Breathe Me.” Unlike the Sia productions we have come to know today, “Breathe Me” is a gentle and understated piano-led composition that requires the listener’s full attention. “Be my friend / Hold me, wrap me up / Unfold me / I am small and needy / Warm me up / And breathe me,” she half-whispers while a subtle beat underscores the devastating lyrics.
The song was later used during the last episode of the HBO show Six Feet Under, creating one of the most memorable and heartbreaking finales in television history.
“Chandelier,” the lead single off 1000 Forms of Fear, encapsulates everything that makes Sia’s music so captivating and unique. The drama, the bombast, the melancholy and the spellbinding vocal performance that seems to defy what is humanly possible.
Her voice rises and rises through the song’s duration, unremittingly building new drama and reaching new heights. “I’m gonna swing from the chandelier / I’m gonna live like tomorrow doesn’t exist,” Sia cries while the tears run down her cheek and the world continues to spin.
3. Elastic Heart
First released in 2014 as part of the soundtrack for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, featuring production from Diplo and guest vocals from The Weeknd, Sia decided to re-record a solo version for 1000 Forms of Fear and releasing it as a single.
The single was followed by a an abstract and utterly gripping video starring Hollywood enfant terrible Shia LaBeouf and 12-year old dancer Maddie Ziegler engaged in a dance-fight that beautifully mirrored the underlying themes of independence and liberation expressed in the lyrics: “You did not break me. I’m still fighting for peace.” The result is a stunning, breathtaking and unique piece of pop art.
Following the release of her fifth studio album, We Are Born, in 2010, Sia decided to concentrate on writing song for others instead of pursuing a career as a performing artist herself. One of her songwriting highlights from that period undoubtedly includes “Diamonds” – a team effort between Sia, the rapper Benny Blanco and the Norwegian songwriting duo StarGate. According to Sia, she wrote the lyrics to the song in just 12 minutes.
When the song was completed it was sent to Rihanna, who, according to StarGate, was ecstatic. Calling Benny Blanco from London, the two producers told their fellow songwriter, “She’s flippin’ out. She played it like seven times in a row. It’s her favorite song.” Shortly thereafter Rihanna laid down her signature vocals and on September 26, 2012 the song premiered on radio waves, going on to sell more than 7.5 million copies worldwide, making it one of the best selling singles of all time.
Which brings us to Sia’s new album, This Is Acting, her much awaited follow up to 1000 Forms of Fear. In an interview with NME, she talked about the album for the first time: “It’s much more pop,” she said, explaining the title further, “I’m calling it This Is Acting because they are songs I was writing for other people, so I didn’t go in thinking ‘this is something I would say’. It’s more like play-acting. It’s fun.”
The album’s lead single, “Alive” was originally written for Adele, but ultimately discarded. Instead Sia recorded her own version, and thank god for that. The result is a celebratory and triumphant powerhouse of a pop song that fits Sia’s voice perfectly. She even takes her signature vocal cracks to a whole new level. In fact, it’s difficult to imagine any one other than Sia singing this song and delivering it with such soul, intuitive panashe and an almost reckless power. A work of genius really.
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