I’m very glad Sia is now considered pop. Her brand of weird is right up my alley – she’s on my list of all-time favorite music videos – and pretty much every song on her album We Are Born is a quirky-electro-pop classic. But the David Guetta era was a #dark one. While clubbers who had never heard of the Australian songwriter jammed to “Titanium,” I furrowed my brow in the corner, bemoaning the mainstreamification of this former Princess of Weird. I’ve written about such drawbacks before, so hearing “Wild Ones,” for example, produced great inner turmoil: on the one hand, Sia could be easily replaced by any other girly pop star on the track, and on the other… let’s face it, that is a freaking incredible song.
But now it seems we’ve reached a happy medium. Sia’s new single is dark and peculiar, but also fits in quite easily at da club. Behold, “Chandelier”:
There’s no denying this song has a foot in bizarro land, but it’s got a beat just nasty enough to make Rihanna raise her eyebrows and mutter “Damn, girl.”
Sia has moved into the spotlight thanks largely to her songwriting, working with everyone from Britney Spears and Eminem to the Hunger Games: Catching Fire soundtrack. She wrote the music and lyrics to Rihanna’s “Diamonds” and Beyoncé’s “Pretty Hurts,” two tunes which share a kind of epic melancholy, all big minor chords and trance-like intensity. “Chandelier” is an extension of that sound, but with Sia’s idiosyncratic vocals – nasally, yet nowhere near dainty – the song feels fierce, desperate, haunting.
Its lyrics seem to revere and despise in equal measure the potency of partying. Riri or Katy could certainly take the following chorus and make it their own:
I’m gonna fly like a bird through the night, feel my tears as they dry /
I’m gonna swing from the chandelier, from the chandelier /
And I’m holding on for dear life, won’t look down won’t open my eyes /
Keep my glass full until morning light, ’cause I’m just holding on for tonight /
But I can’t think of anyone but Sia who could better convey the contradictions at work here. Beneath the celebratory imagery are suggestions of suicide, alcoholism, and an unavoidable desperation bordering on the existential. In Sia’s hands, the phrase “like tomorrow doesn’t exist” is anguish rather than ecstasy.
I’m not sure what it says about 2014 pop culture that in order to swim in the mainstream, Sia had to dip her wackiness in something darker. But her forthcoming album seems on trend with weird alternative music straddling the charts – St. Vincent has undergone a similar transition toward catchier melodies and hairstyles in her (utterly fabulous) new album. Pop music nowadays is as odd as it is girly. We live in a world where Katy Perry melts somebody for feeding her a hot Cheeto and nobody bats an eye. Perhaps Mother Monster is to blame? I mean to thank, of course.
For quintessential, pre-dancefloor Sia, listen to “Bring Night” or “Never Gonna Leave Me.” A favorite among friends has always been “You’ve Changed,” a curious and caffeinated song with the world’s most delightful music video:
How amazing is it when the words stop at 1:30?? That musical phrase, “for the better” – tacked onto “You’ve changed” as an afterthought – is genius both for its timing and its distinctly Sia-like (Sian?) delivery. It doesn’t sound that different from “faah the doh doh doh dohhh” and you can’t help but love that kind of eccentricity. Here’s hoping Sia’s new album has room for both her newfound, earth-shattering dance beats and these kooky confections.
Oh what the hell, let’s watch one more: