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Sia – The Musician, Artist & Visionary behind ‘Chandelier’

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Sia Kate Isobelle Furler, better known mononymously as Sia – the Australian-born singer/songwriter behind the video that’s got everyone talking…

Chances are, if you’re familiar with Sia’s work it’s probably for some of her more recently released music – such as Titanium (with David Guetta), Elastic Heart and of course her latest release Chandelier. Or perhaps you’ve unknowingly heard Sia’s music with her plaintive voice soundtracking TV shows such as Grey’s Anatomy or Six Feet Under. If not through TV, you’ve still heard her work, albeit oblivious to the fact, via songs she’s penned for the likes of Beyoncé (“Pretty Hurts”), Rihanna (“Diamonds”) or Britney Spears (“Perfume”) to name just a few.  Or maybe you’re one of the 1,900,000+ people who’ve watched Sia’s stellar performance on the Ellen show via YouTube. But if like me, you’ve been a longtime admirer of Sia, you’ll have noticed a massive shift in artistic direction in her video ‘Chandelier’ and the obvious intention to shun the spotlight, instead directing the centre of attention to the song’s subject.

Sia - The Musician, Artist & Visionary behind 'Chandelier'

I first fell in love with Sia [see: obsessed] back when she was lead vocalist with Zero 7. From the moment I heard her sing, her breathtakingly haunting voice had me captivated and intrigued to know more about the elusive songstress. As she created hit after hit, album after album (from Only See & Lady Croissant to Healing is difficult & We Are Born), all within the slightly more underground music scene, Sia was securing her rightful place amongst the music industries best.  I went on to import every album she made within a week of its release (back then, downloading music was not an option) and my obsession with Sia was reignited with every new song released – the likes of Death by Chocolate, Breathe Me, Buttons and The Girl You Lost to Cocaine – each one pulling me back down the rabbit hole, mesmerising and always resonating in one way or another…

If until now you couldn’t quite put a face to the name, Sia would be delighted as she has no desire to be famous. Despite showing her face in past music videos and press imagery, she won’t be doing the same with the campaign for her forthcoming album ‘1000 Forms Of Fear’ (due to be released on 8 July), instead choosing to focus her energy on creating slices of visual art through her videos, as well as her live performances. Premiered last month, the video for her first single ‘Chandelier’ features 11-year-old reality TV star and dancer Maddie Ziegler (of ‘Dance Mom’s’ fame) sporting a blonde bob wig (Sia wants her blonde bob to become her trademark) channeling the song’s unhinged despair via the medium of modern dance. As you’ll see here in her performance on the Ellen DeGeneres show where she and Maddie recreate the video, this time with Sia performing the song live whilst stood at the back facing the wall, creating possibly the first example of proper performance art on mainstream US daytime television:

In a rare and candid interview in Dazed, Sia spoke about her recently released video ‘Chandelier’, dancer Maddie & her vision…

On her video ‘Chandelier’ and the polarising artistic direction…

I’m addicted to reality television and it finally paid off because I had been watching Maddie for years and I’d always been drawn to her – she has something very magical and otherworldly. She’s like a regular 11-year-old kid and then when she starts dancing it becomes a whole other beast. I’d been waiting for an opportunity to work with her and then I saw (choreographer) Ryan Heffington’s show, KTCHN, and it was so mind-blowing. I’d seen photos of it on Instagram and was like “what the fuck is this, it looks really interesting”, so finally someone randomly invited me. I’d been Googling this show for ages and I couldn’t find it, it’s like this weird secret. So I went and it was so outstanding I immediately approached Ryan about executive producing that show and taking it to New York. It’s very special art; performance art and dancing and general weirdness that I hadn’t seen in ages. So anyway, we had discussions about that and then it was time to make a video for Chandelier. I’ve directed videos before and they were okay. Daniel (Askell, the director) and I had actually made my first video ‘Breathe Me’ together”

“Basically I plan to put different people in blonde bobs, because the concept now is to create visual art”

On what Maddie represents in the video:

Well that’s not really what I was doing when I conceptualised. I already have a much larger concept for this album and for how I’m going to present it and that was: I don’t want to be famous. If Amy Winehouse was a beehive then I guess I’m a blonde bob. I thought ‘well if that’s my brand, how can I avoid having to use my face to sell something’, so my intention was to create a blonde bob brand. Throughout this whole thing I’ll put a different person in a blonde bob and either they lip-synch while I’m doing a live performance or they perform a dance or do some sort of performance while I have my back to the audience, as with Ellen. I recently recorded a bunch of stuff for VH1 where a 78-year-old woman wears the blonde bob and is lip-synching on a treadmill. Then there’s a black boy that Ryan choreographed a dance for, who’s not a dancer, and he’s in the blonde bob. Basically I plan to put different people in blonde bobs because the concept now is to create visual art. I know I can sing and I know I can write songs but this is my time to create visual art. Directing all these live performances is really exciting now. If you look back to any of my more poppy songs, most of the lyrics are about being fucked”.

On the Ellen performance being a piece of modern art, with Sia sort-of-present, yet absent at the same time: 

I just said ‘I want to build this set in your studio, I want to bring Maddie out’. It was exciting for her because she’s on a mainstream TV show too. Ellen was super amazing about it and the crew were so wild. I know that at the beginning of the day they were overwhelmed by my vision and were scared they wouldn’t be able to pull it together in the time frame that we had. But by the end of the day everyone was so excited to be a part of something that was a little bit different. The day before in rehearsals Ryan asked if I wanted Maddie to interact with me and I was like ‘what an excellent idea’, so he had her climbing up my back and doing the little curtsey. It’s a real collaboration. I’m directing the live things alone, but with the videos I plan to always bring Daniel with me because I need that kind of support.”

On the strange juxtaposition of having a child interpreting the lyrics to a bleak song:

I guess I’ve always done that. Historically if you look at the majority of the videos I’ve had a hand in, like ‘Buttons’ had this poppy fun vibe with the disturbing facial manipulation. I don’t know, I thought it would be fucking cool basically to have this little representative, this little dynamo. I wanted to put all different types of people under those wigs and she’s an amazing beginning. It’s not a representation of a little me though. There was something in The Guardian about my parents neglecting me and being drug addicts and I was like ‘yeah, my dad liked to party but I wasn’t horribly neglected and they weren’t drug addicts’. I’m the drug addict in the family!” (Sia is sober now).

On how much guidance Sia gave Maddie for the video:

There was this period right before I hit bottom and got sober that I wanted in there and so when Ryan was asking me what I wanted from Maddie I said I wanted her to be like on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I thought it would be really fucking cool to have this little child imparting this adult experience. Then, if you watch the video closely, you’ll see a painting my godfather did of me right before I got sober where I was just like absolutely fucked. I sent him a photo of me one morning and at the time – this is how disturbed I was – I thought it was funny that I’d woken up with messy hair and had my mouth guard in from grinding my teeth, and now when I look at that it’s a grand reminder to never go back. So I put that in there because a lot of the art in my videos is my art that I own and my sponsee’s bits and pieces.”

About ‘Chandelier’ obviously being about dealing with somewhat ‘messed-up’ feelings, yet the songs Sia writes for other people are quite obviously nothing like those she writes for herself:

When I write promotionally, I guess I give away the songs I’m less connected to. ‘Chandelier’ I wrote intending to create a pop song for someone else and then literally I was like ‘uh-oh, I’ve just written a pop song for me’. I’m acting a lot when I’m writing for other people. I feel like I slip into a role and obviously I can write from past experiences, but as I said earlier I’m addicted to television. I love TV and I love movies and I pull so much content from the drama in all of those mediums and put them into songs.”

On where we can all get the ‘Sia’ blonde bob:

They’re about to go on sale on my website [laughs]. I think they might even be available now.”

Sia is hands-down one of my favourite singer/songwriters; and one that everyone should know about! Hopefully through this editorial, if you didn’t already know of Sia – you will now. Or if you have recently discovered Sia, but weren’t aware of just how many albums she’s released – you’ll be able to go back and enjoy all of her previous work.

Sia’s haunting, thought-provoking & distinctive vocals are second-to-none and she’s unquestionably one of the most talented musicians of our time. She’s simultaneously quirky, seemingly fragile, soulful and artistic, yet wilful, candid and a creative genius.

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