In 2014 the world was greeted by a new form of artistic intellect; Sia Kate Isobelle Furler, better known just as Sia, released her sixth studio album 1000 Forms of Fear and exploded in the world of pop with her top 10 single Chandelier. The Australian singer-songwriter is renowned for her distinctive vocals, contemporary dance videos and her disguise from the world; the dichotomous black and white wig that masks her face and hides her from recognisable fame. But who is the artist behind the wig?
After listening to Chandelier back in 2014, I was instantly a fan of Sia’s unique and ground-breaking vocals that hit notes I couldn’t even dream of. Her voice is definitely standout in a market that fetishises cakey American pop vocals, and fans across the globe were captivated. However, it was her music videos that really captured my interest. Using the 13 year old Dance Moms breakout star Maddie Ziegler for her striking contemporary performances, her music videos stand out from everything else. Ziegler performs her dance in a way that can only be described as a form of magic, using her skill to create a narrative for the song and building a dynamic visual for the audience. The choreography behind Ziegler’s intricate and dazzling moves tell a whole new story for Sia’s artistic narrative in a way that is truly captivating for the audience.
In early January 2015, Sia’s music videos attracted a worldwide audience as Ziegler’s performance with co-star Shia LaBeouf in Elastic Heart sparked international controversy. Some viewers labelled the video as ‘pornographic’ due to the 16 year old age gap between the two dancers clad only in skin coloured leotards and trousers. Many pointed out that a “half naked man” dancing with a young girl was inherently sexual and provoked images of child pornography. Some viewers also claimed to be triggered by the clips of the young girl dancer with the older male; however, many viewers saw the video as the innocent contemporary piece for which I saw it. I personally saw the dance as a battle between two distinct forces – a thought trying to escape the mind, a person trying to fight their demons. This debate in itself shows that the video is a piece of good art – after all, what is art without debate, speculation and differences in opinion?
What engages me most with Sia’s work is the different interpretations open for her co-directed contemporary performances. On Twitter she issued an apology for anyone triggered by the Elastic Heart video, her only intention being to present “two warring ‘Sia’ self states.” This explanation for the video can be seen to link to her history of mental health; after the sudden death of her first boyfriend Daniel, Sia turned to drugs and alcohol for comfort, with the abuse of these recreational substances escalating as she began to attract larger doses of fame. After writing a suicide letter and ordering a large dose of narcotics from a drug dealer, Sia thankfully abandoned her suicide attempt after a call from a friend stopped her in her tracks, after which she enrolled in a ’12 step programme.’ It can be argued that the Elastic Heart video thus represents her two warring states, just as her two tone wig does; Shia LaBeouf, the state that wants to give everything up, and Maddie Ziegler, the state that fought to carry on and escaped the cage of addiction.
No matter how people view the artist’s visual creations, the important thing is that they’re original, striking and thought provoking. They ask questions that everyone answers differently – they work as art in its most distinct form. It’s thoroughly exciting to have an artist like this in a music industry that’s wholly artificial and succumbing to financial means rather than artistic ones.
Her lack of interest in fame is something that’s also ironically made headlines over the years; in an industry filled with fame seekers, Sia is known to wear her face-hiding wigs during her music videos, live performances and events. A source of excitement for Sia fans will always come from her small cameos in videos and performances. Talking to James Corden in their recent ‘Carpool Karaoke’ for The Late Late Show with James Corden, Sia says “I don’t wear this unless there are cameras around. I only wear this to try and maintain a modicum of privacy.” I personally love her way of rebelling against fame – her symbolic wig serves both purpose to her life and poetic justice to her career. It’s incredibly wholesome not only to see an artist to truly only care about their art and not the life perks that accompany fame, but to see someone with a history of mental illness reaching such inspirational levels of success. I only hope Sia has a long fulfilling career of continued artistic genius.