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The Creation of Sia

by Rishi Malhotra 4 years ago in celebrities

How She Became the Woman We Obsess Over

Sia Kate Isobelle Furler, or more commonly just referred to as Sia, is most famous for her over-the-top exuberant artistic music videos, her emotional yet powerful fast paced ballads, and of course the brand name white and black wig. Her most common radio hits are “Chandelier,” “Cheap Thrills,” and the classic millennial soundtrack, accompanied by David Guetta, “Titanium.” However, Sia didn’t reach this high level of fame, prosperity, and brand level association overnight. Each of Sia’s songs tells a story, and to better understand the deeper meaning of those songs, it is crucial to examine where it all started from.

Biography

Sia was born in 1975 in Adelaide, Australia to parents who were both actively involved in the music business. Sia joined a band called Crisp in her late teens around the 90s during the Acid Jazz movement in her city of Adelaide. It’s crucial that it be noted she was a part of this movement because it shapes how she creates her music in the later part of her life. Acid jazz is a musical genre that combines elements of jazz, disco, and soul. It was something to dance to or even groove, and though somewhat distasteful to modern pop music that millennials listen to, this genre of music helped push the boundaries of what was accepted. The acid jazz influence will be further explored later and its appearances within Sia’s music.

After joining the band Crisp, Sia ventured to Italy for a year. Here she sang karaoke for a DJ and gained a little bit of starting momentum. From here, Sia decided she wanted to release an album. Sia released her first debut album called OnlySee (with 13 tracks), however it wasn’t a very large success and only sold a few thousand copies. She decided to move to the UK to move in with her boyfriend when the day before she was supposed to leave Australia her boyfriend lost his life in a car crash. Overwhelmed with this loss, Sia fell into addiction and depression. She even planned to check in a cheap hotel and purposely overdose; however, a friend happened to luckily call and save her. In her own words, she describes her boyfriend as the love of her life, and heavy themes of complex and difficult subjects such as depression, self-harm, anxiety, love with heartbreak, and loneliness seep through a couple of her songs. Her experiences of life truly help us connect, while after listening to a heartfelt ballad of hers, many feel a tinge of sadness.

She still moved to London and joined a British pop duo called Zero 7, where she became the lead vocalist. Her work with Zero 7 really highlights the emergence of the all familiar Sia-esque belting. In the early 2000s, Sia signed a record with Dance Pool (Sony) and released her first official album of the era of Sia many older adults are familiar with. Healing is Difficult brought hit songs that were very popular in the UK such as “Drink to Get Drunk” and “Little Man” which created the foundation of her fan base. In 2003, she released her EP Don’t Bring Me Down and an album called Colour the Small One. One song on that album called “Breathe Me” jumpstarted her career because of the immense popularity leading to the release of the Live Series album “Lady Croissant” and then a third album called “Some People Have Real Problems” in 2008. And then in again in 2010 Sia releases another album called “We Are Born.” Sia at this time was going through lots of anxiety coupled with emotional turmoil and turned back to her alcoholism and pill popping habits. She almost committed suicide in 2010 and disappeared from the spotlight for quite some time.

As we reach more contemporary times, Sia began writing songs for other artists that went on to become hits such as “Flashlight” performed by Jessie J, “Diamonds” performed by Rihanna, “Chasing Shadows” performed by Shakira, “Cannon Ball” performed by Lea Michelle, and many more. When she reappeared in public with the release of her album 1000 Forms of Fear she wore the now symbolic Sia wig. And thus, her current character enshrouded in mystery was born. Finally we reach the release of her last most known album, This is Acting with many of the songs being offered to many other artists but not being accepted.

Unknown to many, Sia actually released a Christmas Album called Everyday is Christmas which is filled with all original songs that feature a much more light-hearted Sia and strays from the darker, more serious character branding she had established. It’s one of her lowest rating albums because many still want that sad heavy hearted ballad they’ve come to expect.

Branding and the Establishment of Character

As discussed, Sia is known for her strong ballads and mysterious wigs. Her music videos are described as artistic and sometimes quite confusing. Jumping into her vocals, Sia has been recorded in studio harmonizing to her own songs at a low B2. On her higher register in “Déjà Vu,” she goes up to a D6 and even a whistle tone of an A6. In her higher registers, her voice becomes quite raspy and cracks a lot. In pop music, though, this intended crack is usually meant to help convey the emotional depth of the song. Though we may never know her what her reasons are, many claim that it could be vocal damage.

In Carpool Karaoke, a segment with James Corden where he takes musicians and interviews them while driving, Mr. Corden questions Sia on one of her techniques she referred to as a “melody hook.” It can be describes as a very shaky vibrato that is quite dispersed among Sia’s songs. Sia responds with describing how “[she] feels like I’m kinda making it tight or something (pointing to her neck).” Her vocal raspy quality could be attributed to her pushing too hard to reach or belt those high notes and after many years of dangerous technique, it could be vocal damage. Or another possibility could be the years of alcoholism and drug use. In an interview with Ok!Magazine, Sia admits that as a teenager she smoked lots of marijuana and that she believes this is why she can be such a weird person. Either way, whether for vocal health or emotional conveyance, this vocal quality has become a staple of the Sia identity. Especially in her songs such as “Alive,” which includes lyrics such as “I’m still breathing” and “I’m alive,” the co-writing of both Adele and Sia help convey this message of how both of them experience rough periods of times with anxiety and depression, and coupled along with the emotional strain of the vocal crack technique deliver a truly bone shivering message of redemption and their feelings of rebirth and drive to continue.

If her earlier albums such as with Crisp and Zero 7, Sia’s range happens to stay quite more in her chest voice. Her time in the higher belting range is quite limited to a phrase or 2 at most. Her music also takes on a very relaxed vibe such as one might have in a coffee shop setting. The average beats per minute (BPM) of her albums tend to have an increasing trend. Though hard to see, the number of songs that go above 160 BPM increased when looking at chart date provided by GetSongBPM (ordinarily, sites with tempos for songs can’t be verified due to the meter they may be counting in, such as the difference between a simple duple and simple quadruple, however, I independently verified a couple of songs with my own consistent scale of measurement), with each new album release.

"Healing is Difficult" 122 ABPM

"Colour the Small One" 128 ABPM

"Some People Have Real Problems" 122 ABPM

"We Are Born" 132 ABPM

"1000 Forms of Fear" 134 ABPM

"This is Acting" 128 ABPM

"Everyday is Christmas" 128 ABPM

**ABPM= Average Beats Per Minute***

The wig is another crucial part of Sia’s brand. No one can notice if Sia would be walking in the street next to you (some might), but for the most part her identity is shrouded in mystery for those who don’t delve into her past and look up her images. The wig is important because of 2 factors. First, it represents freedom. Musical freedom to sing anything you want, to like any genre you want, to perform on stage as fantastically as desired. It represents a release from the chains of conformity. Maddie Ziegler, who is often seen in Sia’s music videos dancing with the wig, is an extension of this idea of freedom. She is expressing her art and passion for dance. She wears the wig and becomes free judgement and constraints of the real world. Her connection to Sia can be seen as the Sia before her troubles. She is untouched by the burdens of loss, alcoholism, and stimulants. And Sia even said on Twitter “I feel very protective of her and my goal is to empower her in whatever choices she makes.”

The wig also represents privacy. There is something alluring about the fact that we don’t know every single detail of every moment of Sia’s life. Even her Twitter is managed by a management team. This wig allows Sia to live her normal life. It’s that branding of mystery. Sia on talk shows will wear exuberant over the top dresses with her wigs having gorgeous bows that are very large, yet you shall never see that face which resides under the wig. Privacy was a brand choice and it worked very well because it was something new in the pop industry. It already had divas, boy bands, a capella groups, solo song writers, divergent who broke off from groups, but it didn’t have a mystery.

Songwriting

Sia’s songwriting process as she has described it quite simple. She focused on one central idea such as in “Titanium,” where the central idea is, “I am titanium” and the overall resilience of the singer. From here her chords are quite cyclic and for some songs like “Diamonds,” she can write the entire thing within an hour. After she has her background down and her central idea pinned, she goes on and fills it in with filler lyrics. This creates an easy roadmap to the idea of the song. For “Cheap Thrills,” the audience member can easily discern that the singer wants to convey the message the person wants to have a fling and feel an adrenaline rush. As many say, “I don’t want to be here for a long time, I just want to be here for a fun time.” And that’s what the main line, “I want cheap thrills,” refers to.

This efficient style is known to work. Even though it’s how mainstream pop is made, Sia has proved it works with “Diamonds,” easily reaching over 10 million people and staying on the #1 billboards for a long time. This constant and strict style of writing also helps with the feeling of conformity. It’s ironic because of how, in a songwriting session with Katy Perry, she felt too boxed in with her creativity because of Perry’s style, however her creativity is still considerably boxed in by this formula. When you hear a song written by Sia, you can hear it (more than a literal meaning). The process produces songs that are familiar yet also different.

Going farther into her songwriting, we can explore the themes she presents. Sia has experienced tragedy as mentioned earlier — the loss of true love, depression, Xanax abuse, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and being diagnosed with a bipolar disorder. All of these things coupled with her acid jazz backgrounds makes her a very proficient writer. That same Sia sound we know now was first recorded in 1995 called “Sia’s Song.” It contains that sort of pompous extrovert tonal quality and confidence that we are now used to. Over the many years of songwriting and performing, Sia has been able to hone her craft. Her most common chord progression is a combination of the vi-IV-I-V or IV-I-V-VI. In general she likes to use those main I, IV, and V. These primary chords are the most common of the pop music genre and help show us why Sia’s songs can be so catchy. Let’s examine her second top selling song “Chandelier” and its lyrics:

[Verse 1:]

Party girls don't get hurt

Can't feel anything, when will I learn

I push it down, push it down

I'm the one "for a good time call"

Phone's blowin' up, they're ringin' my doorbell

I feel the love, feel the love

(Sia starts her song talking about her experience with partying is that she feels invincible. Forcing down alcohol allows her to forget her troubles.

These coping mechanisms involve her meeting men momentarily for a “fun time” where she feels all the attention in that moment but it leaves soon after. Right from the start, Sia is able to give us everything and nothing at the same time.)

[Pre-Chorus:]

1,2,3 1,2,3 drink

1,2,3 1,2,3 drink

1,2,3 1,2,3 drink

Throw em back, till I lose count

(Sia needs a friend at this moment, however, like many of us, turns to alcohol thinking it’ll numb the feelings on loneliness and despair. It’s really a call for help, and she’s going to drink till it all goes away.)

[Chorus:]

I'm gonna swing from the chandelier,

From the chandelier

I'm gonna live like tomorrow doesn't exist

Like it doesn't exist

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

(Here we get the introduction of our main lyrical idea and phrase. Sia is living her best life without caring for the consequences. The literal act of swinging from a chandelier sounds so fun and adventurous. However, there is a darker undertone of suicide. She’s literally crying as she’s having this good time and it’s possible that the chandelier is the noose.)

[Post-Chorus:]

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

Help me, 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, on for tonight

(When intoxicated, people don’t think about tomorrow’s worries. They just keep drinking and some do until they reach a dangerous level of intoxication. In a quote by Sia, all she says is “pure sadness. yes. very sad.”

If you keep partying and drinking, the night never seems to send and you’ll be able to “live” a bit longer.)

[Verse 2:]

Sun is up, I'm a mess

Gotta get out now, gotta run from this

Here comes the shame, here comes the shame

(She’s woken up from and realized her mistakes. Sia is running from her problems and now all those coping mechanisms that she held to numb her emotions are backfiring since her logical side is not subdued.)

[Pre-Chorus:]

[Chorus:]

[Post-Chorus:]

[Outro]

On for tonight

'Cause I'm just holding on for tonight

Oh I'm just holding on for tonight

On for tonight

On for tonight

'Cause I'm just holding on for tonight

'Cause I'm just holding on for tonight

Oh I'm just holding on for tonight

On for tonight

On for tonight

(This powerful outro summarizes our song. Sia partying hard to forget those pains, however almost losing her own self in the process.

But in her thought process before the morning after, it seems all fine and fun. Just one night of fun turns out to be a dangerous thing. And it’s probable this isn’t the first time this has happened.)

---

Overall this song embodies the modern Sia we known. For most this seems like another dance song that coupled along with her astounding vocals delivers this feeling on euphoria, but after analyzing the lyrics we know that isn’t the case. Even Sia commented to Genius, the lyric annotations website, several times just the word “sad”. Perhaps she looks at this time and regrets her foolish mindset to numb things. The fact that the “chandelier” represents 2 greatly contrasting ideals is fascinating because for most, only the positive connotation would be thought of. It’s all a façade.

This even connects to her other album, “This Is Acting”, where Sia presents all these songs that she didn’t write exclusively for herself. It requires her to dig into these stories and emotions that aren’t necessarily hers and requires her to literally act. The Wig could even be brought into this because acting is all about the facial expressions and body language. However, for most concerts Sia stands quite still with her dancers doing most of the movement and her face is obscured. We are deprived of those 2 facets that provide us with a way to believe her sincerity when she sings her songs. Perhaps that is why it is her second highest selling song, because unwittingly we want to have more from her. We want to know more about this story. Many of us relate to this story, however, Sia doesn’t give us much.

"Everyday Is Christmas"

We’ve become accustomed to this continuous cycle of sadness. That’s the brand name. “Chandelier,” “Breathe Me," “Cheap Thrills,” “Fire Meets Gasoline.” It may sound like a terrible thing, but we like sad Sia. We reap in her depths of darkness and nonconformity. The cathartic experience those songs bring is similar to the addiction of drugs. So when many fans heard “Everyday Is Christmas,” they were very confused. Out of the blue comes this happy-go-lucky Sia whom most didn’t even know could be that happy. People said she lost her sound. People didn’t like that she was missing her intense piano background with subtle beats and overtones of sadness. They wanted Sad Sia.

I think, though, that Sia doesn’t care. Ultimately she realized it’s her music, and after royalties received from helping so many artists reach #1 on the charts, she probably has more than enough money to not care how much it sells. Songs such as “Ho Ho Ho” and “Candy Cane Lane” help illustrate this new picture. Has Sia gotten help? Has she found healthy coping methods? Has she finally turned all that sadness into something stronger? We may never know the true answer, but her album is definitely something to explore. The energy of happiness and freedom radiates through the songs. She even has a song named “Puppies Are Forever” which helped raise money for PETA, to help animal shelters.

A Small Lookback

People might find this new empowered Sia confusing, but Sia is just living her best life. She is living to the fullest. Her entire brand is living on the side of nonconformity to the standards put out before us. If you don’t like it, Sia wouldn’t mind. Her success has been unparalleled and her story of how she become the pop icon she is today is astounding. We almost lost her 2 times, but it’s with grace that we were able to keep her. As Sia says, “bullets ricochet. Fire Away. Fire Away. I am titanium.” And she truly is.

Sources:

Corden, James. YouTube, The Late Late Show, 16 Feb. 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=S_RzBeC5ZJY.

Macpherson, Alex. “Hidden talents: Sia Furler and her formulaic approach to creativity.” The National, The National, 24 July 2014, www.thenational.ae/arts-culture/hidden-talents-sia-furler-and-her-formulaic-approach-to-creativity-1.466436.

Sanders, Sam. “A Reluctant Star, Sia Deals With Fame On Her Own Terms.” NPR, NPR, 8 July 2014, www.npr.org/2014/07/08/329500971/a-reluctant-star-sia-deals-with-fame-on-her-own-terms.

“Sia Furler Biography.” The Biography.Com Website, A&E Television Networks, 2 Jan. 2018, www.biography.com/people/sia-furler.

“Sia's Official Top 10 biggest hits revealed - including the songs she gave away to other artists.” The Top 10 biggest hits Sia gave away revealed, 30 Jan. 2016, www.officialcharts.com/chart-news/sias-official-top-10-biggest-hits-revealed-including-the-songs-she-gave-away-to-other-artists__13682/.

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Rishi Malhotra

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