I first heard Sia back in 2013 with her Diplo-produced single, “Elastic Heart”. I loved it, and between being featured in the Hunger Games soundtrack and gaining an eventual remix from The Weeknd, it looks like everyone else did too. The song made a second wave with its music video, which featured Shia LaBeouf, fresh off of the whole “I’m not famous anymore” stunt, dancing around a cage with a 12-year-old. Sia was not only an amazing singer, but also an artist who was unafraid to step out of comfort zones, unafraid of backlash, and deeply possessed the ability to get weird.
These were the thoughts I had on Sia going into her newest album, This Is Acting, a 12 track experiment in which she took the rejected projects she had written for other artists and recorded them herself.
They say never to judge a book by its cover, but that doesn’t apply to albums. Just by reading the titles of each song, you are able to tell that this is more of a “traditional” pop record than Sia is known for. She compares herself to a “Bird Set Free” and a “House On Fire” on tracks one and eight respectively, as well as claiming that she would “take one million bullets” for someone (on an aptly named “One Million Bullets”), while also questioning if they would do the same for her. These are not exactly new ideas when it comes to pop lyricism, and that begs the question of, “Is this why these tracks were rejected by A-list pop stars in the first place?”
It bears repeating that Sia’s voice is incredible, yet even in this instance we are greeted with too much of a good thing. In every song, it takes one minute or less for her to get to the chorus, a.k.a. the point of the track where she bellows and belts extremely high notes for the rest of the song. We have one minute of chill singing and piano to prepare ourselves before she pulls what Drake would say is going from “0-100 real quick”. In “Move Your Body”, she only gives us 38 seconds before she gets into this zone, where you have to quickly turn the volume down in your headphones before your roommate asks why you are listening to Sia at three in the morning. She is serving me the five-star, steak dinner entrée, while I’m still stuffing the free breadsticks in my pockets. Let me eat my salad, Sia. You can come back and check on me in a bit. I will still be here.
“Sweet Design”, my favorite song on the album (which was also easily the weirdest), is also the shortest on the whole project. For an artist that cast a leotard-clad Shia LaBeouf to co-star in one of her music videos, I would assume that she would continue to stray from the norm, yet this album is Elastic Heart‘s antithesis. It does prove that she is an incredibly gifted vocalist, but each song struggles to show why it is different from the pack. If This Is Acting was a Jenga tower, you would be able to pull a few tracks out without it toppling. By this, I mean that the whole is still good and safe without these parts. Overall, it is a solid pop album, but one that refuses to take any chances or break the mold that pop has created for her.
But maybe the point of the album is to do exactly what I have been complaining about. Perhaps This Is Acting is supposed to let Sia thrive in a space that isn’t naturally hers, and that by sticking to the standards, she is effectively out of place. One can see where she came up with the idea for the title of the album. These songs were not meant for her to sing. These are not her words. By successfully making a record meant for A-list pop stars, Sia has proven that she is one herself.
“House On Fire”
Check out the video for “Alive” below: