If you watch any of Sia’s recent live performances, you’ll notice that she is, well, not completely there. Since the Australian pop aficionado’s viral video for “Chandelier” came out in 2014, she has used other actors to convey her songs’ emotions. While some say that hiding is only more distracting, Sia’s approach intends to keep her public image secondary to her art. By eschewing pop superstardom, Sia focuses attention on the heart wrenching compositions she is known for penning. With her seventh studio album This is Acting slated for release at the end of this month, how much longer can she avoid being sensationalized along with her music?
Aside from her inescapable chart-toppers from the early 2010’s like “Titanium” or “Wild Ones”, she has since written for essentially every major female pop star including Beyoncé, Rihanna, Britney Spears, Katy Perry, and Christina Aguilera. Even Kanye West recruited Sia for her distinctly anguished, cracking vocals on a new single “Wolves” from his upcoming album. Collaborations aside, she stands firmly at the helm of her own full-fledged, solo career. Last year’s 1000 Forms of Fear, which contained the four-time Grammy nominated “Chandelier” and the equally exhilarating follow-up, “Elastic Heart,” was wildly successful. As Sia gears up to release This is Acting, it seems less likely that she will be able to remain in the background like she prefers.
Sia is a rarity in today’s climate of constant exposure. If you think of any figure in pop music as prolific as she is, that figure most likely has a carefully honed, pervasive pop-culture presence, like how Rihanna has polished her DGAF image in recent years. Solely based on the effort it must require, Sia’s refusal to stand in the spotlight is admirable.
She didn’t used to hide her face when she performed, but the major solo success she enjoyed from “Chandelier” and “Elastic Heart” and their innovative videos increased demand for her live performances, naturally. With more attention on her solo work, she chooses to let her voice do all the work. After all, Sia’s explosive, faltering voice is unmistakably her own. She wants the music she writes and performs to speak for itself, without having to push it forward with a superficially curated image. Her mission feels altruistic, as if she is one of the last crusaders of pop music, battling to uphold the idea that it can stand alone and powerful.
I can think of a few artists who have attempted to keep their public personas hidden, but the example that immediately comes to mind is The Weeknd. Abel Tesfaye’s first few tracks were released in 2010 under the moniker The Weeknd, but his identity was initially unknown. And now look at him — even if he wanted to, retreating into obscurity isn’t a tenable option for him in 2016.