My song and video of the year is Sia’s Chandelier. A fascination with the video came first. Part dance, part gymnastics, 11-year-old Maddie Zieger’s remarkable performance is more about cathartic emotional expression than classical ballet.
His own video about how he put these moves together is full of unconventional instructions like ‘wounded dog’ and ‘robot bird’. Zieger got the call after Sia saw her on Dance Moms‘ reality show – a fame academy-style TV show featuring aspiring starlets. stroppy coaches and pushy parents.
The song itself initially sounds like the type of formulaic pop song Rihanna or Beyoncé might perform, not so surprising since Sia Furler has written tunes for both these artists (Diamonds and Pretty Hurts respectively).
The lyrics to Chandelier are not easy to decipher but when you study them it is clear that a lot of personal pain lies behind the song. This is much more than affirmative disco fodder (although some of the hi-energy remixes seem oblivious to the song’s darker subtext).
The Australian singer-songwriter has struggled with mental and physical health problems and has admitted that she has an addictive personality. On recent TV appearances she sings with her back to the camera.
Her alcoholism led to a low point when she contemplated suicide. Chandelier, the lead song on the album 1000 Forms Of Fear, charts a downward slide from fame to shame.
The luxury lighting fixture Sia imagines herself swinging on like Tarzan (Jane?) is one that you find in upmarket accommodation. Clearly financial constraints are not the root cause of this party girl’s problems.Instead, the song is about a materially successful woman facing a spiritual void and drinking to blank out the fear “Throw ’em back – ’til I lose count”.
In this context, the resolution to live for moment “like tomorrow doesn’t exist” comes across more like desperation than celebration where “holding on for dear life” is the precarious survival strategy.
Wisely, the video doesn’t directly engage with this harrowing narrative in detail but still manages to convey a sense of fighting real and imaginary demons. The young girl’s plastic smile suggests how putting on a brave face to the world masks a maelstrom of destructive emotions.