Sia was a successful singer and songwriter even before “Chandelier” came out in 2014. Her song “Titanium”, credited to David Guetta ft Sia, had been to the top of the charts around the world in 2011.
Her billing on that record probably underplayed Sia’s contribution somewhat since she wrote the song and provided the powerful and distinctive vocals which made “Titanium” such a success. Although for someone who was trying to avoid the limelight, the billing probably suited Sia just fine.
She hadn’t even written “Titanium” for herself. She’d originally intended it for Alicia Keys and in its first iteration the vocals were performed by Mary J. Blige before David Guetta decided to use Sia’s demo vocals instead.
But the success of “Titanium” was nothing compared to the success of “Chandelier” a couple of years later.
As a “mere” featured vocalist, Sia rode out the success of “Titanium” without needing to come out of the shadows.
But by the time “Chandelier” started to motor up the charts, Sia had a dilemma. Some years previously she’d decided to give up all that promotional stuff musicians have to do to shift copies of their records, but her record company was desperate for her to something…anything…to get out and promote her new song, which was proving increasingly popular.
So began the more anonymous phase of Sia’s career where she would sing with her back to the audience or wear an outsized wig to cover her face and maintain at least some degree of anonymity.
You wonder why anyone would bother. In our hyper-connected world, finding a picture of Sia wig-less online isn’t especially difficult. I remember seeing a brief, if slightly awkward interview when she was promoting “Chandelier”. Sia said she wanted to be successful without being famous, that she wanted her art to speak for her, not her face.
It’s an interesting standpoint. At least it makes a pleasant change from the over-sharing celebrity culture we’ve become used to in recent years.
“Chandelier” is a very challenging song. The first time I saw it performed, including the dance routine you see on the video below, I was more than a little perturbed. I’ve listened to plenty of music and seen some weird music videos over the years, but this was quite disturbing on first viewing.
Then I heard “Chandelier” on the radio a few days later and, without the distraction of the dancing (which was excellent, beautiful and weirdly compelling, by the way, just disturbing…) started to appreciate what a truly great song “Chandelier” was.
Only when I appreciated the song for itself did I start to understand what Sia herself, and the somewhat disturbing dancing, was all about. As soon as I got that, I was completely sold on the brilliance of “Chandelier”.
On the surface, it’s a song about a party girl who spends her life drinking too much, living too wild…
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 blowing up, ringing my doorbell
I feel the love, feel the love
I say “on the surface” because, although “Chandelier” can be enjoyed on a superficial level, it’s really a song about what it’s like to go through life pretending you’re someone you’re not, living a life you don’t want to live, and supressing your feelings, hopes and dreams about doing something else altogether.
When you do that, you sometimes convince yourself that think you’ve nailed that old “mind over matter” trick. But you haven’t — in the long run, no-one can.
What happens instead is the effort of keeping your public persona intact starts to mess with your head and soon, inside, you’re starting to feel like you’re in a state of perpetual emotional turmoil.
That’s why I found the dancing in the “Chandelier” video so disturbing. A young dancer called Maddie Ziegler gets to portray through dance the feelings going round Sia’s head as she tells the tale of her own demons.
Sia’s own story, the strength of the songwriting and Maddie Ziegler’s dancing all hangs together and gives an insight…perhaps a little more of an insight than we might feel entirely comfortable with…of what it’s like to keep a “public face” intact on the outside when, on the inside, you just want to scream.
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
That’s how it works when you’re just trying to get through one day at a time. You live like tomorrow doesn’t exist. You can’t think that far ahead. There’s still the balance of today’s 24 hours to attend to.
Every 24 hours you pick yourself up and start again, repeating the cycle, but you can’t get off. As the Eagles put it “you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave”.
After a while this becomes your life. You’re scared about what you might find if you stepped away.
But although you think you’re frightened about leaving your old life behind and starting again somewhere far away, what scares you most…if you can admit it to yourself, is actually finding the person that’s really you, the person you don’t think is worthy enough to let out into the world or to be publicly acknowledged, buried deep down inside somewhere.
What if you find out that “inner you” isn’t someone you like very much…wouldn’t it be safer to keep going as you are? At least you understand the world you’re living in, and you’ve worked out how to deal with it, even if that comes at a terrible personal cost.
And what if nobody else likes this “inner you” either? After all, you’re not that keen on it yourself or you wouldn’t have spent so many years pretending that person doesn’t exist, working day and night to create a character whose life you live instead, so you don’t need to live the life that’s been yours all along.
What had started as a way to escape your demons has become a prison where you’re serving out your self-imposed life sentence. You start to lose your sense of perspective…start to blur your perspective between where the character you’ve built for yourself ends and the real you starts. Then you’re on a particularly slippy slope…
Even though you built the prison yourself and the doors aren’t even locked, you can’t bring yourself to step outside. You’re unhappy in there, but it’s a life you know how to live. In fact it’s become the only life you know how to live.
What began as a character…as an act…to get you through the day gradually becomes you. What you built as an escape route turns into a much bigger trap than whatever you were trying to avoid in the first place. Gradually you start to turn mad inside…
That journey, and the fundamental dilemma of someone who finds themselves in that position is captured so comprehensively by “Chandelier” that the song, and the video, can be quite upsetting if you’re not in the right frame of mind for it.
But it clearly resonates with plenty of people apart from me…at two billion YouTube views “Chandelier” says something powerful and meaningful to an awful lot of people.
It speaks to their lives and their circumstances, even if they aren’t in the showbiz “drinks and parties” lifestyle.
We all pretend to be someone we’re not, someone better than we really are, someone we hope the world will find more acceptable, more worthy of love.
That’s us on the outside.
On the inside, too many of us feel like the person Sia sings about…
But 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
It doesn’t have to be like this. But it’s hard to get grounded when you’re swinging from the ceiling.
The first step in leaving that life behind and becoming the person you really are involves coming down from that chandelier.
PS — just before we get to the video, if you enjoyed this article, please give it a “clap”. You can also follow me on Medium (here)to get new articles as soon as they’re published. And why not check out my book “No Words, No Song”, where I write about more great songs like this one, available in the Kindle Bookstore (here).