Critical Voices: Sia, This is Acting

February 8, 2016

RCA Records

“Everyone in entertainment is insecure. We’ve been dancing our entire lives for your approval,” commented Australian singer-songwriter, Sia. With the release of her 7th album, This is Acting, Sia dances for herself, producing music she believes in and has fought for. Producing this album was a bold move; Sia wrote most tracks herself and sent them on to large name musicians such as Adele and Rihanna. When these big name artists decided not to produce the tracks, Sia, trusting in the worth of these songs, chose to produce them on her own album. Despite initial negative feedback, Sia continued to promote and rework her songs. The album did not disappoint.

RCA Records

A common thread that runs through the album is that of struggling to live one’s life to the fullest. This theme is especially prevalent in one of the most well received songs of the album, “Alive”. The track begins with a light pulsing backdrop and Sia’s haunting words ringing through soft chords. “I was born in a thunderstorm,” sings the Australian sensation, her voice shaking, bleeding passion. As the song builds, drums begin to rhythmically beat in the background. Sia’s voice then explodes: “I’m alive,” she all but screams. A beeping heart monitor in the backdrop coupled with the intentional imperfect breaks  in her voice as she strains to hit higher notes match the message of the song: she is fighting to remain alive. Sia shows off her vocal talents, quickly changing dynamics and shifting registers with ease—she is able to catapult herself from her richer, lower register to her stronger, powerful high notes almost instantaneously.

Similar messages of fighting for oneself, strength and empowerment are likewise seen in “Bird Set Free”; “Clipped wings, I was a broken thing/ had a voice, had a voice/ . . .but there’s a scream inside we all try to hide…I sing for love, and I sing for me/ I shout it out like a bird set free.” Again, Sia offers us a look at her personal struggles and provides us with encouragement to battle through our own obstacles. Sia’s music is powerful because it offers us support; she is a role model. Accordingly, there is a necessity in the world for this album and her songs. Throughout “Bird Set Free”, Sia’s voice is stable, steady, and strong. Occasionally,  Sia runs riffs in her upper, breaking register, arguably meant to vocalize the “scream inside” she describes in the song. The artist has produced a raw, passionate sound; she has the unique ability to move listeners through her work, the mark of a great musician.

Another of Sia’s strengths is her creativity, highlighted in “Reaper”. In this playful song, Sia transforms the topic of death into something fun and catchy, treating the Reaper like a casual friend, telling the being “Oh no, baby, no, baby, not today”. Again, the common theme of wanting to remain alive is incorporated into her song; Sia is more afraid of not fully living than she is of death. “House on Fire” similarly carries this idea as she explains how she wants to “keep burning.” Sia’s music is a form of catharsis for the artist. In her personal life, Sia has struggled with depression and addiction, namely to painkillers and alcohol. Due to poor mental health, Sia was forced to cancel events in 2010, citing panic attacks and extreme lethargy as the source of these cancellations. At one of her lowest moments, Sia left a suicide notes. Sia’s music is a way for her to battle back against these darker instances as it heals both herself and us. Sia is still fighting.

As shown through the song “Footprints”, Sia’s work and life are intricately interwoven. The song revolves around the concept of there being only “two footprints in the sand,” that of a higher power’s as he carried Sia through her battles. Although Sia maintains high singing standards, showing off an impressive register,  her normal creativity is otherwise lacking.  The story is one we have heard before—the song failed to add anything to the otherwise strong album. A likewise musical letdown was “Sweet Design”—Sia’s voice is more auto-tuned and difficult to understand. The song revolves around her ass and dancing, themes that clash with her otherwise empowering words.

“Space Between,” a slow power ballad, is the finale of the album. Sia’s raw and raspy vocals definitively demonstrates her talent and vocal prowess, reminding us of why she has been such a dominant figure in the music industry these past few years. “Fill the void in our bed/ the space between is deafening,” she implores. Although the song transcends the artist, the topic of heartache and feeling distant from another person is one that almost anyone can relate to, the words and emotions poured out in this last piece still seem incredibly personal to Sia. Again, her tormented vocals make the listener feel almost as if they are witnessing her heart slowly crumbling and shattering. With a finale such as this, it is easy to forget and forgive the aforementioned misfires.

With the release of This is Acting, Sia once again allows the world to witness her soul through her pieces. Throughout her life, Sia has battled obstacles. This body of music is her personal victory. Sia fought for her music, and for good reason. The album is strong in terms of creativity, musicality and theme, delivering important messages of strength.  “Everyone in entertainment is insecure. We’ve been dancing our entire lives for your approval,” Sia commented. With this work Sia is not only dancing, she is laughing as well.

Voice’s Choices: “Alive” and “Bird Set Free”


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