I’ve always found the adage “big girls don’t cry” to be insulting, particularly when applied to grown-ass women. First off, we’re not girls. Secondly, the notion that the occasional sob is not human, is false. Being in touch with your emotions and taking care of business are not mutually exclusive, despite how much portraits of female professionals in positions of power like to harp on such things. And actually, tear experts (yes, that’s a thing) say that emotional tears — instead of reflex or continuous tears, the two other kinds — remove stress hormones and other toxins from the body, in addition to stimulating the production of endorphins. So there.
I know it’s just a dumb thing people say (and the Four Seasons sang a patronizing 1962 hit about), but it can be an irritating dose of half-assed tough love when all you want to do is fall apart. (And don’t even get me started on the fact that society has taught men — “big” or otherwise — to pretty much never cry.) So allow me to praise Sia’s new song, “Big Girls Cry,” for preaching the exact opposite.
In “Big Girls Cry,” Sia offers a mental follow-up to “Chandelier,” the infectious hit she released back in March. “Party girls don’t get hurt/ Can’t feel anything, when will I learn/ I push it down, push it down,” she snarls atop the reggae beat of “Chandelier,” acknowledging the vices we chase while hiding from our demons. “Big Girls Cry” offers a look at the breakdown that comes when she’s finally ready to face her problems, and it couldn’t be more necessary in this LeanedIn world in which strong women are taught to keep it together at all times. “I may cry, ruining my makeup,” she sings over strings and midtempo electronics. “I don’t care if I don’t look pretty/ Big girls cry when their hearts are breaking.”
Historically, pop music has served as a safe haven for female singers in need of an emotional breakdown, typically over love. In recent decades, empowerment pop has rivaled it as the dominant lyrical force among pop divas, many of whom Sia’s written hits for. Lana Del Rey offered up a diametrically opposite view of power on her latest, Ultraviolence, where even a cursory glance at song titles like “Pretty When You Cry” and “Sad Girl” shows you this is not girl-power pop, at least not in the traditional sense. As Pitchfork’s Lindsay Zoladz points out, Lana is the embodiment of the “Tumblr teen-girl aesthetic,” specifically as it relates to a muted sadness. Despite a shared acceptance of crying as a form of expression, this is not the world where “Big Girls Cry” lives.
Sia’s words have power because they acknowledge the pressure to be perfect, and urge listeners to suspend those expectations for a mere moment. LDR, who recently discussed her own suicidal thoughts in The Guardian, is in a permanent state of, as Zoladz aptly puts it, fulfilling the male fantasy of the perfect American girl and ending up so lonesome she could die. In her songs, Lana is a girl playing dress-up with society’s all-too-depressing expectations. But Sia is a woman, even if she uses the word “girl” here to subvert the common adage. So from one woman to another: thank you for writing about how grown-ass women can and do get sad, and how doing so does not require a Tumblr account.
Sia’s new album, ‘1000 Forms of Fear,’ is out July 8.