“I’ve never been a ‘priority’ before,” she said in 2010. “This buzz doesn’t just come because of a good song. It’s marketing. Which is sick. This is a sick business. It’s so sad. Knowing now what goes into making a successful artist, it’s disheartening.”
She put the blame on Internet users and news cycles in her “Anti-Fame Manifesto” last year: “If anyone besides famous people knew what it was like to be a famous person, they would never want to be famous. Imagine the stereotypical highly opinionated, completely uninformed mother-in-law character and apply it to every teenager with a computer in the entire world. Then add in all bored people, as well as people whose job it is to report on celebrities. Then, picture that creature, that force, criticizing you for an hour straight once a day, every day, day after day.”
So she doesn’t show her face when she appears live, instead turning her back to the audience and using proxies — Lena Dunham, the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus, and a young dancer named Maddie Ziegler (from her “Chandelier” video) — wearing bluntly cut blonde wigs that resemble Sia’s own hair. She’s reluctantly referred to the wigs — on other people, of course — as a symbol of her “I don’t want to be famous” brand. Some would say that’s a gimmick not unlike the mysterious, even faceless, approach to publicity favored by buzzy new acts like The Weeknd. But to me it seems a tool for survival in the mainstream, where female pop stars can’t exist without being separated in Mean Girls-esque cliques and subsequently pitted against each other.
Perhaps it’s easy for people to judge pop stars so harshly when they give us so much of themselves, or at least their public personae. I put an emphasis on Sia’s backstory because her name gets tossed around in the music world, oftentimes with little understanding of her previous work as a solo artist, rather than a songwriter to the stars. Both have allowed her to create 1000 Forms of Fear, an album full of lingering songs that strike the right balance between violently raw emotion and universal uplift, between piano pop and beats the snap and pop in ways that are just a little off, recalling the patchwork quirk of some of Furler’s earlier albums. “Dressed in Black,” an album standout, represents the breadth of Sia’s talents: atop a music-box melody and hard-hitting percussion, Furler suggests death by heartbreak via funeral imagery and, in a very un-Top 40 way, two minutes of freestyle wailing. It’s impossible not to feel this woman’s anguish, but the damn music-box twinkles make you think she could easily be resurrected and brush it all off.
The real Sia is in the music, not in her proximity to established stars or an anti-fame attitude others have attempted with far less sincerity. Unconventional approaches to art often ask us to appreciate the work on its own terms, instead of in the context of conventional methods. It’s what Sia, at least in her third act as the reluctant pop star, attempts to do. And it’s a testament to 1000 Forms of Fear that you’ll enjoy the songs just as much if you fight the urge to Google Image search her.