Friday, July 11, 2014

You Gotta Have A Gimmick

By now you're all aware I'm a big music fan, and someone who spends what little disposable income she has on live music where and when she can. One of my favourite acts, both on record and live in person, is the songwriter of the hour, Sia Furler, more commonly known simply by her first name. Yes, she's reached the point of Cher, Madonna and Kylie - Sia is enough to tell people who she is. She's just that famous enough.

Except that, unless you've been living under a rock for the last couple of months, fame is exactly what she's trying to eschew. 

The massive single from her new album Chandelier is everywhere right now, at least in Australia - shops, radio, spotify hit lists, being sung randomly by buskers on the street - it seems you can't go anywhere without hearing her soaring vocals belt out the party girl ballad of a woman who's reached her breaking point. And then the requests from talk show hosts came rolling in, and the press campaign suddenly exploded and that's when, according to the popular narrative right now, Sia decided she didn't want to be famous and started hiding her face from everybody while performing. She famously went on Ellen and sang into a dark corner while the little girl from the (very weird) film clip pranced all over the set. Sia didn't even face the audience when Ellen came over and hugged her. Then she did the same thing on Jimmy Kimmel for a couple of songs while little Maddie danced again. At the same time, she's stopped doing press interviews, leaving commentators to speculate as to whether this sudden shyness is a gimmick or something more serious. (For just some of these columns see herehere, and here.)

I'm here to posit that it's something more serious. In fact, I think it's perfectly understandable. Nor do I think that this 'sudden' shyness is really all that sudden. 

As far back as 2 years ago Sia was on her twitter account saying that she, regrettably, would no longer tour her music. Her fame was already on the rise thanks to penning major hits for Beyonce, Christina Aguilera, David Guetta, Rihanna and Kylie, and she didn't want a bar of the fame that those artists experience. She has several illnesses, one of which is bipolar, and has repeatedly stated in the intervening months that performance is too much for her to handle, let alone the fame that goes with having a monster record. It's also worth pointing out that Chandelier went viral a month or so before the press for her new record started in earnest, so her refusing to perform according to the usual rules was not a gimmick to sell more singles. Her music was good enough to sail on its own.

I'm going to declare some biases up front. I love Sia unashamedly, for her talent, her voice and her attitude. I'm also a performer who suffers from a mental illness of the same calibre, and one who deliberately picks and chooses her work based on whether or not the church a couple is getting married in has pillars for me to hide behind or a gallery upstairs where people can't gawk at me. Understandably I feel compelled to provide a sympathetic point of view on this rather stupid media debate. 

I think the people who are pointing fingers in this instance are not only ignorant of the timeline which has led to this point, but are also unaware of the very real implications of mental illness for a performer. I believe that Sia is a genuine artist, and not playing games with us, however much this latest behaviour may strike us as gimmicky. She has earned the right to have her demons taken seriously, and even if she hadn't, what's wrong with someone doing things a little differently?

And for what it's worth, the new record is amazing and you should buy it.