Australian singer songwriter Sia is known for her unique voice and brand of music. The 39 year old has featured on tracks with commercial superstars such as David Guetta and Flo Rida, and in 2014 released her latest album 1000 Forms of Fear, which debuted at number 1 in Australia and Canada, as well as becoming her first number 1 album in the States. Lead single Chandelier gained huge success and publicity alone and the interpretive dance video sequence was also a hit - currently ranked at 445 million views on youtube.
Her latest release, however, has caused some controversy, solely down to the perception of the video sequence which was co-directed by Sia herself. It stars Maddie Ziegler from the Chandelier video, and Shia LaBeouf. The video sequence depicts Ziegler and LaBeouf engage in an animalistic dance battle inside a cage, and there appears to be a divided opinion on the meaning behind this sequence.
Upon release of the teaser, people took to social media to express opinion, and the conversation really got started once the full video was available. Mainstream media latched onto the buzz, playing with the branding of the video as mildly paedophilic and too sexually promiscuous relationship of preteen Ziegler and 28 year old LaBeouf’s characters.
Typical finger pointing at the artist has resulted, to the point that Sia had taken to Twitter to defend herself; she intended to create “emotional content, not to upset anybody” and stated that she had anticipated this reaction. The initial notion that the video was too sexually promiscuous has grown into a rampant rage almost, pushed further by paranoia spun in the media. Some claiming that the video is some sort of pro-pedophile propaganda, deliberately smearing its filth in the face of sexual abuse victims.
Unfortunately a large corner of society seems to have warmed to the media spin, and understandably following the horrific revelations of recent years in the sex scandals surrounding public figures like Jimmy Saville. The media has carried and instilled a barrier of fear among it’s readership. So much so that it’s readership fall victim to any sensationalist posturing. When the mainstream cries wolf, the sheep all run the same direction.
Headlines crying “LaBeouf in video paedophile controversy” will of course draw attention to the public, it’s controversial. Mainstream media exploitation of it’s readers appear as stills from the video littered across the various articles to push the point. The “12 year old girl” climbing desperately up the side of a cage to escape the evil clutches of LaBeouf who happens to be in direct eyeline with her torso, or the moment both are lying next to one another. Set aside from the obvious neglect that this is not some random 12 year old girl, rather an increasingly famous dancer known for starring in reality show Dance Moms as well as the Chandelier music video, the language of such articles propose that the video has sparked a “huge paedophile debate” with its “disturbing” content. A mainstream newspaper stretching the notion so far as to suggest that Sia was Austrian - rather than Australian (although they've since corrected themselves). Petty attacks on factual error aside, this kind of branding exploits the fear of sexual abuse in society and projects the whole sequence as a sexual metaphor, wholly neglecting the creative intent of the artist lyrically, visually and in terms of narrative.
Society needs to realise that they should not blindly accept the shallow opinions of headline media who prey on this, instead it needs to form its own opinions and delve deeper.
Essentially, any argument that the video itself is packed with paedophilic undertones can be readily deconstructed, and indeed there have been arguments against the controversy in support of Sia’s artistic vision, and this is the second intent of this article. If the power of new media is itself empowerment then exposition of the mainstream’s cry of ‘wolf’ must be explored rather than headed.
In spite of the backlash on twitter and youtube, there has been a multitude who say they relate to and understand the video in their own way. The lyrics focus on the feelings of being so close to breaking point but remaining unbroken; the world and circumstance has attempted to destroy the singer and have damaged her trust in everyone, yet her heart is strong enough to supersede the damage and to continue - despite being worn. The fight for peace continues, perhaps peace of mind as much as peace in her circumstance.
The sequence is interpretive dance, like Chandelier, and therefore mimics the state of mind that Sia personally drew from when she wrote the song. The inner battle of oneself, youthful and innocent younger self full of vitality (Ziegler) but ready to struggle, pitched against the older, hardened and perhaps closed self (LaBeouf) which is both defensive, fearful and curious in his current weathered state of the bright, expressive dancer.
The cage seems to represent the mind in which the battle takes place; the hub of memory, thought and understanding. The two polar opposites animalistically battle out, but hold onto one another in an attempt to understand each other. The younger self packs a punch and inflicts more damage on the destructive present self - visually contrasted in how Ziegler is cleaner, fragile and dainty looking, against the gruff, dirt smeared and masculine LaBeouf. Without getting into a frame by frame analysis, some moments reflected in the dance sequence include the fight to survive, the entrapment and frustration, the pain of the past and some paternal moments of affection and maintaining a sense of innocence notably when LaBeouf changes silly faces with young Ziegler in his arms - quite father-like rather than predatory. Ultimately, the past cannot escape the cage of the heart, be returned to or fully understood by the present, but it can provide comfort and hope. The lifts reinforce the awkwardness of previous movements in a hypnotic and poetic way, particularly when Ziegler is on LaBeouf’s shoulders like a child. These moments of comfort are short lived and are always combatted with moments of struggle and battle. The ending reflects the weathered self that the present self is drained and cannot escape the confines of the mind, perhaps through choice, but in holds onto the past and youthfulness - literally.
The lyrics and video couple to reflect a state of mind that turns the idea of mental struggle as weakness on its head, and in fact presents the idea that there is strength in the battle, a cry for survival and continuity between the past and present “warring” states which Sia has drawn from and used artistically.
Sia has experienced a lot in her personal life and career, having battled with alcohol, depression and considered suicide. She tweeted directly that the video depicted “two warring ‘Sia’ self states” and so this should be the angle we should watch and listen to Elastic Heart. She fuses her journey into her art, and her lyrical ability and artistic vision are phenomenal, suggesting she may be one of the greater musical artists in our time, all aside from the fact that her singing capabilities are outstanding. With this in mind, I think the publicity of the video should be in giving credit to Sia for successfully and fluently combining many art forms into Elastic Heart. Any notion of paedophilia simply reflects the sadistic and narrow-mindedness that can occur.
The media has a story to sell which almost undermines how sincerely it’s attempt to understand the piece will be communicated. We’ve seen posturing to controversy in order to gain readership - which ultimately is dishonest click-baiting rather than good journalism. Elastic Heart on the other hand is ferociously sincere and captures a variety of themes using a combination of art forms to speak, and dare I say it, is the most fabulous piece of pop artistry so far in 2015.