You didn’t see Sia on Ellen yesterday. Sia doesn’t like being seen. But you heard her, as she sang her hit single “Chandelier” with her back to the audience while the star of her music video, 11-year-old Maddie Ziegler of Dance Moms notoriety, performed. Ziegler wore a bleach-blonde wig, like the one she wears in the video, like the hair on Sia’s actual head.
At this point in her career, Sia is famous for not wanting to be famous. She’s the inverse of that Kardashian/Paris Hilton type, who hopes to be famous for nothing. Sia wants to be not-famous, but for something.
But is opting out an option for someone like Sia, or does she owe it to her fans to be famous? Sia, 38, has written smash after smash after smash. Whether you love or hate the sound of modern pop music, you can hold Sia responsible for it. To name a few: Flo Rida’s “Wild Ones,” Rihanna’s “Diamonds,” Beyonce’s “Pretty Hurts,” David Guetta’s “Titanium,” which features her vocals in the chorus and reportedly took her only 40 minutes to write.
If you’re a pop star, you’re nothing without fans. They, like, invented you. Having fans is an occupational hazard of making good music; if your work is excellent, you run the risk that people will like it, possibly a lot of people, and soon there are going to be swarms of them screaming your name when you make public appearances and maybe even when you’re trying to be private and not “make an appearance” so much as “go to Target.” And fans tend to demand a great deal in exchange for their fandom: they want access, and there’s never enough of it. Twitter is not enough if you won’t get an Instagram. Instagram is not enough if you aren’t posting Vines. Feeding fandom only makes it hungrier. Sounds exhausting and kind of terrible— and that’s just the people who like you.
Last fall, Sia wrote “My Anti-Fame Manifesto” in Billboard: “If anyone besides famous people knew what it was like to be a famous person, they would never want to be famous.”
Yes, there’s something a little hypocritical in posing for the cover of Billboard, even with a paper bag over your head, to talk about how you wish people would stop paying attention to you. It’s like a movie star on the Academy Awards stage demanding “privacy above all else.” Pick a lane, celebrities! With perks come pitfalls. If you don’t like it, come fly coach with the rest of us. Besides, those paper bags are all well and good and symbolic but Sia’s face, like all our faces, is only as far away as a Google image search. Which makes the whole display of hiding in plain sight a little pointless.
Unless the point is that she does want our attention. Just on her own terms.
Sia wants the spotlight on the art and not the artist. Maybe that wouldn’t be such a big deal, if she were a painter, a sculptor, an architect. But if Sia keeps her face church-and-state separate from her voice, what she’s really going for is a fundamental change in the nature of pop stardom, which demands image and sound be inextricably linked, the better to sear a brand into your brain: David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Tina Turner, et. al. The most successful artist to achieve what Sia seems to be aiming for, so far, is Daft Punk. And even they can’t keep their faces off the map.
Still, I like Sia’s refusal to cosign the “in for a dime, in for a paparazzo staring at you from your bedroom window” model of fame we all seem to expect stars to accept. Sia has struggled with addiction and depression; she’s attempted suicide. Her “Anti-Fame Manifesto” didn’t focus so much on the invasion of privacy, the stalkers outside Starbucks, as it did with the never-ending stream of vitriol that is aimed, firehose-like, at any person who tries to produce art in public. She calls it “that creature, that force, criticizing you for an hour straight once a day, every day, day after day.” Is it any surprise that Sia thinks celebrity is a racket? The murderer’s row of talented women who we’ve put through the chew-up-spit-out ringer is long and depressing, for them and for us. Why not try to keep her face out of it, if she can?