Early on New Year’s Day, after a moderate but enjoyable night of celebrating, I settled down in front of my computer to catch up on a couple of songs I had been meaning to download. One of them was Sia’s “Chandelier” – a song which I had heard snippets of here and there for a while but did not take real notice of until a short car ride a few weeks before. A week or so later, a video my sister shared with me made me realize that the really cool video I had briefly seen parts of during a sleepless night of jet lag overseas coupled with the song I had enjoyed in the car. So I decided I should go ahead and download this song.
The first thing I did, though, was look up the lyrics. And what I discovered sent me down such a delightful spiral of surprise. The song that I had admired for all of its classic pop-empowerment-ballad characteristics was, actually, incredibly sad.
In its most simple form, “Chandelier” is about alcoholism, and is, apparently, partially autobiographical. The lyrics tell the story of a typical night lost to acute intoxication (“one two three, one two three – drink, one two three, one two three – drink” make for a gripping chanting rhythm before Sia launches into the chorus), filled with both desperate grabs for glory and the harrowing fear of failing; or, in this case, the lyrics invoke the imagery of falling.
Yet the depth of “Chandlier,” I would argue, goes far beyond an exploration of a particular substance abuse problem. Indeed, it seems like the very trick the song pulls – the trick I fell for – is manipulating the celebratory sound of an explosive composition to actually reflect on the sadness most of us, in some point in our lives, try to run away from. Moreover, in writing a song about the possible consequences of non-stop partying, Sia’s song implicitly critiques the limitations of the kind of models most young women are offered for both feeling successful in their social life (the opening verse of the song has Sia talking about how everyone calls her to come out and party; “I feel the love, I feel the love,” she sings) and expressing themselves in the same sphere. As Sia explained, “I wrote the song because there’s so many party-girl anthems in pop. And I thought it’d be interesting to do a different take on that.”