Sia Steps Out Of The Shadows To Face Her 1000 Forms Of Fear

With an album like this, how long can she stay out of the limelight?

A pop star who shuns the spotlight seems like an oxymoron in today’s world, in which celebrities can not only grab our attention through their torrid love affairs and transgressions, but also their Facebook updates, Instagram posts and those modern-day gladiator battles known as Twitter “beefs.”

But that’s what Sia is — a spotlight shunner. She’s an arena-sized musician who probably won’t be hitting an arena any time soon. She’s a song-of-the-summer-spinner who declines to appear in the video for said song of the summer. She’s a Greta Garbo for the modern age, but has somehow captured and held our wavering, fruit fly-esque attention by dodging that very attention. Now that her most recent solo effort, 1000 Forms Of Fear, has dropped, the question becomes: Can she keep our interest?

Subverting The Pop Forumla

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1000 Forms Of Fear, out Tuesday (July 8), is not your average pop record — even though it may sound like it — and “Sia obviously isn’t our run-of-the-mill pop star,” publicist Lily Golightly of Golightly Media told MTV News of the musician’s rise. “I think that her reluctance to show her face and the reasons behind it (which she is super vocal about) is really interesting and almost art unto itself. I think it’s so rad that she can stand with her back to an audience but still give them a crazy amazing performance with killer vocals and interpretive dance.”

Yup, Sia’s star power is an interesting and potent cocktail. Her music is raw and throbbing — and dark — but she’s not going to let you see her face while she emotes. And that’s part of her power.

By now, you likely know the story of the elusive musician, but for those who don’t, here’s a primer: The 38-year-old Australian singer tried her hand at being a solo star, but found the pressure of fame and all it encompasses to be too much — she even wrote a 2013 manifesto against the limelight in Billboard, likening the public eye to a critical mother-in-law, and appeared on the cover of the magazine with a bag over her head.

She’s made her bones over the years writing hits for other singers — she wrote Rihanna’s “Diamonds” in 14 minutes, according to The New York Times, as well as hits like Flo Rida’s “Wild Ones” and Eminem’s “Beautiful Pain,” Beyonce’s “Pretty Hurts” and Britney Spears’ “Perfume” — and has thus far been happy with the money, houses and anonymity the practice has granted her.

That is, until she started writing tunes that would appear on 1000 Forms Of Fear, like the wrenching single “Chandelier,” which dropped in March.

“I usually think, ‘Oh this would work for Rihanna, or this would be a good one for B or Katy,’” Sia told “On Air with Ryan Seacrest” at the time. “But this time I was like, ‘Uh oh, I think I just wrote a full-blown pop song for myself by accident!’ ”

The jam was one of the songwriter’s first original tracks since her 2010 effort, We Are Born — in addition to “Elastic Heart,” off of “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” soundtrack — and would herald a kind of comeback from someone who never truly went away. And an unorthodox one at that.

“Chandelier,” like many of the songs off of the record, seems more personal than the songs that Sia writes for other musicians — and much darker, despite its anthemic feel.

That single deals with something she’s only too familiar with: alcoholism and the highs and lows it can engender in those who suffer from it. “Party girls don’t get hurt/ Can’t feel anything, when will I learn/ I push it down, push it down,” Sia sings, before launching into the YOLO chorus, “I’m gonna swing from the chandelier.”

“Chandelier” sounds like the kind of thing you’d belt into a hairbrush with your friends before getting ready for a night out, but the subject matter is … less than party-friendly. That’s the genius of the songs Sia pens for herself: She takes the structure of a pop song (jubilation! overcoming odds!) and subverts it lyrically.

Just a glance at the track list — and title, even — of the record hints at a darkness running through the catchy hits. There’s “Hostage,” a bouncy, almost Katy Perry-esque tune that sees Sia chirpily proclaiming, “You bring me to life/ Then you shut me out/ You keep me silent when I should shout.” She’s held hostage by this dude’s — or metaphorical dude’s — love, and it doesn’t quite seem like a good thing, despite the dance-y feel of the jam.

Then there’s the slow and sensuous — yet creepy — “Straight For the Knife,” a love-gone-bad song that reads something like a Sylvia Plath poem — if Plath wrote pop songs with help from Lana Del Rey: “You went straight for the knife and I prepared to die/ Your blade, it shines/ Look me straight in the eye, you turn the gas on high.”

“Free the Animal” bristles with teeth as Sia wails about a kind of love that’s damaging and hard, a pulsating jam that sounds like 2008-era Santigold.

Sia does write love songs, sure, but they’re smart — more analytical than starry-eyed euphoria. “Fair Game,” in particular, should resonate with anyone who’s learning how to let go of the bad boys and let the right one in: “You terrify me because you’re not a man, you’re not a boy/ You got some power and I can’t treat you like a toy.”

Sure, the record does feature some cliched imagery — she busts out terms like “eye of the needle” and likens lovers to “fire” and “gasoline” — but her propensity to pick a random image and then pen a song based on it, as described in The New York Times story, serves her well on “Cellophane.” A strange little song that features a crinkling audio track reminiscent of the title, it sees Sia calling herself “such a basketcase, delivered to you wrapped in cellophane.”

Mask’s On

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