What happens when a songwriter pens a tune for a client, but it gets rejected? Does it get wadded up and tossed in the trash? Or does the writer sing it herself? The latter approach is Sia’s solution on her new album, This Is Acting: every song but one was originally written for another artist.
Sia’s side-business of writing hits for pop stars like Rihanna and Beyoncé is well known. After a successful alternative pop career, Sia took a break from being a singer to write hits (or, more accurately, co-write them) for others. Her last album, 1000 Forms of Fear, served as her comeback, full of energetic tracks that sounded like a strange but wonderful combination of electro-pop and Top 40.
Singing songs she originally wrote for others is not new for Sia. She wrote “Titanium” for David Guetta, which he released with her demo vocals—without her permission. She’s also covered “Diamonds” (written for Rihanna) live. Now she’s reclaiming the very songs that were rejected by her clients, and in doing so, showing us that rejected songs don’t have to be failures.
Sia’s radical concept is executed beautifully. This fantastic record opens with the empowering “Bird Set Free,” an energetic song about survival. In the pre-chorus, Sia harmonizes with herself on the line “I don’t wanna die,” turning it into a defiant prayer. When the chorus comes, it’s a surge of pulsating energy that leaves no doubt that the narrator will overcome.
“One Million Bullets,” the only song on the album that Sia originally wrote for herself, starts out like a mellifluous lullaby, showcasing the lower part of her vocal range before transitioning to a chorus belted with almost tangible feeling. Throughout the song, the ends of words are drawn out in vocal ripples and echoes, stunning examples of the unique vocal embellishments that Sia is known for.
Another highlight is the hypnotically catchy track “House on Fire,” which showcases Sia’s slurred vocal style. “Space Between” stands out as a slow ballad with bare, gorgeous vocals that recall Sia’s early hit “Breathe Me.” Unfortunately, however, the concept isn’t failsafe: “Move Your Body” and “Sweet Design” stick out as songs that don’t work as well for Sia’s vocal style.
With This Is Acting, Sia also shines a light on the process of writing songs for pop stars. As an innovative experiment, This Is Acting is a success. As an album, it is fantastic. It feels like part of a natural progression for Sia, and an excellent way for her career as an artist and as a songwriter to exist in harmony.
Sia's This Is Acting is out now on RCA Records! Click here to download it on iTunes.
Image Via RCA
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Madeline Raynor is a New York City-based writer. She is a Blog Editor at BUST. She has written for Splitsider, The Billfold, Death and Taxes, Mashable, Indiewire, and Time Out New York. She loves all things Tina Fey. Word to the wise: her first name is pronounced with a long “i,” like the red-haired girl from France. Follow her on Twitter @madelineraynor_.