For the last couple months, it’s been an unspoken rule that the second I find “Chandelier” on the radio, everything else in my car becomes non-existent. Ketan once stopped mid-sentence, said, “Oh no,” waited as I scream-sang for 3 minutes and 52 seconds, then picked up where he had left off. I loved the song’s unflinching awareness of self-harm as a coping strategy and the hidden pain of those we think are on top of the world (see also Tove Lo’s “Habits”). The unapologetic message, “This is what I have to do to make it through the day, but I know it’s not really working” is hugely appealing to me.
And then I saw the music video, and my love exploded through the roof.
I mean, first, the choreography is amazing. Maddie Ziegler is an extremely talented young dancer whose graceful chaos is both attractive and disturbing. She is aggressive, confused, childlike, crazed, powerful, weightless, and silly. She is the cacophony of humanity, the riot of emotions that refuse to be categorized or systematized. She is too much–too much for her past, for enforced societal roles, for what she wants or what she fears–you can read a lot of things into this dance, which is what makes it so powerful. What is clear is that she’s cramming herself smaller, flying and screaming before ending with a perfect curtsy, one that continues for an uncomfortably long time as she forces us to bear the weight of her strained grin.
A couple days ago I saw Sia had a new music video, this one to a song called “Elastic Heart” which I know nothing about. That lends a weird quality to my appreciation of the video, since I’m judging it entirely on the dance and pretty much ignoring the lyrics.
There is an immediately obvious difference–Maddie Ziegler is joined by Shia LeBeouf. After an initial squick of “the prepubescent girl and adult man look naked!” I was immediately overwhelmed by how perfect the skin-toned outfits are. Never once is either dancer sexualized, though it would have been easy to let the tone slip somewhere inappropriate. Instead, the implied nudity is all about vulnerability. Maddie and Shia are laid bare to the public, ripped open beyond skin to the uncomfortable pain that lies beneath. The dirtied coverings perfectly convey the discomfort of being exposed without once being about sex. Brilliant.
When I first watched the video, I viewed it through the lens of a relationship, since I’ve been trained to think of any female/male interaction as necessarily romantic. I liked that narrative, but then I saw Sia’s tweets about how Maddie and Shia represent two “Sias.” I watched it again, and I love this. I love it so much.
Alluding to Carl Jung’s theories of each person containing both anima and animus forces (feminine and masculine), this video delves into warring aspects of self. The two circle each other, fight, retreat. In a moment of tenderness, it seems like there could be reconciliation, but the wild one lashes out in fear. The other becomes angry until it is clear that the wild one is free. In the cage, the two selves can fight in freedom and even safety. But now there is disparity–one can grow up and leave the other behind. In a last bid for unity, she re-enters the cage, drugs and tricks him into following her out, but to no avail. We cannot grow up without leaving some parts of ourselves behind. We cannot embrace one role without neglecting another. And so we’re left for nearly 50 interminably silent seconds to watch them fail to free him. Holy goosebumps.
I’m a huge fan of story-telling, but my obsession with words often makes me forget how powerful the medium of dance is for conveying emotion. Thank goodness Sia is around to remind me of its possibilities.