On Sia, the Introverted Chart-Topper, Valuing Excellence Over Fame

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Mary Rose Somarriba
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Art Credit: via Opus Sound

Singer and songwriter Sia has done the unimaginable: She has produced a certified Billboard hit while swearing off the limelight. There are no radio show performances, no late-night show gigs. "I'm not touring or doing appearances or being in videos or doings interviews anymore," she said. "I like to be behind the scenes for now." But the lack of publicity hasn't hindered her. With the release of her album 1000 Forms of Fear, Sia's single "Chandelier" has rocked the charts, breaking into the top ten on the Billboard Hot 100.

It was an experiment many were unsure would work. Signing with a major record label while refusing to do publicity is unprecedented in the industry. In an age when fame is hyped as the good life and musicians are becoming walking brands, why would a mainstream talent like Sia shy from the limelight?

Because she's an introvert. She's experienced fame as a destructive influence in the past: All the attention brought her anxiety, causing her to seek alcohol and drugs for relief, and she is honest with herself about it. She knows fame can change some people, and she's self aware enough to know it's not worth the risk. It's not worth trying to gain more money if you're losing yourself in the process.

At the same time she is a skilled singer-songwriter with talent to share with the world, so she has found a way of getting her music out there without putting her face on it. Instead of changing herself and settling for current music industry standards, she is changing the standards to fit her needs.

How does Sia pull this off? For the few live performances she's done for "Chandelier," she has invited other, more willing faces in show business to act out her songs in creative ways, including a young budding professional dancer from the show Dance Moms. The result is a bizarre dance routine in the music video, but then, Sia never claimed to be the conventional pop star. The "Chandelier" video is apparently one of many videos to come from this album where other people act out her song and she only supplies the vocals.

Is it wrong that Sia encourages others to tread in the limelight where she dares not tread? I don't think so. Some people suffer from the pressures of fame; for others, it's less of an issue. I think for each person it's probably as varied as one's personality type; extroverts feed off energy from social situations, while introverts find crowded situations an energy drain. The challenge is for each person to know their limitations and accept those as a part of what makes them who they are.

In the past couple years, Sia stayed behind the scenes by writing her songs for other singers, such as "Pretty Hurts" for Beyonce or "Diamonds" for Rihanna. But now is her chance to sing her own. In her latest album, with her own voice, she breathes life into the lyrics that came directly from her heart.