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Almost a year ago, Sia released the music video for her single, Chandelier. The Australian singer-songwriter is nowhere to be seen in this clip, which takes place in a dilapidated apartment, but instead, a mini-me version of her is present in the form of Dance Moms star, Maddie Ziegler. The story goes that Sia was a fan of the TV show and simply sent Ziegler a message on Twitter asking her to star in her video. Thankfully, Ziegler was interested and a year later, Ziegler’s name and faux blonde bob image is synonymous with Sia and her music. In fact, it’s still alarming sometimes to see Ziegler with her natural hair colour, a more honeyed brown than platinum white.
Although this pairing seemed weird at first, this has proven to be one of the most successful partnerships in recent years of pop music. See, even though Sia has release five albums prior to last year’s 1000 Forms of Fear, the always vibrant and immensely talented artist wanted to tackle her new album in a different way: she didn’t want to show her face to the world. Sure, we’ve seen her face before (heck, her Wiki page shows a photo of her onstage, smiling for the crowd), but after long battles with alcoholism, addiction to painkillers and depression, it’s understandable why Sia didn’t want the added pressure of fame to conflate her struggles even further. “If anyone besides famous people knew what it was like to be a famous person, they would never want to be famous,” she said in a piece for Billboard. And as an artist and songwriter, if she hadn’t experienced this type of fame before, earlier on in her career, then she definitely did so secondhand while working with pop’s biggest stars over the past few years including Beyoncé and Britney Spears. So after 17 years as an artist, Sia put a paper bag over her head on the cover of Billboard and declared her new anonymity.
Sia has long been a creative artist and is always searching for strange, new ways to express her wild visions. In her 2009 music video for Buttons, Sia is front and center, wrapping everything from pantyhose and plastic bags to latex balloons around her face, distorting her every look with zero interest in conforming to pop’s beauty standards. In another 2009 video, Clap Your Hands, Sia stars in the most warped children’s show ever, with her head superimposed on puppets. Sia knows how to create an interesting visual, but she also knows the most important part to any video: the music.
This is where Ziegler comes in. With Sia taking a backseat in her music videos, though still maintaining total control over the narrative and vision, she sought out Ziegler to be the visual extension of her; the face of the Sia brand, but also a careful projection of Sia’s personality. Zeigler (who is only 12 now) is youthful, an eager spirit and the perfect blank slate for Sia’s wildest whims. 1000 Forms of Fear contains some of Sia’s most intense and dark lyrics, which talk about the dark sides of depression and addiction, inner struggles that stretched across the room thanks to Ziegler’s reckless abandon displayed through dance in each other Sia’s three videos, packaged as a trilogy of sorts.
The fact that Chandelier became a smash hit was equal parts because of the powerhouse song and the stunning video. Sia delivers one of her best vocal performances in her career while singing about alcoholism and excessive partying and Ziegler mimics its melodic power in a one-shot wonder, a video that’s both stark in its setting yet hopeful in the hands of Ziegler’s adolescent vitality. Whether listeners took away the emotional message at the core or turned it into their very own late-night karaoke anthem, it was clear that Chandelier would become a catalyst for Sia’s new chapter in pop.
With an even wider fan base than before, new fans knew very little about Sia. For those too lazy to go a quick Google search, Sia was actually pulling off fame without a face. In interviews, she has confirmed that she is able to walk around without recognition, something Britney Spears can only dream of nowadays. But alternatively, Ziegler’s star has also risen significantly. The dancer now poses in fashion spreads and even has a fashion line with her sister called the Maddie & Mackenzie Collection. By comparison, Ziegler’s face is everywhere, bit unlike Sia, Ziegler doesn’t seem to mind the attention. At the end of the day, both parties got what they wanted out of this partnership and the two even remain close friends outside of projects.
Sia and Ziegler continued their working relationship, both onstage and on film. Ziegler joined Sia on many of her big performances such as appearances on The Ellen Show, Saturday Night Live and even the Grammys. Earlier this year, they released a second music video together for Elastic Heart, this time featuring Shia LaBeouf playing Ziegler’s counterpoint, showing two parts of Sia battling each other inside a cage, a pretty literal interpretation of Sia’s mind.
And now we’ve finally reached the end of the trilogy, Big Girls Cry. In this final clip, Ziegler isn’t bouncing off the walls or working against another person; here, she is alone in one framed shot from the waist up. These confines have their benefits, though: Ziegler’s limited to facial expressions and a frantic use of arms and hands and the results are spastic, often tough to watch, but ultimately as rewarding as their previous efforts. Ziegler has established herself as such an emotive performer that it wouldn’t be a surprise if she gave acting a try in the future.
It is one year later and Sia has pulled off a feat that very few pop stars have: gained international recognition and achieved enormous success without the use of her face. In fact, she used someone else’s face and while they have accomplished so much together, they have also individually benefitted from this unlikely friendship and will undoubtedly continue to flourish, but we’re not gonna lie: we’d totally kill for more collaborations between Sia and Maddie Ziegler.