on Wednesday I excitedly awaited the premiere of Sia’s new video “Elastic Heart,” my favorite song on her latest album 1000 Forms of Fear–which is proving to be her darkest album yet. When she publicly thanked Maddie Ziegler, who famously danced to Sia’s first single “Chandelier”, and Shia Labeouf–whom I still have love and respect for–on her facebook I was both ecstatic and curious about the video. Like many people, on the first viewing, I found it kind of strange. It took some context to really appreciate it and then all of sudden, I was blown away the powerful message that could be behind it.
Many of Sia’s fans have speculated, in defense against the pedophilia and child porn complaints, that the video is about the struggle between kid Sia (Ziegler) and her father (Labeouf) who Sia hinted in a Howard Stern interview may have suffered from Dissociative Identity Disorder. She says, “Growing up he had two very unique personalities. One was called Phil and one was called Stan… Phil was like the best dad ever… He was fun but he was eloquent and he was present and interesting and interested. When Stan came around stuff got scary.”
Later on her Twitter and Facebook, Sia apologizes (even though she shouldn’t have had to) and refers to Maddie and Shia’s character’s as “two warring ‘sia’ self states”. Whaaa?
Whether you want to go with the interpretation believed by most of her fans about her father’s mental illness or the her frustratingly unpacked explanation, there are some themes that speak to depression and/or mental illness that provide a helpful context in which to view the video.
Nude Suits: Vulnerability (get your heads out of the gutter, everyone, there’s nothing sexual about this)
Maddie: Kid Sia
Shia: Older emotionally wounded Sia (who’s suffered alcoholism, drug abuse, and depression) or Mentally Ill Father
Cage: A Tortured Mental State/Illness
I’m still on the fence about what is going on the video but these representations make it easier to unpack some things. Keeping this context in mind, here are what I believe are the 3 most powerful moments from the video.
1. Maddie’s Exuberance, Shia’s Fear
On the first viewing of the video, it’s obvious they’re fighting. Kid Sia is seemingly taunting Older Sia/Dad and he repeatedly retreats in fear. He also appears to be physically wounded: limping and wearing bandages on both of his hands. Kid Sia persists in goading him. But is she really all that threatening? She is after all just a child.
Many of Kid Sia’s movements–her making funny faces and laughing, roughhousing, and even dancing–could be interpreted as either fighting tactic or simply playing. But in the cage, in this tortured mental state, it’s not how it appears to Shia’s character. Things are off, Kid Sia’s laughter is near diabolical. Everything she does hurts him and then when he tries to get close to her, he’s injured yet again.
2. A Reconciliation
When Shia’s character discovers Kid Sia can slip in and out of the cage he becomes enraged. Maybe his rage is out of jealousy or maybe it’s a fear of loneliness, but Kid Sia finally shows compassion. This time when she plays with him, it’s Shia’s character’s most somber and sobering moment.
This could mean many things, Sia reconciling with her past, finally carrying the weight of it, or her father finding a way to be a father to her. Whichever interpretation you choose or offer, a healing takes place. He affectionately grabs her hands and cradles her in his arms. He makes funny faces at her and she attends to his wounds.
3. No Escape
The last 30 seconds or so of silence are chilling. Kid Sia tries to help Shia’s character out of the cage. However, after whatever reconciliation that’s taken place, there’s a realization that the two can’t live in the same world.
They both try and cry, but after a while Shia’s character becomes weary and gives up. It’s of course not a physical weariness but an emotional one. He’s likely tried so many times to get out this state, hence his rage when Kid Sia does so so easily. In fact it’s this kind of inability to escape that leads to hopelessness and depression. The most powerful thing about this moment is not the interpretation, however, but Shia’s raw performance. Whoa.
After watching the video once, it wasn’t what I expected, a literal portrayal of the lyrics. Watching it a second, a third, a fourth time and so on, there’s meaning illuminated in every frame. The song, which I assumed to be about a string of failed relationships, now takes on new meaning about the emotional and mental states we often find ourselves; how they dictate how we perceive the world around us; how foundational occurrences can shape our lives forever.
What do you think Sia’s video is about?