I’m so happy that everyone now recognizes the staggering genius of Sia, and every happier to hear her back to her kooky ways beyond just wearing massive wigs on her new holiday album Everyday Is Christmas.
Yes, this is me blogging positively about a holiday album. Me, the O.G. Grinch, who doesn’t even accept presents during the month of December and has a daughter who thinks all the decorations are for Solstice. So you know I really love this LP.
I also really love Sia. I loved her before she was popular (again), and even slightly after she was cool (though I didn’t realize it at the time).
For many listeners, popular Sia starts with the bomb blast of the “Chandelier” music video in May of 2014, before which they were vaguely aware of her as a popular songwriter or as the singer of “Titanium” in 2011 with David Guetta. In either case, at that point she was already several albums deep into a string of unbelievably good releases starting from 2004’s Colour The Small One.
That’s where I picked her up, though I didn’t grab it until 2006 during a little binge on European-sounding trip hop albums (that also included Instinct by Mandalay). What I didn’t realize at the time was that her “Breathe Me” on Colour was the same song that my impeccable curator surrogate aunt Maggie (and the entire internet, in retrospect) had been raving about since it was prominently featured on the finale of Six Feet Under in the summer of 2005.
(I had thought she was talking about Anna Nalick’s “Breathe (2AM),” so I promptly picked up her Wreck of the Day and wasn’t disappointed in the slightest, so I never realized my mistake.)
I had no idea Sia was so cool, but I was in love with the unpredictable vibe of the record, which went from the icy piano of “Breathe Me” to something reminiscent of Dusty Springfield on the choruses “Where I Belong.” It turned out unpredictable was Sia’s strong point, as I learned from her neon-tinged Some People Have Real Problems with the bouncy “The Girl You Lost To Cocaine” and cartoonish, repetitive “Buttons.” She brought the same bounce and oddness to 2010’s We Are Born.
(That perception that was only enhanced by seeing her in concert, where all of her amps and equipment were completely covered in bright crochet, and she mimed along to her lyrics like some sort of demented marionette.)
Then, “Titanium” aside (which was released without her consent), Sia disappeared. Intentionally! She was done being a pop singer touring clubs and moving on to writing songs for other artists, which certainly came with a much bigger payday. Suddenly she was popping up on The Voice credited as a songwriter to Christina Aguilera rather than an artist in her own right.
I was so surprised and happy when 1,000 Forms of Fear appeared out of seemingly nowhere in 2014 and got massively huge on the back of “Chandelier” and “Elastic Heart” (and a lot of interpretive dance) it didn’t quite sound like the crazy, unpredictable Sia I knew.
That made sense, since Fear was written to finish out her publishing deal and the subsequent This Is Acting contained songs Sia had ostensibly written with others in mind. These were songs written as hits rather than a personal project. Still, their thumpy, radio-ready sound really started to wear on me over the past few years of listening. It wasn’t the crocheted cartoon character I loved.
That is why I am quite suddenly obsessed with Everyday Is Christmas. It is Sia at peak weirdness, totally unpredictable, singing about damage and codependency over a melange of bright new plastic sounds in what feels like an immediate sequel to We Are Born.
It also happens to be about a vaguely sinister Santa and and how “Puppies Are Forever.” Deal with it.
The moment it really clicked for me was “Snowman,” the second single from Everyday is Christmas.
It’s hard to explain exactly why. Maybe it’s the plaintive piano arpeggios and brushed drums in 6/8 sounding like a throwback to Colour The Small One. Maybe it’s the choir of auto-tuned Sia singing stacked harmony. Maybe it’s odd turn of phrases like “Cause I’m Mrs. Snow, ’till death we’ll be freezing” that feel like that old, unpredictable, whimsical Sia to me.
Don’t cry snowman, don’t leave me this way
A puddle of water can’t hold me close, baby
Really, it’s all of those elements together. As much as the song is an adorable new holiday classic, to me it feels much nearer to Sia’s more personal work dealing with lost love and struggles with addiction.
The cold where Sia wants to stay, frosty and in love, is shared addiction – and her snowman won’t last through the process of getting clean.
Let’s go below zero and hide from the sun
I love you forever where we’ll have some fun
Yes, let’s hit the North Pole and live happily
Please don’t cry no tears now
As I listened to the song and it’s lyrics more closely, I realize it is the prequel to “The Girl You Lost To Cocaine”! In that earlier song, Sia laments her lost lover a “still as a snowman” – snow, of course, being a frequent idiom for cocaine. This isn’t a song about an anthropomorphized snowman, but for an addict who cannot function without his drug.
I’ve stuck around, through thick and through thin
You cannot deny, I’ve always been in
But I’ve watched you stand, still as a snowman
But I don’t see you change, you’re always at meltdown
Yeah, I’ve been your crutch, your smell, sight, and touch
Yeah, I took you home when you’ve drunk too much
But I can’t survive with you by my side
See, I’ll never get laid while I’m running your life
The stacked harmony on “Snowman” felt so familiar and reminiscent of “old Sia” because it quotes the same harmony from the chorus of “The Girl You Lost To Cocaine!”
No, I just don’t wanna, so I’m walking away
There is nothing that you can do, I will not stay
No, I don’t need drama, so I’m walking away
Yeah, I am a girl with a lot on her plate
In “The Girl You Lost To Cocaine” we see a strong, resolved narrator who is empowered by being the girl he lost, but “Snowman” shows us something younger, vulnerable, and more naive. Here, our singer is still codependent with her snowman, still abetting his habit, because she thinks she cannot live without him.
Don’t cry, snowman, don’t you fear the sun
Who’ll carry me without legs to run, honey
Without legs to run, honey
Don’t cry, snowman, don’t you shed a tear
Who’ll hear my secrets if you don’t have ears, baby
“Girl You Lost” is all about walking away, but here she can’t walk for herself – she wants to be carried. She is averse to her Snowman getting clean because she hasn’t yet found the resolve of “Girl You Lost.” Here she thinks only someone broken – constantly snowed under their addiction – could love, listen to, and support her. In fact, she’s happy to join him in it, if that means they can forget about “the sun” of the outside world and getting clean.
It takes a songwriter who is truly at the top of their craft to pen an immediately timeless Christmas tune about a melting snowman that is also explicitly a prequel to her own song about addiction, but that songwriter also has to have a penchant for weirdness to even think of such a thing.
Sia is that weird songwriter, and I’m so happy she’s back.