'21 Notes on the Cover Art of Sia Furler's Album "1000 Forms of Fear"', by Adam Curley

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Image courtesy Inertia Records.

  1. The Hair is a star in space. It has been freed from the body to which it was once attached (Sia’s body?) and is now surrounded by blackness. The album cover depicts only The Hair and not The Face. The blackness looks like the blackness of outer space: not a flat black backdrop but a blackness created from depth, as if there is infinity behind The Hair and, presumably, beyond the borders of the album cover. The Hair is emitting a glow. Well, The Hair (Sia’s hair? A wig? I think it’s a wig) is reflecting the flash of a camera or some other light source, but it appears to be incandescent. The light emitted from The Hair is what gives depth to the blackness. Stars light up the dark.
  2. Is Sia Furler a star? Is The Hair a celebrity? Can hair be celebrated? Yes.
  3. Sia Furler was born in Adelaide on 18 December, 1978. The internet does not tell me the colour of her hair at the time of birth.
  4. There are words under The Hair. The words appear to have been drawn quickly in pen, or scratched into the black cover with a sharp object. They read: SIA – 1000 FORMS OF FEAR. Just like that, with the em dash. Well, it’s quite short for an em dash. Maybe it’s an en dash. I doubt Sia would care for the distinction, but I might be wrong.
  5. Except there is a face. It has been blacked out, removed in post-production. The outline of The Face (Sia’s face? I presume so) can be seen against The Hair. There’s the shape of a forehead, a cheek and a chin. And an eyelash. At least one eyelid of The Face is closed, leaving the silhouette of an eyelash against The Hair.
  6. The eyes are the windows to the soul. Sia’s blinds are shut. Her soul cannot be seen. Only the roof of the house that bears the windows can be seen. Rooves hold little significance to the contents of a house. No one notices the roof of a house and thinks, ‘I bet a generous / interesting / happy person lives there.’ A roof is merely functional. But when was the last time you saw a roof without a house attached?
  7. Things that can result in rooves without houses: cyclones, tornadoes, other storms and natural disasters, demolition crews, relocation crews that dismantle houses before moving them. That’s all I can think up, and each one of those is destructive. The roof always belonged to a house. No one asks, ‘What came first, the roof or the house?’ Houses are built from the ground up.
  8. Did Sia experience destruction? A cover story in Billboard magazine, published in October 2013, reported that Sia’s contract with the American record label RCA stipulates she doesn’t have to tour or do press to promote 1000 Forms Of Fear. The story was accompanied by an op-ed written by Sia. The magazine titled the op-ed Sia’s ‘Anti-fame Manifesto’. The op-ed began, ‘If anyone besides famous people knew what it was like to be a famous person, they would never want to be famous.’
  9. The issue of the magazine featured a peel-off cover: A sticker bearing the image of a paper bag covered Sia’s face. The sticker could be removed. On the paper bag was written in Texta: THIS ARTIST IS RESPONSIBLE FOR 12M TRACK SALES, HAS A NEW SINGLE ON THE HUNGER GAMES SOUND-TRACK & DOESN’T WANT TO BE FAMOUS. By not revealing who the artist was, the cover invited the reader to guess, and then to discover the answer by peeling back the sticker to see Sia’s face and the words: HELLO, SIA.
  10. On an episode of The Ellen Degeneres Show in May, Sia performed ‘Chandelier’, the first single from 1000 Forms Of Fear, a flossy, big-chorused song in the tradition of the Swedish songwriting great Max Martin. The performance was a remake of the video for the song. The video did not include Sia but featured instead an 11-year-old girl, wearing a blonde wig, dancing around a set made to look like the interior of a rundown family home. For the performance, Sia (also, apparently, wearing a blonde wig) faced the wall of the stage set, her back to the cameras and studio audience as she sang. The audience knew she was singing because Ellen Degeneres told us she was singing in her introduction to the performance, and also because we could see Sia’s shoulders rising and falling with her breaths on the big notes.
  11. For a performance of the same song on the show Late Night With Seth Meyers, Sia (again in a blonde wig) lay face down on a bunk bed while the actress Lena Dunham (also wearing a blonde wig) danced around a white set. The set was made to look like a prison cell; a toilet roll rested on the edge of the bed and Sia and the bed were painted with black stripes to mimic a convict’s uniform or the bars of a gaol. Sia was not a person in this cell but a part of the furniture. Lena Dunham, then, was alone, the only prisoner in the cell. Her dancing was loosely choreographed, or choreographed so as to appear improvised (unless it was really improvised, but my minimal knowledge of television makes me doubtful of this possibility). Again, the audience did not see Sia’s face, only the back of her body and her wig.
  12. The performance on Late Night With Seth Meyers could be seen as an acknowledgement of the Netflix series Orange Is The New Black, in which the protagonist is a woman with straight blonde hair in a style similar to the wigs worn by Sia and Lena Dunham. In the series, the protagonist is a white woman from a privileged background negotiating the realities of the US prison system. The performance also recalled a scene from the first season of Lena Dunham’s own TV series, Girls, in which Dunham’s character—a 20-something Manhattan resident from a privileged background—danced alone around her bedroom to the Robyn song ‘Dancing On My Own’. Privilege is, of course, relative. I choose to use the word, but not as an accusation, simply as an attribute on which social and character commentary can be made. Privilege can be used in many ways, good and bad. The ways the characters in these TV shows use their privilege is an ongoing ‘conversation’ in each show.
  13. The song ‘Chandelier’ is about self-destruction, or surviving self-destruction.
  14. When I first saw the music video for ‘Chandelier’ and then, shortly after, Sia’s performance on The Ellen Degeneres Show, I wondered wether Sia was making a statement about the kind of role models the music industry creates. Here, a faceless singer in a blonde wig sang about partying to excess as a young girl danced around a dirty, sparsely furnished house.
  15. When I first read the Billboard article and Sia’s ‘Anti-fame Manifesto,’ I wondered whether anyone at RCA, a large record label with many famous pop stars on its books, would challenge the decision of a 38-year-old female singer to cover her face while promoting a single clearly aligned with the kind of music that clutters the top end of the charts. I have known enough record company people to make me cynical about these things.
  16. Is it significant that the wig is blonde? Perhaps: it is a wig and any other colour might have been chosen over blonde. Perhaps: Sia’s hair has always been blonde in promotional photos and so, particularly in light of the ‘Anti-fame Manifesto’, the blonde wig might be seen as an avatar of ‘the real Sia’; a synthetic representation of something human that can be easily reproduced—much like a lot of pop music. Even the sharp outlines of the wigs bring to mind Sindy dolls, paper-doll chains, cookie cutters. Things that do not come in singles. Perhaps not: many pop stars wear wigs of all colours. Should a blonde wig be distinguished from a purple, black or pink wig? Perhaps: I can’t help but think that the wig serves the function of removing Sia from her pop-music product for the purpose of involving others in popular culture. In Girls, Lena Dunham’s bedroom dance was in one respect a mirror to all who had danced alone in their bedrooms. The video for ‘Chandelier’—and the performance on The Ellen Degeneres Show (which can be watched again and again on YouTube; just ask me)—delivers the dance of a preteen girl, a target demographic of the pop-music market, without the face of the singer inspiring the dance. The emphasis is on response rather than cause, the cause being the pop star, the personality, the soul behind the eye-windows.
  17. When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are. Does it make a difference which star you wish upon?
  18. I see a face. I do. Because I’ve seen Sia Furler’s face before in promotional and tabloid photos and in videos and on the covers of her previous albums, when I watch the performances and when I look at the outline of the face on the album cover, I imagine Sia’s face. I watch her shoulders move up and down with her breaths and picture her mouth open, her eyes squinting; the soul-front from which the powerful notes pass. I also imagine an audience that does not know what Sia’s face looks like (as if they aren’t able, as I am, to search for pictures on the internet) and can respond—emotionally, critically—only to Sia’s voice. In that way, it’s like watching the TV show The Voice: I can see the singer but the ‘judges’ cannot, and it’s a thrill. I hold the information others want. I alone am privy to Sia’s personal experience. HELLO, SIA.
  19. There’s something about the premise of The Voice that makes me want the contestants to be acknowledged by the judges (who can press a buzzer to see the person singing, and in doing so state their approval) regardless of their vocal ability. I am empathetic to the contestant’s vulnerability as a performer without the prior approval of their audience, moreso than I am to the vulnerability of a performer who has the task of impressing an audience that has arrived expecting to be entertained. In that moment, it’s me on the stage. I want the judges’ approval; I feel—acutely—my flaws.
  20. The en dash between Sia’s name and the album’s title could be a minus sign.
  21. It could be that only one eye of the face on the album cover is closed. The silhouette of only one eyelash can be seen. In that scenario, I can picture Sia’s winking face. I can picture Sia winking at me. And I am winking back.

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Adam Curley is a Melbourne-based writer. In 2013 he was awarded a grant by the Ian Potter Cultural Trust to follow musicians around New York City. He has a piece of short fiction in the The Sleepers Almanac No. 9 (Sleepers, 2014).