Good news, Navy! Rihanna‘s Instagram account may still be in flux, but at least we might be closer to getting something that resembles new music (penned by the woman who brought us “Diamonds”). Of course, Sia is more than simply the writer behind Unapologetic‘s inspirational single. While she’s written for the likes of Bad Gal RiRi, Beyoncé and Britney Spears, she is a stunning vocalist with four solo albums to her name. Her fifth, 1000 Forms of Fear, will be released this summer, and its lead single “Chandelier” is already a must-have on summer playlists, with a beautiful music video featuring Dance Moms star Maddie Ziegler.
As far as pop culture bases go, Sia has got them all covered. VH1 spoke with the singer-songwriter on fangirling over a 11-year-old from Pittsburgh, succumbing to reality TV marathons and the remorse (if any) that comes with knowing you just gave a hit song away.
The “Chandelier” video is great. How did you connect with Maddie Ziegler from Dance Moms?
I’m addicted to all television, but I also love reality television. So I watched the first two seasons, and then the drama got too much for me so then I would just scroll through and watch the dances at the end, hoping that Maddie would get a solo [laughs]. Really, I’ve been chastised for the last 20 years for my addiction to television, but finally it’s paying off. So my dream was to hire her because she’s such an exceptionally gifted dancer and actor, and then create a kind of world that she wouldn’t normally be a part of. I asked my friend and old directing partner Daniel Askill — who I directed “Breathe Me” with — if he would come on board, because we have such different points of view; he’s a technical genius and that’s my shortcoming. I had seen Ryan Heffington, the choreographer, in a show he had put on called Ktchn and it was so incredible that I asked him if I could executive produce the show and take it to New York, because I was so moved by it.
What was the collaboration like on set? Was Maddie involved in any of the choreography?
The gesticular stuff, I guess some of that was mine. The little eyebrow tug and the kissing cat and the patting of the belly and the spaghetti to the wall, and little bits and pieces were things that I had just seen while here in my bed slash office. We had the best crew ever! It turned out, for some reason, it was just a special day. And people were crying on set because Maddie is so other-worldly. She’s this sweet little 11-year-old, she’s so professional — probably the most professional person I’ve worked with — and then literally turn the music on, and something else takes over. She’s like a channel. It’s so interesting to watch. And I think having seen that happen so few times, it’s palpable when you see a really gifted actor or performer. It’s almost like channeling; there’s something totally different about their shift and the experience. Really, I’m getting two gifts.
What other reality TV do you watch?
Flipping Out. I love that show because [Jeff Lewis is] the most interesting. I watch all the Real Housewives but I’m getting less and less interested. Now I’m usually texting friends or researching something on my computer simultaneously, which is apparently very bad for your brain. What other reality TV shows do I love? There’s been some great ones. Well, you know the first reality TV show was Australian, called Sylvania Waters. That’s where all my dad’s side of the family lives, so, for me, I started watching that at the very beginning [laughs]. It’s been a long haul. I love Survivor, I watched that all in five weeks in a row [laughs].
This is your first solo album since 2010. How do you think you’ve changed since We Are Born and why release an album now?
I’ve been working and writing and writing songs for pop stars. When I feel either attached to it or I think, “Oh, this won’t make radio because it’s too whatever — either downtempo or the hooks are too intellectual to be absorbed by the mainstream,” then I keep them for myself. So slowly but surely I’ve [created] enough for an album, and at that point I was like, “OK cool, let’s get out of my publishing deal,” which is based in the U.K. So I needed to put out a record in order to like complete my contractual obligations to EMI. Of course, when you’re a pop songwriter, being a free agent with your publishing is pretty awesome. So it was time. It was a combination of business and content. And also I do have a small amount of fans (it’s grown) but I do appreciate the love and attention and I wanted to give them something.
Have there been any songs you’ve given to other artists that you wish you recorded and released as your own?
There’s one that I just gave to Rihanna. [Laughs] Like as soon as I played it for her manager, he flipped over it and [when] he left the house I felt sick. I was like, “F–k.” It was going to be on my record, but he was over and I was playing him loads of jams. And I was like, “Maybe you’ll like this one…” [Other than that] not really, I mean I did like “Perfume.” I would have kept that for myself, but Britney [Spears] is a really sweet gal and I was happy to give it away.
Is there anything you’ve learned from your collaborators over the last few years?
I didn’t work with them at all. I did spend a month with Beyoncé in the Hamptons, but the collaborative process is always between me and a track writer. And then in Beyoncé’s case, she would come in at the end of day and then she would give direction. And then finally she would take away the song and sometimes she would replace little bits and pieces or like add a couple sentences at the end, and so that’s how that worked. But Britney, oh yeah, I did write with Britney! [Laughs] “Perfume” I wrote that with Christopher Braide and I delivered it to them… Most of the time I don’t work with the artist because I’m so fast it often dilutes the process. I’m like channeling, what I’m doing. So when I have anyone interrupting that flow, it just slows me down. But there are obviously artists that I make exceptions for. So when you say what I’ve learned [laughs]? I sound like an a–hole. I guess I’ve just learned a hard work ethic from all of them. You know, they work really hard and I just get to be behind the scenes, which I love. And they’re out every day, flogging away, selling their product. And that is not for me.
I’m in awe of how quickly you can write songs. “Diamonds,” you wrote in 14 minutes.
Yeah, that was weird. It was somewhere between 14 and 20 and then it took me 20 minutes to actually cut the vocals, and that was all the vocals and all the harmonies and stuff like that. But I’m quick at that. That’s just channeling. Also, it’s a pretty simple song if you listen to the lyrics. And melodically, it’s very simple.
[Photo Credit: Getty Images]