2017-06-17 08.26.39 1.jpg

Hello.

Just writing to catch and keep something of life.

the sadness in Sia's "Chandelier"

the sadness in Sia's "Chandelier"

Going carless in Toronto marked the end of my radio-listening days and the start of a steep decline in my knowledge of popular music. Every now and then, unexpectedly, a song breaks through my created bubble of pop culture ignorance (which, really, is quite the feat), catching in my mind as something more significant than another mindless melody.

This summer, I have been haunted by Sia's "Chandelier."* At first, the song sounds like typical pop fare. But listen carefully, beyond the Rihanna-esque beats and tones, behind the exultant crescendo of the chorus. The words reveal a troubled soul, a tortured one even. TIME called it "The Year's Most Sobering Party Anthem" and that is no understatement. I find this song incredibly sad.

Party girls don't get hurt
Can't feel anything, when will I learn
I push it down, push it down

The song opens with a lie, the demand and pressure of an impossible persona. The ideal "party girl," we learn, is immune to pain, unfeeling to consequences, insensitive to conscience. Of course, the following phrase "when will I learn" is admission that the actual cannot live up to the expectation. Complying with the expectation requires forced suppression, "I push it down, push it down," and, therefore, whatever appearance remains is a feigned one. The ideal "party girl" is a caricature, a lie.

I'm the one "for a good time call"
Phone's blowin' up, they're ringin' my doorbell
I feel the love, feel the love

Things complicate when we believe that our friendships hinge upon our performance of who others expect us to be. But it's not a one way street of merely pleasing the masses -- our party girl's anticipated return is love. She merges signs of approval, affection, and popularity with love. Our party girl lives to feel. She parties to feel. To feel what? Love.

1,2,3 1,2,3 drink
1,2,3 1,2,3 drink
1,2,3 1,2,3 drink

Throw 'em back, 'til I lose count

Is this love?

The music changes here, rising into jubilant melody.

I'm gonna swing from the chandelier, from the chandelier
I'm gonna live like tomorrow doesn't exist
Like it doesn't exist

For those with any familiarity at all with current pop music, this is recognizable terrain. As Sia herself points out in an interview with NPR, "About 50 percent of the songs on the radio are like, 'Live like tomorrow doesn't exist. Like it's my birthday. Like it's the last day of my life.' ... Such a large percentage of pop music is really about party time."

I find party time logic -- and the connection between hedonism (pleasure is all) and nihilism (nothing means anything) -- interesting. That and the degree of self-deception: "I'm gonna live like tomorrow doesn't exist." I can swing from chandeliers and party tonight because I am pretending as though tomorrow does not exist.

I'm gonna fly like a bird through the night, feel my tears as they dry
I'm gonna swing from the chandelier, from the chandelier

There's a twist in Sia's chorus though -- the presence of tears. Partying then is not entirely senseless or without meaning. To party is to escape, to distract, to self-medicate. And there is a desperation to it. 

But I'm holding on for dear life, won't look down won't open my eyes
Keep my glass full until morning light, 'cos I'm just holding on for tonight

Swinging from a chandelier suddenly transforms from an image of triumph to one of desolation. And the self-deception now makes sense: to look down, to open my eyes, to face reality -- this is too much, too difficult, too heavy, too dark. I don't want to think beyond tonight because I don't want to face tomorrow. To "keep my glass full until morning light" is to make my life bearable. But only for tonight.

Sun is up, I'm a mess
Gotta get out now, gotta run from this
Here comes the shame, here comes the shame

The dark irony is that all that our party girl does to hold on for dear life is ultimately futile.

Tomorrow does indeed exist. And worse, every problem and fear has failed to dissipate with the night and now is further enshrouded with shame. Where can she run to with all her problems, pain, and shame?

1,2,3 1,2,3 drink
1,2,3 1,2,3 drink
1,2,3 1,2,3 drink

Throw 'em back, 'til I lose count

When we consider all this, the chorus -- despite its beautiful, soaring musical quality -- is exposed to be a vain declaration. There is nothing triumphant about it. This is a song about a broken girl who drinks and parties in a futile attempt to feel love, escape despair, and find solace.

And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:35-38).

*While writing this, I listened primarily to two versions of this song. You can listen to them here and here.

the inexorable love of God

the inexorable love of God

I love/hate emotions

I love/hate emotions