THIS IS ACTING by Sia

this is acting

Genre: Electropop

Favorite Tracks: “Bird Set Free,” “Reaper”

Perhaps now more than ever there is immense pressure for a female pop star to stand out from her peers. Each new “it” girl in pop music is the antithesis of the one that came before her. Some choose to sell image over substance (Selena Gomez, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift), while others push boundaries and set musical trends (Janet Jackson, Madonna, Robyn). One approach is never better than the other, as they work together to keep pop music diverse, even if a large chunk of the population turns a deaf ear and insists it all sounds the same.

Unfortunately, a pop star’s quest to be different also means that audiences are forced to endure ludicrous, artificial attempts at artistry when the Lady Gagas of pop music distract and beguile listeners with gimmicks and career 180s that rarely feel organic. In this corner we find Sia, who regularly gives interviews with her back to the camera and hides in dark corners of the stage while celebrities like Lena Dunham and Kristen Wiig dawn her blonde bob and flail about during live performances. It’s hard to understand (or care) why Sia thinks this counts as art, but these outlandish efforts continue on her newest release, THIS IS ACTING.

 

It’s plain to see in the title that THIS IS ACTING, the Australian native’s seventh studio album, is a farce. The album is a scrap heap of songs Sia had written for other artists but were ultimately rejected, leaving her with a major identity crisis that is painfully clear when the music takes jarring turns into other genres, from soul to reggae.

From the first note of the opening track, it’s clear Sia will make many attempts on this record to recreate her thrilling 2014 breakout “Chandelier.” And while “Bird Set Free,” with its infectious, growing energy, succeeds in its own right, these self-empowerment midtempos, or “victim-to-victory anthems,” as Sia has called them, are exhausting over the course of an entire album. Upon reaching “Unstoppable,” which could have benefitted from Katy Perry’s charm, Sia’s proclamations of invincibility start to feel more like a threat than anything else.

Over the course of the album, it becomes clear why each individual song was passed on by higher profile artists. “Alive,” a piano-driven Adele reject, and “One Million Bullets” are so unforgivably boring as they drizzle in slow motion that they even manage to drain the color out of an artist as eccentric as Sia. The aptly-titled dance track “Move Your Body” and the flashy R&B mess “Sweet Design” are anonymous and could be sung by anyone, but are better left unsung.

 

“Reaper,” co-written by Kanye West for Rihanna, is easily the album’s best offering because its church organs and folksy production are unlike anything else Sia has come up with. Still, even as “Reaper” and the reggae-tinged “Cheap Thrills” provide a refreshing relief from Sia’s power ballad antics, it’s hard not to wish someone else was singing them. Sia’s vocals, distinctive as they may be, are merciless and unforgiving as she shrieks and wails her way through every song. Rihanna should never be the preferred vocalist in any situation, and yet…

At no point on THIS IS ACTING is it entirely clear what the intention of the album is. Sia is a hotly demanded songwriter, and with good reason; many of these songs could be hits, and some could even be good if they were handled by a singer who could deliver with confidence. But her delivery is unconvincing, and the lack of any cohesive throughline for the album only accentuates each song’s individual flaws. Sia may be acting, but none of the various roles she tries on this album work. Perhaps she should stick to songwriting and leave pop stardom to the pros.

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

Tommy is a writer and beloved local icon of the Greater LA area. He greets every morning by listening to Britney Spears and encourages everybody to unleash their inner Poot.

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