In a world where so many artists make it huge for songs they did not write, it makes me thrilled that someone like Sia exists. The Australian singer-songwriter has spent several years writing hit songs for artists like Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Brittany Spears just to name a few. It was not until 2014 when she became respected as a singer with the single “Chandelier” which I believe is one of the greatest hit songs of the decade. It was brutally honest about alcohol abuse yet still managed to become a top 10 hit. The album that followed this song, 1000 Forms of Fear, was also terrific and definitely had me excited for whatever Sia would put out next.
When This is Acting was announced I was instantly intrigued. Taking her songs that were rejected by artists like Adele, Rihanna, and Beyoncé and then reworking them for her sounded like a very interesting concept. I would say this added greatly to my enjoyment of this record. I was able to listen through and pick out which songs were written for which artist, something I had plenty of fun doing.
Once the thrill of picking out each songs intended artist wore off, I began to notice several issues with the album, mainly with the lyrics. While I appreciate self-esteem anthems when they are handled correctly, like Kendrick Lamar’s “i,” here they are just not interesting enough and seem to make up so much of this album.
The song “Alive,” which was co-written by Adele and intended for 25, was surprisingly uninteresting to me as it failed to grow with me since it was first released in September. If it were not for Sia’s incredibly powerful voice this is a track that would have been forgotten quickly if performed by most artists.
This also goes for “Unstoppable,” which did even less for me. The lyrics here are probably the weakest on the entire album with lyrics like “I’m invincible/Yeah, I win every single game” coming across very poorly. Honestly this is nothing that Demi Lovato has not done better with “Confident” a few months ago.
An exception to this, however, would be the opening track “Bird Set Free” which was also written for Adele. While it is up to par with most of the songs on 25 I am glad Sia was the one who ended up bringing the song to us. The song is a powerful ballad that screams confidence and I honestly think works better with Sia’s rawer and emotive vocals compared to Adele’s cleaner more somber delivery.
The songs that work best on this album would be when Sia is making catchier, fun pop songs. Tracks like “Move Your Body” are impossible to sit still during as it just makes you want to dance. Even if the lyrics are not incredible, this is not the kind of song that asks for you to look deep into it, it exists to be fun which is certainly is.
The same could go for a song like “Sweet Design” which is a short burst of energy that shows up at the end of the album. It is clear Sia is trying to be Beyoncé, who I assume this was written for, and it works better than I would have imagined. “Cheap Thrills” is probably the best written of these fun songs and is the one to stay stuck in my head the longest. This might even be close to my favorite track if it were not for the backing vocals from some children which do not fit on this track and have not grown on me at all.
The best track would go to “Reaper” which was co-written by Kanye West and intended for Rihanna. The song is a serious look at depression and deciding not to end your life in favor of waiting for happiness to come. Kanye’s production is excellent and Sia’s vocals are much more subdued which helps this song stand out in a positive way on this album. While it does not surpass it, this is the closest This is Acting gets to reaching the quality of “Chandelier.” This track feels so personal I have no idea why Sia would have anyone but herself perform it.
Even with the fluctuating quality of the lyrics on this record, Sia’s vocal performance is consistently incredibly throughout, showing that she is one of the best singers in pop music. Even during the weakest songs on here, she adds so much emotion to everything she sings it is hard not to be invested in her.
I would say this is a decent album with a few moments of genius that make it worth checking out, especially if you are already a fan of Sia. I appreciate the unique concept for this album, but I think I am ready to hear more Sia songs written for Sia. For now, this will satisfy many pop music fans and will hopefully spawn a few successful singles.