The Sia experience

If you didn’t know Sia Furler by name, you knew her voice. The Australian singer leant her vocals to downtempo electro group Zero 7 in the early ’00s, recording three albums and touring with them before releasing her solo album, Colour the Small One in 2003. Her song “Breathe Me” became huge after its inclusion in Spider-Man 2 and Six Feet Under. Seven years later, that song is still one of the reasons people know Sia as her own one-named wonder, like Cher or Madonna. She may not yet be that big on the household name scale, but Sia doesn’t seem to want that kind of fame. Fame’s not what she’s looking for at all.

The first time I saw Sia sing live was at a Borders in-store in Chicago. She was promoting her second LP, Some People Have Real Problems, and it was around this time her eccentricity was bubbling over. She was wearing a rainbow scarf a fan had knit her, and the bookstore’s music section was way too small for the crowd she had gathered. Either she had way more fans than Borders had predicted or customers had to see who was singing so hauntingly upstairs.

Five years later, the same voice was singing songs that people were singing along with. This Tuesday night, Sia headlined a sold out show at the Portland Wonder Ballroom, and she was wearing something I can only describe as a very heavy, layered black dress. It was very Sia — which makes me think I can use “Sia” as an adjective or verb now. “I’m Sia-ing today.” “I’m getting my Sia on.” Sia: wild, unpredictable, fun, creative. Those are all things that describe Sia as a performer but in a much different way than how you might use those words to describe Lady Gaga.

Sia’s voice is so effortless. A true vocalist, first and foremost, she doesn’t leave center stage. She sticks to her mic stand, often closing her eyes, which makes me think that maybe even Sia is a little bit shy. Or maybe she’s really feeling the songs that she writes herself, ones that are called “The Girl You Lost to Cocaine” and “Clap Your Hands.” At a Sia show, you will definitely be dancing, and then you will be softly swaying, but at all times, you will be in awe of her raw emotion. It’s that kind of quality that makes you appreciate seeing music live.

In 2008, Sia was doing an interview with a UK gay magazine when she mentioned she was dating a woman. It was very casual — she later told me she felt like she was chatting with a friend — and it was likely she didn’t intend to be making such a grand statement on her sexuality. But Sia has become quite an important figure in both music and the queer community, especially where they overlap. At the time, Sia was dating JD Samson, a huge fixture of both communities, and they became an “It” couple, especially around New York City. Though they recently broke up, Sia remains huge with lesbians, gay men and other LGBT identifying music fans. That was definitely clear at her Portland show; they were all out next to the fans who had probably been seeing Sia since “Breathe Me,” maybe even before.

Besides making her own music, Sia has also written for pop stars like Christina Aguilera and appeared as a guest vocal coach on The Voice this year. Her new album, We Are Born, went gold in Australia and hit #37 on the Billboard US charts. Sia’s really coming up in the music industry, despite saying at her show that writing pop music is kind of “brainless.” (She then asked if anyone was going to post that on YouTube, saying “S–t!”)

She’s got a huge voice and a personality to match — her Australian accent making it all the more charming. Sia’s a true artist worth listening to, even when she’s talking — or tweeting, as the case may be. Even her music videos are out-of-the-box. (What other female pop star uses art, crafts, puppets and goofy costumes to tell their song’s stories?) Sia doesn’t seem to take anything seriously except for her music, and that’s one thing that makes her so enjoyable.

Sia is on tour now.

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