In many ways I live under a rock. For some time, I had been hearing Chandelier by Sia without giving it any thought. It seemed a little cheesy, if lovely, and that was it.
Until one day, Youtube suggested I watch the video. I can honestly say I have never watched any other music video as often as I have the clip of Maddie Ziegler performing alone in that dilapidated apartment. I have watched recordings of her performances. I have ecstatically texted my husband when her video for Elastic Heart came out, and the release of the newest Maddie Ziegler video, Big Girls Cry, has been the high point of this week.
The three clips are incredible. Take a moment to watch Chandelier now, if you haven’t seen it before (or even if you have, because it’s just so great).
Looking at her performances on Dance Moms, where she is guided by the dubious aesthetic and direction of a collection of women who make the Toddlers & Tiaras mothers seem positively laid back, casting Maddie Zielger, a home-educated 12 year old from Pennsylvania, for the Sia videos seems brave, but she has risen to the role in the most extraordinary manner. Free of the heavy makeup and sexualised costumes and routines pushed onto her by her mother, her performances are a jawdropping combination of technical skill and childlike freedom.
My daughters love the Chandelier video (referred to as “The Girl”) and Elastic Heart (“The Angry Girl and Boy” – they deserve a blog post of their own, so I won’t discuss here), which I am happy to let them watch on the grounds of featuring a physically strong, insanely talented, unpink, unsexualised young girl (anything is better than Tinkerbell, really).
However, the videos have been divisive. Some people have seen them as disturbingly sexual. Others see them as art. Most people definitely have an opinion either way. It’s odd how her completely non-sexual dancing is seen as more objectionable than her hyper-adult dancing when she is in her Dance Moms world, though, right? In Chandelier, she wears a blonde wig to mimic Sia’s own hair, “pretty”/light makeup, and a basic flesh-toned leotard. In her “normal” world, she is caked in heavy glamour makeup, glitzy, sexy costumes and a frozen smile.
Compare these two pictures:
It’s the FIRST one that many people say is inappropriately sexualising the child. What? Is it because she is dressed up as an adult, and is so false and hard as to be just a little bit repulsive that lets people be unbothered by her appearance in the second picture, despite the “sexy” posing? While her relative simplicity and aura of neglect makes her seem more sexually vulnerable in the Chandelier video? As a mother of little girls, I’m shocked by the lipstick and bikini persona, but other mothers I know are far more shocked by Chandelier. She’s wearing very little in each appearance, but I think that the overtly sexy bikini and sarong is more inappropriate than a standard issue ballet class uniform, and I would say that the choreography in Chandelier is quite carefully unsexy. Maddie herself said she was quite surprised by the routine, in which she was instructed to relax and be 11 years old, not to point her leg and pose the way she usually does.
I know I’m going on about this a lot. Sorry.
Anyway, the third video, certainly the most creepy of the three, features just Maddie’s head and shoulders (mostly) and is as startling a performance as the first two.
It bears watching a few times – the way it is lit, the way it goes out of focus a little, Sia’s own hands. It’s not an especially easy watch, and I’m not showing it to the children, but it gives Maddie the opportunity to impress us with her acting alone, and while I imagine that she probably won’t do more Sia videos (or else people like me will just become Maddie fans instead of Sia fans!) I really hope that we will see more and more of her talent in the years to come (and not on Dance Moms).