Sia got a makeover. The pop songstress famous for hits like "Chandelier" and "Elastic Heart" doesn't show her face. Sure, a simple Google search can pull up old photos—you'll see blonde bangs framing a round, smiling face—but that's not the image Sia wants in the spotlight. As an artist, Sia represents herself in the public eye as a large blonde wig.
But for her new album, This is Acting—due out January 29, 2016—Sia has changed her look. The blonde wig is split down the middle. One side is black.
Before she branded herself as a floating platinum bob haircut, Sia was a one-woman hit factory. There are often two or three writers involved in completing a pop song—if not more. Some writers specialize in hooks, others care only about chorus, some are beat producers. Many hit songs involve almost a dozen writers; Meek Mill's "All Eyes on You" has 14 credited writers, Jidenna's "Classic Man" has 11, as does "Uptown Funk."
Sia didn't need all of those people. She could, by herself, create an anthemic, stuck-in-your-head-for-days hit. She's the writer responsible for Rihanna's "Diamonds," and Beyonce's "Pretty Hurts," as well as tracks for Kelly Clarkson, Gwen Stefani, J-Lo, Carley Rae Jepsen, and Britney Spears.
Sia did step into the spotlight for a brief period of time. She had a hit single of her own, "Breathe Me," which became popular after it appeared in the final scene of the HBO series Six Feet Under. But she hated fame. In 2014, she told the New York Times that it was "horrible." She became depressed while in the limelight. It wasn’t until the industry realized she could write hit songs that she found a way to be comfortable and create music.
She gave up the spotlight and wrote songs for those stuck inside its imprisoning circle. She still produced her own work, but she no longer made herself—as a person—the center of its promotion. Sia has six solo albums and one on the way. Her most recent, 1000 Forms of Fear, featuring the massive hit "Chandelier," hit number one on the Billboard charts.
But like Sia herself—she's struggled with drug addiction, suicidal thoughts, depression, and alcoholism—there's a darkness to 1000 Forms of Fear. That's rare among pop idols—and among Top 40 hits. This time around, to preserve her health and sanity, Sia’s face is no longer associated with her fame. Her only calling card is the wig.
Maddie Ziegler, of the Lifetime reality series Dance Moms, performs in many of Sia's music videos, wearing the blonde wig. At this point, Maddie is more recognizable than Sia herself. Kristen Wiig has also worn the blonde bob, and so has Lena Dunham. In order to promote her music, Sia didn't rely on her own persona–she created a avatar. One that was recognizable even when her songs might not be, and one that could stand in her place.
Since Sia's wig is her image, for her, dying one side black is like some other pop star getting extreme plastic surgery—or Coca-Cola changing its iconic font.
Pop stars often reinvent their look to signal a shift in work or image—Bieber went platinum for his comeback; Miley cut all her hair off before Bangerz; Ariana Grande dyed her hair gray for her new song “Focus;” Katy Perry has had every hair color imaginable. But for those artists, hair is an accessory, part of the performance costume that can be switched at any time; it just accompanies the famous face. Sia doesn’t have that backup—she only has the hair.
Like those stars, though, Sia's change indicates a dramatic shift.
The video for This is Acting's lead single, "Alive," features the new look—the wig split into two separate, distinctive halves by color.
"Alive," as Sia has commented many times, was not supposed to be her song. It was supposed to be Adele's. The two of them wrote it together in a studio while Adele was putting together her upcoming album 25.
Sia is known for really connecting with stars who—like all people–are riddled with insecurity and fear. The difference between stars and normal people, though, is that stars can turn their personal problems into million-copy singles. In 2014, Britney Spears told the New York Times: "I fell in love with the way [Sia] looks at life… There is a bit of darkness somewhere in there, but it doesn’t come across in a frightening way.”
In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Adele said, "I actually love the dynamic of us both being in there and just fucking being bossy… And it's all these male producers, and they're all fucking shitting themselves 'cause we're in there."
But none of the songs Adele and Sia worked on together made the final cut for Adele’s upcoming album. This is not unusual in the creation of an album. Stars come together with producers and writers and engineers and create potential hits. Once a bunch of solid options are put together, some are chosen, some are not. New tracks are made to fill in gaps. Some songs no longer fit and have to be removed. For every 14 or 12 song album, there are a dozen songs in various states of completion that don't ever get heard by the general population.
For This is Acting, Sia is collecting some of her rejected tracks created for various pop stars, recording them herself, and releasing them on an album. It's an interesting project, not only because it saves these songs from obscurity, but because each song will tell us something about the artist who was supposed to sing it in the first place. The second single from the album, "Bird Set Free," is also a former "Adele" project. The single art and the album art feature the same split-color wig.
With lyrics like—
We hold on so tight, but I don't wanna die, no
I don't wanna die, I don't wanna die
I'm not gon' care if I sing off key
I find myself in my melodies
I sing for love, I sing for me
—it's hard to know how much of this song is Adele and how much of it is Sia's own story. But I guess that's part of Sia's new identity. Like the split wig this album, the line between Sia and her subjects, and Sia and her audience, is getting fuzzier and fuzzier. Instead of limiting her, that fuzziness seems to be pushing Sia into work that is more darker, stranger, and much more complex than ever before.
Kelsey McKinney is a culture staff writer for Fusion.