Sia Furler has always been in the business of imitation. Like many pop singer-songwriters nowadays, she writes more songs for other artists than for herself, with most of her shadow-written songs becoming bigger hits than her own. For every song she releases herself, there exists twenty-five other platinum hits, the most famous being Rihanna’s “Diamonds” and Beyoncé’s “Pretty Hurts“. This is how the music industry works for pop songwriters these days; this, as Furler’s album claims, is simply acting. Hence, it’s a logical conclusion for Furler to record and release a selection of her own rejected songs; a self-reflection upon her own songwriting career, and what it means to have a ‘musical personality’ that manifests itself through both your own and other artists’ styles.
Every song on This is Acting is independently a showcase of Sia’s established songwriting ability. Big choruses and empowering lyrics come together to create songs in the vein of her previous hits, self-branded or otherwise. However, when listening to This is Acting’s track list consecutively, these individual tracks seem to mesh into one identical blur. Most follow a paint-by-numbers ‘champion of the underdogs’ theme – “Unstoppable” and “Bird Set Free” are perfect examples, utilizing mantras such as “I sing for love/I sing for me” and “I’m unstoppable/I’m a Porsche with no brakes” – and rarely deviate from the ‘soaring ballad, dramatic drums’ cookie cutter of typical Sia songwriting. These are the type of songs that make the most money from a writing perspective, after all – why fix what isn’t broken, if others are still willing to buy? This leads to there being little to no distinction between these newer songs and Sia’s ‘original’ material from previous releases such as 1000 Forms of Fear, which makes things very boring, very fast.
Only when Sia begins to branch out from her own style does This is Acting become less of a cut and paste mixtape. This is where her self-reflection becomes metamorphic; mocking herself through crawling into the personas of the artists she writes for, lacing their own personalities with hers. “Move Your Body” sounds like a Shakira offcut, doused in electropop and heavy bass – Furler is even pitch perfect in her mimicking of tone, singing ‘your body’s poetry, speak to me/ Won’t you let me be your rhythm tonight’ in almost pitch perfect Shakira style. “Footprints” is a reject from Beyonce’s most recent album; a little sister to “Pretty Hurts” in its soaring strings and marching band drumbeat, with Sia doing her best to replicate Beyonce’s range and vocal strength herself. It’s fascinating listening to her sing outside of her comfort zone and inhabit the musicality of the artists she writes for.
This is Acting probably seemed like a great idea on paper – Sia taking back songs that she’s written for others, and making them her own. But that’s the main problem: Sia herself must have forgotten that there’s nothing really to reclaim when almost every song is stylistically yours anyway. There is absolutely no difference between 80% of this track list, and the track list for 1000 Forms of Fear; proving that this isn’t necessarily acting, but continuing on as normal.
Words by Bridget Rumball