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Sia’s ‘This Is Acting': An Oscars-Inspired Track-by-Track Breakdown

Tonya Brewer, RCA
Tonya Brewer, RCA

They say an actor’s success rests in the intensity of his eyes, but Sia, who’s still tucked away beneath a vision-obscuring wig, has nevertheless managed to deliver a convincing performance with her new LP, This Is Acting.

Released today (January 29), the singer-songwriter’s seventh studio album includes tracks she originally wrote with other contemporary artists in mind, but ultimately recorded herself instead. The final list of 12 registers accordingly: Some songs, like “Alive,” clamor; others, like “Reaper,” groove and, to combat any notion that Sia might have become too serious an artist, there’s even a mood-lightening sampling from Sisqo’s 2000 hit “Thong Song” on “Sweet Design.” It’s all sort of like a revered conservatory’s class trip to a karaoke bar, but it works.

“I’m calling it This Is Acting because they are songs I was writing for other people, so I didn’t go into it thinking, ‘This is something I would say,'” Sia told reporters last year at the Venice Film Festival. “It’s more like play-acting. It’s fun.”

Those bases considered, and in the complementary spirit of Oscars season, PopCrush has decided to forego the traditional review-route and, instead, analyze This Is Acting through a series of fictive awards. Step aside, Brie Larson. Kindly make way, Leonardo DiCaprio.

Got your ballots filled out? Here we go…

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Achievement in Aerodynamics: “Bird Set Free”

The song, originally written with Adele in mind, turns skyward as soon as its first pre-chorus and continues on a boundless ascent. A military drum line deftly keeps production grounded, though, and serves as regimented contrast to Sia’s unhinged vocal air show.

Best Mocking of Spendthrifts: “Cheap Thrills”

The sonic quality of the song smartly borrows from its message: You don’t need bells and whistles to party. Sia’s take on dancehall-lite, originally intended for Rihanna, comfortably bops over orderly percussion fit for a kickback in the Caribbean. “I ain’t got cash, I ain’t got cash / But I got you, baby,” she bravely croons on behalf of proud penny-pinchers everywhere.

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Academy’s Award of Obstinacy: “Unstoppable”

Athletes gearing up for big races or title matches can find their new anthem in This Is Acting‘s razor-sharp declaration of pedigree. The song builds and balloons until the floor falls out, and Sia thunderously asserts her value. Where down-on-their-luck pop fans have been previously urged to harness the firework or superwoman inside, Sia’s newly identified the standard of resolution as “A Porsche with no breaks.

Achievement in Appealing to Incomplete Soundtracks: “Broken Glass”

A single listen to Sia’s call for armistice will likely drum up images of sweeping landscapes, teary confrontations and emotional enormity typically associated with cinema. “There are no winners when the die is cast,” she laments in what would have scored a final Hunger Games preview perfectly.

Best Defense of Arson: “House On Fire”

The jingly-jangly keyboard — which kicks in at the first chorus’ pass — sounds better suited for a carnival band, and “House On Fire,” for its brightness, feels a little bit out of place. Its cheery vibes seem especially conflicting with Sia’s continued pleas to “keep burning.”

Academy’s Award For “Thong Song”-Transcendence: “Sweet Design”

Yes, the track that once boldly offered “She had dumps like a truck, truck, truck” has found its second wind 16 years after release. Tailor-made for Jennifer Lopez and with a touch of Amerie’s “1 Thing,” “Sweet Design” seesaws between blustery progressions and split-second key-changes that could leave a sprinter breathless.

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Choice Show-Closer for Undergraduate A Cappella Outfits: “Reaper”

It’s bright. It’s relaxed. It’s got the sing-along quality quality of Katy Perry’s “Roar”: “Reaper,” whether Sia likes it is not, is bound for a choral-derivations. Co-written by Kanye West, the song is please-feel-better pop built on a sunny bass line with a touch of relentless hope. “So come back when I’m good and old / I got drinks to drink, and men to hold, Sia warns with an admonition that somehow sounds inviting.

Achievement in Taunting Firing Squads: “One Million Bullets”

The relationship-equivalent to tapping at a fishbowl, Sia declares (and declares, and declares…) her commitment to a loved one on the midtempo track. Usually one to push her voice past the point of rupture (which she still does here, a little bit), the singer cuts her cords a bit of a break here, and introduces the power of Sia: subdued.

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Best Use of Audio as Emergency Spot-Defibrillator: “Alive” 

The sequel to the massively popular “Chandelier” could score a superstorm as it makes landfall. It’s dark and voltaic with the energy necessary to jump-start faltering hearts, and though it was written with Adele’s memories in mind, Sia convincingly relays them as if they were her own.

Achievement in Costume Design: “Move Your Body”

The most pronounced departure from Sia’s recent catalog, the frantic, buzzy “Move Your Body” registers like a B-side on Little Mix’s SaluteAs far as the album’s collection of performances is concerned, the song — a rave-ready banger — is the hardest sell, but it’ll certainly get feet moving.

Academy’s Award for Timelessness: “Footprints”

Where tracks like “Cheap Thrills” and “Unstoppable” are in keeping with some of pop’s clearest trends, “Fooprints” isn’t anchored down by what’s current. Its mix of strings, synth and reticent background vocals give it a ’90s appeal. Still, it doesn’t feel dated.

Best Song: “Space Between”

What begins with the stark quality of Alanis Morissette‘s “Uninvited” evolves into a powerful demonstration of Sia without the wig, without the mini-me, without the gimmick. She might be affecting a character between delicate plucks at an electric guitar’s nylon, but “Space Between” feels as intimate and ascribable as a dental record.

This Is Acting is out now on iTunes.

This is what Sia’s non-obscured face looks like:

Next: Sia Releases Triumphant New Single 'Unstoppable'

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