I recently expressed my love for pop music despite being a bit of an indie music snob. I must also confess that I regularly listen to pop radio. You know, that thing with knobs on the dash of the car that deciphers audio waves rather than a wifi signal. Lately two voices familiar to most of us who enjoy pop music have been competing for radio time–and their messages couldn’t be more different.

While Taylor points the finger outward at her critics and her bad boyfriends, Sia points the finger at herself.Words matter, and many of these artists are using them carefully. Like the Apostle Paul in Acts 17, we can use the words of our culture’s poets to connect and communicate with the world around us, especially regarding things true and beautiful accessible to us all. It may be easy to criticize pop music by throwing around the word “vapid”, but our critiques might be what are truly vapid. As we listen closely we might just hear these artists wrestling with the truths we desperately desire to discuss with our neighbors.

Taylor Swift and Sia have established themselves as artists to be respected. They write their songs and sing them with gusto. They are rolling around in $100 bills, but at least they are doing it in private. In public, they sing songs that are meaningful.

Taylor’s “Shake It Off” is, as I write, positioned at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 just behind a song about big booties and in front of one about a part of the male anatomy. Sia’s “Chandelier” has been around all summer and made massive waves because of the compelling and personal video starring a young dancer as a younger Sia. It has reached an astonishing 224 million views on YouTube. Both artists are writing about themselves in these songs, and their personal approach connects with fans.

But where these artists diverge is far more interesting.

Taylor is front and center in her video while Sia is played by a child in hers. Taylor sells out massive arenas and Sia doesn’t tour. Taylor has performed “Shake It Off” several times live (mostly by actually singing) and she is the centerpiece of every performance. Sia has performed “Chandelier” several times live as well, but always with her back to the crowd. It’s a creative choice.

But the greatest difference between these two comes down to the focus of their songs.

Taylor is taking on her critics, paraphrasing them, responding to them, and then shaking off their criticisms through a sub-four minute jaunt. Sia is taking on herself, her own actions, her own decisions, and herself as her own demon. What a remarkable distinction between these two artists.

Taylor has famously held the arm of many a boyfriend, only to bring closure by criticizing her boys in break-up songs. Now in “Shake It Off” she is criticizing her critics in a break-up song of sorts. “Haters gonna hate” and “players gonna play” but Taylor is “just gonna shake it off.”

Sia does something very different.

While Taylor points the finger outward at her critics and her bad boyfriends, Sia points the finger at herself. Her greatest criticisms have been her own actions and decisions.

In a recent interview on Howard Stern, Sia reveals her anxieties. She speaks about her messed up childhood, her father’s multiple personalities, and more. Yet she refuses to blame her parents for what’s wrong with her. Sia blames herself. “Chandelier” takes the form of a YOLO song that fits with other popular songs about living as if there’s no tomorrow. But instead of being a party anthem, it is quite sad.

Party girls don’t get hurt

Can’t feel anything

When will I learn

I push it down, I push it down

Into the chorus she laments…

Help me I’m holding on for dear life

Won’t look down won’t open my eyes

Keep my glass full until morning light

‘Cos I’m just holding on for tonight

As “Chandelier” reveals, Sia has lived her life with an abandon that has left her in a wake of shame. She admits her horrifying problem and seeks help. Sia knows deep down she’s broken, that she’s not merely the victim, wounded, and biting back. Her hurts are self-inflicted and she cries for rescue.

In “Shake It Off” Taylor blames anyone but herself. It’s not to say she’s completely wrong. I don’t know everything about her, nor how others have critiqued her person and music. What I do know is that song after song I feel her pointing and glaring at the world around her that refuses to understand her.

I don’t know Taylor’s heart, but I see an ongoing theme in her music. I freely admit I love “Shake It Off” and several other songs she’s made. They contain ear worms that are more contagious than pinkeye at a daycare. And in a victim-minded culture they speak our language. I’ve been wronged. You’re to blame.

“Shake It Off” puts a chip on my shoulder and gives me a lesson in finger-pointing. Sia’s “Chandelier”, on the other hand, tells me I don’t have to lie to myself anymore about who I am or what I do. I can take what I avoid or cover up and expose it for what it really is. What’s done in the dark must be brought to the light.

My Bible tells me the way up is the way down. The humble are exalted. And that means we all need more “Chandelier.” We need less blame-shifting and defensiveness. We need more honesty about our own mistakes.

Taylor and Sia are both wildly successful at catching my ear. But Sia catches my heart, if you know what I mean. She gets to truths under the surface, and that’s what good artists do. As Christians who long to speak gospel truth to our neighbors, we can take a cue from her.

Teddy Roosevelt said, “If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble you wouldn’t sit for a month.” That’s a truth Sia helps us to see. Maybe Taylor will get there someday.


2 Comments

  1. I love this song by Sia. She is so honest about herself. She is more open to own her own badness than most Christians. God calls us to come clean about ourselves if we are to have deep fellowship with him (1. John. 1:5-9).

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