Sadness in Sia’s “Chandelier”


Unless you’ve been under a rock, you’ve probably heard Sia’s single “Chandelier” off her new album 1000 Forms of Fear. She’s had some commercial success in the past, but this song broke into the top 10 on the Billboard 100 and seems to be everywhere. I’ve been sitting on this post and decided now was good timing, because I imagine this song will blast from many speakers tonight at New Year’s Eve parties as some sort of uplifting dance song.

In the past, Sia has had most success in indie scenes because of the subtle deepness to her lyrics and complicated tonal and harmonic aspects to the songwriting. At first glance, this song seems to go against this history with a purely pop appeal. This post will be an attempt to show that lyrically there is still the depth of her past material.

Let’s start with the reason I think the song blew up in the first place. If you ask someone for the lyrics, they will probably only remember the chorus:

I’m gonna swing from the chandelier, from the chandelier
I’m gonna live like tomorrow doesn’t exist
Like it doesn’t exist
I’m gonna fly like a bird through the night, feel my tears as they dry
I’m gonna swing from the chandelier, from the chandelier

These lyrics have a mostly uplifting feel to them. Live life to the fullest. Go out and party. Do things that are out of your comfort zone. Seize the day. This feeling is backed by the soaring melody and general good feeling of a pop song.

The verse lyrics go by fast and are generally easy to miss. The opening already gives away that the song is not as cheery as one might imagine:

Party girls don’t get hurt
Can’t feel anything, when will I learn?
I push it down, push it down

I’m the one “for a good time call”
Phone’s blowin’ up, ringin’ my doorbell
I feel the love, feel the love

There is an implication here that the main girl is some party girl or even a prostitute. She puts up a front of always having a good time. She is happy and can’t get hurt. In fact, she has put up such a shield that she can’t feel anything. She pushes the bad feelings down.

The next part is “1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, drink/Throw ’em back ’til I lose count.” This girl uses alcohol in a severely unhealthy way to numb her feelings. She gives the impression of going out and having fun, but she is depressed.

The other half of the chorus is:

But I’m holding on for dear life, won’t look down, won’t open my eyes
Keep my glass full until morning light, ’cause I’m just holding on for tonight

Now swinging from the chandelier has a double meaning. It isn’t symbolic of living an unconventional, free life to the fullest. It seems here to be symbolic of near catastrophe. She is barely holding on. She can’t even look at what she’s doing.

“I’m just holding on for tonight” is carefully worded. On the one hand it can mean that she’s holding on for the night. She will make it through. The darker interpretation is that she will only hold on for tonight. Once the night is over she will let go into death (possibly overdose?). The way Sia says that sentence over and over at the end of the song implies this darker interpretation.

If you aren’t convinced yet, the second verse drives this interpretation home:

Sun is up, I’m a mess
Gotta get out now, gotta run from this
Here comes the shame, here comes the shame

The night was not a fun party at all. She’s ashamed of the acts she performed and wants to run away from it. In case you haven’t heard it, here’s the music video:

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One thought on “Sadness in Sia’s “Chandelier”

  1. First heard this song on SNL and it felt uplifting to me. The only words i really heard were those in the main chorus, so i wasn’t really hearing the song at all. Later i looked up the video with lyrics on youtube. It’s hard for me to enjoy the song now. Feeling pity for the poor party girl hits me like a sock in the gut. The girl described in that song is in a self-destructive death spiral that can only end in tragedy.

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