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.
But notice that already there is some sadness to the lyrics hinted at. I’m gonna live like tomorrow doesn’t exist has a dual meaning. It can indicate recklessness (like swinging from a chandelier). It can also be taken a bit more literally, since it is repeated.
Maybe tomorrow won’t exist for her, and she has reason to believe this. The other early indication of sadness is that her tears are drying. She’s been crying.
Sadness in Sia’s Chandelier Lyrics
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. I know some people objected to this interpretation when I first proposed it. But the phrase “for a good time call” is the exact phrasing used to indicate sex work.
The verse even ends with “I feel the love, feel the love.” This is a secondary reinforcement of the idea that she’s propositioning someone for sex. I fully admit it doesn’t mean she’s necessarily a sex worker. This is just one interpretation supported by the highly specific phrasing in this verse.
She puts up a front of always having a good time—that 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 and probably dependent on alcohol to numb her emotions.
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. This isn’t as implausible as it sounds. If we think back to the alcohol references, it’s possible she’s trying to overdose.
She’s swinging from the chandelier as a cry for help. People tend to not think of alcohol as a dangerous drug, but people die from it all the time. The way Sia says that sentence, I’m just holding on for tonight, 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.
Then it cycles right back into: 1,2,3 drink. You could try to argue that this is just how songs work. There’s verses and choruses. You shouldn’t interpret the form as a real life cycle, because all songs have this cyclic form.
Here, I think it’s justified. She wants to get rid of the shame, and her coping mechanism is to drink. So, she starts “throwing ’em back” to forget and become happy and carefree again.
This is the classic addicts cycle. The drug creates a feeling of shame. The shame drives you to want to remove the shame with the drug. And on and on it goes.
The song beautifully illustrates this concept.
But it does so much more than that, because it also has tricked a lot of people into thinking the song is happy and about being carefree and living for today.
This is one of those life imitating art imitating life spirals. The song has tricked the listener in the same way that the alcohol has tricked Sia. It makes you feel good in the moment, but it hides the underlying sadness.
I’ll reiterate here just how dark the song is. It’s not merely about addiction and its horrendous cycle. Sia makes pointed references to her life ending. We hear “live like tomorrow doesn’t exist,” but what she’s really saying is that tomorrow might not exist.
For the addict, tomorrow might not exist. It’s not a hypothetical.
So, the next time you’re dancing and getting pumped up by this song, and you think to yourself, I’m going to seize the day, remember what it’s really about. The song has managed to trick you in the same way that drugs trick millions of people.
Swing from the chandelier means you’re holding on for dear life.