GRAMMYs Behind the Song: Sia – ‘Chandelier’

"I really thought we were writing a pop song for somebody else, but when I finished it I realized that I’d written myself a pop song.”

By Scott T. Sterling

Sia‘s “Chandelier” is a classic case of a happy accident, a spontaneous flash of inspiration that turned into one of the biggest and most pervasive hits of 2014.

“I guess the inspiration for ‘Chandelier’ was unexpected,” Sia says of the song, which has earned her four GRAMMY nominations.

She remembers the song’s genesis during a backstage interview at this year’s We Can Survive concert in Los Angeles. “I started with my friend [songwriter/producer Jesse Shatkin]. I think I walked into his studio and started playing the piano and that sort of popped out. Then my friend started playing the marimba and then I sent him the little snippets I recorded and he built the whole track up, sent it back to me and it just came out. I really thought we were writing a pop song for somebody else, but when I finished it I realized that I’d written myself a pop song.”

Released back in March, the track quickly took up residence on radio playlists and charts around the world, nestling into the Top 10 in 28 different countries and climbing as high as No. 8 of the Billboard Hot 100.

As the lead single of her sixth studio album, 1000 Forms of Fear, “Chandelier” became Sia’s calling card, elevating her from an A-list songwriter for the likes of Rihanna (“Diamonds”), David Guetta (“Titanium”) and Beyoncé (“Pretty Hurts”) into a bona fide and increasingly iconic pop star in her own right.

“I first heard it after a demo had been completed,” recalls 1000 Forms of Fear producer Greg Kurstin during a recent telephone interview. “It was a contender for the album, so when I started to hear all the songs, that was one of the ones that I heard. I thought it was really cool and very original, unlike anything I was hearing on the radio at that time.”

Given the strength of the songs they were working with, Kurstin says there was still something about “Chandelier” that piqued his interest.

“I think it stood out in some way. I had no idea the potential of what it would become, because there were other songs, too, that I might have been focused on at that time, thinking like, ‘Oh, maybe this is the single,'” he says. “I wouldn’t say it jumped out as an obvious single at first, because it was just so unusual. In a lot of ways, it was Sia that really drove that song, and wanted it to be the first single. Once we started to focus on it is when I started to think it was really something special.”

As “Chandelier” and the rest of the tracks for the album began to take shape, Sia recalls the recording process fondly, explaining that she spent a disproportionate amount of the time just kicking back.

“It was very relaxing,” she says, citing Kurstin as someone who is “really chill and has an extremely twisted and brilliant sense of humor, so I spent most of my time on the sofa and would pop in occasionally to record a vocal. Generally a good experience.”

When informed of Sia’s estimation of making the album, Kurstin laughs.

“That’s really nice of her to say, I take all of that as a compliment. We’re just so comfortable around each other. I’ve known Sia for a long time, and we trust each other. I think sometimes when artists are working with people they don’t really know, they can be guarded and it can turn stressful. She knows that her and I are on the same page, and we were just trying to make an album that we liked. That was our initial driving force.”

That comfort level allows Kurstin to truly experiment when working with Sia, a luxury not generally afforded to such a high-profile pop album.

“The weirder the thing that I do, the more that Sia responds,” he explains. “If I think of the weirdest possible sound I can get out of the instruments, that’s what she likes. I have these visual memories of her lying on the couch, and her head popping up when she heard something she liked. That was just part of our process.”

Sia’s “Chandelier” is up for four awards, including Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Pop Solo Performance at the 57th Annual GRAMMY Awards, airing February 8 at 8 pm EST on CBS.

 

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