It's a very interesting time for gender equality in music. Women's voices have never been louder, but at the same time the forces working against them have never been stronger.
As part of Noisey's continued effort to support and advance the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women, we are using International Women's Day as an opportunity to celebrate progress while also addressing the ongoing issues affecting communities across the world. You can follow all of our International Women's Day content on our hub here, featuring interviews with Peaches, Little Simz, and Robyn, an essay on Sia by Brooke Candy, a look at the Icelandic rap crew Daughters of Reykjavik, life as a female rapper in Guatemala, and a documentary about Zimbabwean rapper AWA, who has forged a career as a hip-hop artist against all odds, in the face of sexual blackmail, domestic violence and industry sexism. Happy International Women's Day!
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The first time I met Sia I was, for the most part, still homeless. I was squatting in a filthy punk house with like 15 people, no hot water, and endless filth. Sia found me on Instagram and asked me to meet her at this vegan restaurant, so I did. I had long braids, and she was dressed very simple, very pretty.
She has this presence about her—it was a bit intimidating at first. Initially we met because she said she just wanted to write one song for me, and that turned into: "I'm going to executive produce your first album, help you get a record deal, find you decent, nice, honest management, and help you make the art you want to make from a place of positive mental health and love". After that first meeting, she kind of just took over my project—and when I say took over, I mean she helped me fix every aspect of my life.
She has always supported my ideas, and not everyone has. My ideas are pretty radical, I think. My visuals are intense. The majority of people don't want to push the envelope and they don't want to test boundaries—they want to be safe. So I freak people out, I scare them. If you scare your record label and they let you know that they're afraid and they want you to tone it down, you might then think that your ideas aren't solid, or strong, and that your vision isn't right. You might do what they want and in turn you might ruin the entire project, but I've always had Sia building me up and telling me, "Your visuals are spot on, you're doing it right." She's helped me to maintain that sense of confidence, which will be a vital asset when crossing over into the mainstream. In order to make pop music, I needed to be confident with everything else.
To work with, Sia is very precise, very fast, and very cerebral. Watching her do something is like watching a real artist work. She doesn't overthink anything, it's stream of consciousness, and that's really inspiring. She's definitely one of the women in pop music that's at the forefront of re-adjusting some things and changing the landscape. I see FKA Twigs, for example, doing something similar… Bjork exists in that world as well. They respect the art and seem to come from a more thoughtful place.
The new record we've been working on together has a strong message, but the sound is more polished. I've been describing it as thoughtful pop, like Luscious Jackson meets Smashing Pumpkins meets Madonna. The melodies are clean and bubbly, but the message is real. I want to make music that makes people feel some sort of bliss. That makes people want to spread some sort of love and light onto this planet because I think we're in a sort of dark age and the planet really needs it. I trust Sia, and I think if I can promote my message on a larger scale and I can reach more people just by kind of polishing my sound a bit, there's nothing wrong with that. I think it's smart, and I have to do it. I actually have something to say. Once I have this platform that I've been working so hard to gain, my voice will be used and my voice will be heard.
To strive for fame, I think, is dark. It's strange. Sia just wants to make art, and luckily she has found a way around certain aspects of fame by using the element of mystery to convey her message. If you really think about it, who's doing that in pop music? No one's hiding their face. In the 90s, Gorillaz had an animated version of the same idea, but no one has done the real-time real life mystery persona until now. She found a way around "fame," because she's never wanted to be famous. The way that Sia has utilised her platform, worked the media, worked pop music—it has never been done before. It's opening doors for women and it's allowing us to break free from these restrictive barriers of unreasonable expectation. I find that very inspiring. She found a way to make the music she wants to make, and the visuals she wants to make. She's found her niche.
She saved my life and I wouldn't be the person that I am today without her. She kind of plays every role for me: a sister, a mother, a teacher. I've never had a woman in my life take on one role let alone every role. I look up to her. She's given me the most important gift which is the gift of gratitude, and peace of mind. She's taught me how to maintain my sanity and happiness. She's a really rare type of person, and I'm honoured to be given the opportunity to create with her.
To ask whether there are any qualities or talents of hers that have gone unnoticed or underappreciated is a good question. I think she has a really big heart. She does a lot of work for animal rescue, and she's constantly doing charitable stuff like that, which is a side I don't think enough people see of her.
All in all, she is one of the few artists that has straddled a more contemporary artistic scene, a more alternative music scene, and a broad pop spectrum. That's really difficult to do and I think it deserves to be acknowledged. Sia, to me, is an icon.
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