A twelve year old girl and a twenty eight year old man are not the typical love interest pairing for music videos, but Maddie Ziegler, a “Dance Moms” star, and actor Shia LaBeof are the focal point of Sia’s hit song, “Elastic Heart”. The presumed love-scorned lyrics, “And I wanted it, I wanted it bad/ But there were so many red flags/Now another one bites the dust/Yeah, let’s be clear, I’ll trust no one”, helped send this heartbreak hit to the tops of various music charts. With its release date in the beginning of October, “Elastic Heart” appeared to be the perfect song to encapsulate the remorse of summer romances that went sour, the dreaded return back to school, and the changing weather. After “Chandelier”, it was safe to say that Sia had secured another top billing song. But the recent video release with LaBeof sporting nude spandex shorts and Ziegler in a nude leotard whilst performing an emotional dance routine caught viewers around the world off-guard. With more than 80 million views on YouTube, Sia’s video has sparked countless Facebook and twitter outcries and has been the topic of many conversations. The most vocalized response that has met Sia’s art is that the video is believed to have strong undertones of pedophilia due to the age difference of the performers, their attire, and the alleged risqué choreography.
As an admirer of a diverse array of art, especially provocative art, I interpreted her piece in a very different way. Like the other portion of viewers that have been defending Sia, I understand the video to be a display of a very painful father-daughter dynamic. The steel birdcage seems to symbolize the physical housing as well as the emotional binding of their relationship. The outrage and out lashing display by Ziegler in comparison to LaBeof’s recoiled fearfulness indicates unreconciled issues and a loss of parental authority and/or trust. To me, the video and lyrics paint a picture of parental substance abuse. The daughter is battling for the attention of her father. She has let his decisions turn her concern into pure hatred. The father continues to try and reclaim authority. But instead he remains broken. LaBeof climbing to the top of the cage symbolizes the desire to get away and to not face reality. The viewer is shown a loving paternal moment when he tries to lay next to her and see her as someone familiar again. The moment when the daughter manipulates the father’s facial expressions towards the end left me feeling as though she was trying to remember how her father used to be, as well as remind him of a different time. Lastly, when she is able to leave the cage and is trying to bring him with her, it’s as though the daughter feels she has cured him and that leaving will enable them to leave their troubles in the past. The father, being unable to leave, gives the impression that some people can’t be healed.
Many people believe that the video is an artistic interpretation of the effects of mental illness. A variety of blogs and posts share the same sentiments that Sia’s video is themed around addiction and/or mental illness. The blog Tamara Tattles reveals that both “Chandelier” and “Elastic Heart” were made in honor of difficult times in the artist’s life. Sia’s apology via Twitter, “I apologize to those who feel triggered by #ElasticHeart My intention was to create some emotional content, not to upset anybody”, denotes that she is not necessarily denying that the video is about an inappropriate child/parent dynamic, but is apologetic for triggering pain it might be causing. In all, I value and appreciate this raw piece of work and I found it very interesting.
-Lulu Moyo Hawkes