For an event that is self-proclaimed, marketed, branded and sold to audiences worldwide as “music’s biggest night,” the Grammy Awards are only somewhat about music.
The formula for the Grammys, and the plethora of other entertainment awards ceremonies during the winter awards season, is fairly unwavering, save for a few blips (see: Kanye West and Taylor Swift, circa 2009) here and there. Network television devotes hours to dissecting the gowns, tuxedos and makeup of each artist on the pre-Grammys red carpet while performing hard-core journalism along the lines of, “Who are you wearing?”
Publicists, stylists and a village of others train artists how to walk the walk, talk the talk and adhere to the unspoken rules of the carpet. Inside, the host — here, LL Cool J — attempts to bring relevant, light-hearted humor and link the various performers and sections of the drawn-out ceremony. But the Grammys, this year’s in particular, are not just a ceremony anymore; they’re an all-out spectacle.
At the Grammys, being a talented musician is too often equated with being a talented showman.
Yes, you may have made it onto the airwaves across the globe, but at the Staples Center you need to put on a show, not just for the hundreds of famous and equally talented musicians in the room, but for the millions of people watching at home. Artists no longer sing, they perform. Some perform to shock, some to awe, others to create an atmosphere. No matter the goal or inspiration for each performance, they serve as a visual representation of the artist’s work and to further the artist’s public persona.
With any luck, their performance will go viral, driving the musician’s fame higher and higher. With any luck, buying into the system of over-the-top, shock-value-driven performances will pay off.
But what happens when an artist’s public persona is having no visual public persona? Sia, the haunting chanteuse behind the smash hit “Chandelier” and songwriter for the likes of David Guetta, Rihanna and Flo Rida, built her industry persona on being an enigma. Famous for being a media recluse, Sia shies away from being the star of her own public performances and appearances, rarely showing her own face to the audience or conducting interviews.
With an introverted personality at odds with her public persona, Sia struggled with fame and suffered a breakdown before negotiating an unheard of deal with RCA: no press and no tours for her newest album. Her stage performances are known for being unconventional and noticeably devoid of the central figure: the artist herself. Instead or inserting herself into the act, Sia paints a kaleidoscopic world through avant-garde performance art. Her performance at the Grammys, featuring Kristen Wiig and 12-year-old dancer Maddie Ziegler, broke the monotony of pop performances and was nothing short of incredible.
Standing in the corner of the messy room pop-up set, Sia belted out “Chandelier” with her back to the Grammy crowd. Wiig and Ziegler, donning platinum blond bob wigs matching the one on Sia’s head, interpretively danced around the cluttered room while embodying the two warring sides of Sia. The two stripped to nude bodysuits before uniting next to the actual chanteuse in the corner of the room at the end of the performance.
Sia’s nearly identical performance of “Chandelier” on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” last May was “possibly the first example of proper performance art on mainstream U.S. daytime television,” according to the London-based Dazed and Confused Magazine.
With Sunday night’s performance, introduced by Shia LaBeouf reading a handwritten poem, Sia breathed artistic life and ingenuity back into awards show concerts. Her performance brought the avant-garde to the masses in an easily digestible three-minute sketch, led by the familiar face of Wiig and set in an ambiguous, messy room that could easily be any of ours. Following her overarching concept to create visual art with her performances, Sia placed aesthetics over her own celebrity.
In an age of scantily clad artists gyrating on stage, this authentic piece of performance art should be commended. Although Sia did not walk away with a Grammy, she proved that true art still exists in the popular music world. And she did it without showing her face. For a three-hour Tinseltown schmoozefest more focused on glitz than lyricism, that’s something actually worth applauding.
Margie Fuchs is a junior in the College. Face the Music appears every other Friday.