For longtime fans, or even casual ones, it's no surprise that Sia's latest video "Alive" does not feature the shy singer, who prefers to be heard, not seen, often hiding her face behind wigs that seem to get bigger and bigger as her popularity grows in the same direction. But her choice to feature a young female martial artist in "Alicve" seems like a powerful message from Sia, who has made it her mission as of late to empower young women by casting them in strong roles in her videos.
In this clip, which Sia co-directed with Daniel Askill, you watch 9-year-old child actress/dancer Mahiro Takano show off her martial arts prowess. Notice she's wearing a black belt. She may look small, but she's got a lot of fight in her, and you best believe as Sia sings "I survived," Takano has been doing just that since she started competing in karate tournaments as young as 5 years old. Now Takano's making a bid to be in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo — that is if they include karate as one of the medal competitions — which the Wall Street Journal believes it will. She's even been selected to be an ambassador for the sport.
"I did all the things that you said that I wouldn't," Sia sings on "Alive" off her upcoming album, This Is Acting (out January 6). "Told you that I would not be forgotten." The song, which was originally intended for Adele's new album 25, is certainly empowering to anyone who has felt like they've been underestimated. But for her to highlight this real life karate kid as she practices her kicks and her punches in a warehouse all alone seems like a message to the world that we shouldn't count young girls out. A message that Sia has been trying to send for a while now.
It started with her 2014 album, 1,000 Forms of Fear, and her visually stunning video for "Chandelier," which starred Dance Mom 's Maddie Ziegler. Sia wrote the song about dealing with her former alcohol abuse — the singer has been sober for five years — talking openly about being the life of the party, but not remembering much of it the next day. Because the Australian singer has never felt comfortable in the spotlight, she decided to cast Ziegler as her stand-in in the video. Ziegler, who was only 11 years old at the time of the video, modern dances Sia's frustrations away, contorting her body in ways that seem almost painful, but also exhilarating. Ziegler danced like no one was watching and we couldn't look away.
The anti-party girl anthem covers some heavy adult themes of abuse, addiction and loneliness, but are brought to life by a tween who, perhaps, hasn't encountered those things in her own life — something that doesn't stop her from being skillful enough to pull them off in her dancing. More conservative publications like the Christian Science Monitor called Sia out for casting such a young girl and then forcing her to dance "in a nude leotard and blunt-cut platinum blond wig" because "it felt like we may have just witnessed the girl’s birth as an underage sex symbol." But, when you watch the video, it's this character Sia sings about that's out of control, not Ziegler. The young dancer — who would go on to appear in two more Sia videos, "Elastic Heart," interpretative dance battling Shia LaBeouf, and "Big Girls Cry," where she shows her intense contortionist moves — is always showing off her impeccable form and talent, not her sexuality.
Which is no surprise, considering that Sia told NPR in 2014, "I don't wanna go out and sell my soul, my body, my peace of mind," and certainly wouldn't intend to do that with another woman, especially one so young. Sia didn't cast Ziegler or Takano for their pretty faces, or to entice a male audience. They were cast for their unbelievable abilities and physical strength. By casting young athletes, she's saying doing anything "like a girl" is something to look up to. She's saying that there is no age that is too young to be considered extraordinary. There are no barriers to what these girls can do, and, more importantly, their worth goes way beyond their looks.
For young girls everywhere that's a powerful message that should be expressed more often in pop culture. While others tell little girls what they can and cannot be, Sia casts young women as their own heroes, and that's amazing.