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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

"Elastic Heart," a story of not losing oneself after heartbreak

Sia presents a tale of self-reckoning, but also acceptance and ultimately confidence that she can at least healthfully keep her pain inside.


Does anybody else randomly get songs stuck in their head, despite having not heard them for several years?


...No?


Ehh, I already knew I'm pretty weird.


I find today's song particularly odd to become an earworm out of the blue, because it isn't even by an artist to whom I go out of my way to listen, or one of whom I'd consider myself a fan. Don't get me wrong, I think Sia is an artist with great vision and an excellent voice, but her style has never quite been my thing.


Having said that, I forgot just how much I enjoy her song "Elastic Heart." While the Diplo-produced track began as a duet with The Weeknd on the soundtrack to Catching Fire, I much prefer her solo version, the first post-release single from her breakthrough album 1000 Forms of Fear (2014). I largely feel this way about the two versions because I really hear "Elastic Heart" as the brainchild and thoughts of Sia herself, making it a no-brainer in my mind that she should sing the entire song.

In listening back to the track after all these years, I'm reminded of just how captivating Sia's voice is. Her distinct voice makes her songs instantly recognizable, and this song's harmonies — especially the choruses, which peak at three voices — add a beautiful new dimension to her performances. "Elastic Heart" also presents a very well-designed package of some of the 20-teens' pop tendencies, with chopped-up vocal lines in the backing, fast hi-hats, and a somber piano underneath it all.


Coming directly from writing on 10cc's "I'm Not in Love" makes it really interesting for me to think about the chopped-up vocals and just how far the use of voices in pop production evolved in the four decades between 10cc's track and Sia's. From the tape loops and mixing desk shenanigans needed to quickly fade in and out the right notes, using and manipulating voice clips has evolved into simply playing a sample or group of samples on a keyboard. The technical development required for such an ease of modern sampling and synthesizer playing is monumental, and I hope it doesn't go unnoticed by more casual listeners... even when the vocal-chop sound is largely overused by this point. When used in moderation like "Elastic Heart" — as a background element and with pitch that still sounds natural — it's an effect which can definitely add flavor through a sort of mechanical unease.


Said unease matches the song's discussion of trying to find love after going through a severe heartbreak. In opening with the question, "Oh, why can I not conquer love?" she presents her narrator as fighting with themself for a reason to continue trying to deeply trust people, when they've only proven to stab her in the back. We don't hear the narrator arriving at a definitive answer, but Sia does sing that she'll pick herself up and keep going despite what she's lost: "You did not break me / I'm still fighting for peace."


The oxymoronic nature of "fighting for peace" stands out to me among the other lines, especially in its repetition at later pre-choruses. It's a reminder that, as beautiful as love can be, maintaining it is often quite the battle (as Pat Benatar would know). In this case, Sia hasn't been successful in finding love with the other party; however, that doesn't mean she isn't trying to at least find love for herself through all her struggles.


In the chorus, we find that Sia prides herself on how she's been able to weather the storm in the past ("But I've got thick skin and an elastic heart"), but also worries that this time she may falter and break down ("But your blade it might be too sharp"). For someone who's been through as much as she has — between her own relationships and her and her family's struggles with mental health, notably including her father's multiple personalities — it's understandable that she may not be able to perfectly weather every storm. At the same time, though, nothing will completely break her, and she'll maintain a strong façade amid everything she's going through: "But you won't see me fall apart / 'Cause I've got an elastic heart." Sia believes she can bounce back (pun only very slightly intended) and stay calm on the surface, likely hoping she'll start to believe internally that she'll be okay in the end. It may be faking it 'til she makes it, but if it works for her, then brava.

 

As for the music video... well, you certainly can't say it isn't memorable. Shia LaBeouf and Sia muse Maddie Ziegler's casting generated lots of controversy for their age difference and wardrobe in the context of their interpretive performance. It's clear to me that, similar to and in the context of the song, the video depicts Sia battling through the heartbreak and inner demons which have scarred both her and her loved ones. (This paragraph serves as your potential trigger warning before watching the official video, which is embedded directly below.)


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