By Alyssa Sanford
It’s not unusual for a music video to come under fire for some objectionable content, and Sia’s “Elastic Heart” video — which has over 84,000,000 views — is no exception.
The video features Maddie Ziegler, a 12-year-old dancer best known for her appearances on Lifetime’s reality show “Dance Moms,” and Shia LaBeouf, the 28-year-old actor who spent much of 2014 in the limelight for his bizarre antics.
Not long after the “Elastic Heart” video was released on Wednesday, Jan. 7, viewers started vehemently objecting to the pairing of Ziegler and LaBeouf. The controversial video depicts the two dancing in a giant cage, wearing nothing but flesh-toned underwear. They appear to be alternately fighting and clinging to each other, but the video offers no context for the dramatic scene playing out on-screen. Many viewers were disturbed by the overtones of pedophilia.
“I anticipated some ‘pedophelia!!!’ Cries (sic) for this video,” Sia tweeted in response to the public outcry. “I apologize to those who feel triggered by #ElasticHeart. My intention was to create some emotional content, not to upset anybody.”
But this video seemed ripe for controversy. Ziegler appeared in Sia’s “Chandelier” video in May 2014, wearing the same nude leotard and blonde “Sia” wig while dancing in a provocative manner. Meanwhile, LaBeouf was stirring up controversy of his own in 2014, kicking off the year infamously donning a paper bag over his head with the words “I Am Not Famous Anymore” scrawled across it. In fact, LaBeouf’s paper bag stunt closely resembled a photo shoot that Sia did for Billboard magazine in November 2013, in which she wore a paper bag over her own face.
Sia claims that casting Ziegler and LaBeouf in the video was a natural choice. She sees them as representations of “two warring ‘Sia’ self states,” as she wrote on Twitter. The fact that LaBeouf is 16 years Ziegler’s elder is simply irrelevant, regardless of how much it offends her audience.
There is, of course, undeniably objectionable content in the video. Certain movements carry sexual overtones, and the rapid shift between displays of violence and raw emotion are disturbing. But is “Elastic Heart” any more controversial than any other music video?
Music videos have shock value. Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” video depicts an alter ego who was an obsessive, violent and downight crazy ex-girlfriend. “Anaconda” by Nicki Minaj boasted women in revealing outfits and highlighted images that play on double entendres. Maroon 5’s “Animals” offended many people because of its romanticized take on stalking. These videos, while shocking and perhaps offensive, garnered a lot of attention and effectively promoted the artists.
Perhaps Sia wasn’t trying to offend her audience, but rather trying to evoke an emotional response, which can run the gamut from empathy to disgust. Music videos are art, after all, and art is intended to elicit emotional reactions.
There is no denying that it’s a disturbing video. However, it is Sia’s right as an artist to tell emotionally-charged, inspirational stories through song and dance, just like thousands of artists before her have done.