Sia delivers a flawless vocal, a pertinent message, and an incredible music video as her latest single reminds us of the power of music.
Beginning with the same daunting humming from ‘Alive,’ the overall beat of ‘The Greatest’ is far more uptempo. In some ways, it combines ‘Alive’ and ‘Cheap Thrills‘ in its more upbeat approach, but with a sharper vocal than the dancefloor nature of the latter permitted. It also has somewhat of a narrative feel, especially from the childish nature of the instrumental backing, which emphasises the vulnerability there to be exposed and challenged (though, at the same time, there is also a power within this from the more powerful chorus which is more unlike Sia’s other tracks). The song’s lyrics are also inspiring, and the chorus’ lead – “I’m free to be the greatest, I’m alive / I’m free to be the greatest here tonight” – stands to represent equality and freedom, with the reference to 2014’s ‘Alive’ connoting that we stand strong together regardless of the prejudices that we may face. In other words, it’s Sia through-and-through and essentially perfect.
Outside the music video version, ‘The Greatest’ also features an excellent rap addition from Kendrick Lamar. His words speak to the same message as Sia (“Hey, I am the wisdom of the fallen – I’m the youth,” “Letdowns will get you / And the critics will test you / But the strongest survive / Another scar may bless you, ah”). The combination of the equally distinct vocals works so well, with Lamar complementing Sia’s harsher, more challenging vocal well and putting the message across in a new and diverse way. His repetition of “hey,” much like Sia’s copious references to “stamina,” serves an important function here, putting across the idea that a message must be constantly repeated to be remembered.
We are not left wondering on the exact target of the song, though, as the challenging video commemorates the victims of the Orlando shooting, in which 49 gay men and women – a number matched by the total number of dancers in the clip – were killed. The video opens with Maddie Ziegler, the regular star of Sia’s films, trapped in a house with the LGBT flag painted on her cheek and surrounded by bodies representing the deceased. Slowly, through the power of song and dance, the bodies start to rise and express themselves through her incredible choreography. Ultimately they fall again and she weeps in front of a red backdrop, symbolic of the blood of the dead. The message is clear: that we can make a difference and be ‘The Greatest,’ but we have to act now.
That Sia has made her new single so publicly focus upon the issue of urging people to stand against homophobia is an inspiration to all those aspiring to become musicians today. Music can be a very powerful form of communication, and she has done great justice to a very sensitive and emotional issue. It’s a masterpiece.
‘The Greatest’ is out now via Monkey Puzzle/RCA