Film

Sia Triumphs Over Trump and the Most Awkward ‘SNL’ Episode in Recent Memory

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First things first: To the cast of Saturday Night Live, you deserve better than that. You were thrown to the wolves by production and forced to work with a human who isn’t remotely as malleable as the putty he so closely resembles, and you rolled with it and did your damnedest to keep Donald Trump as closely confined to his entertainer cage as possible. From the monologue to that laser-spouting Eighties-band synthesizer nightmare to everything that wasn’t Sasheer Zamata, Kate McKinnon, and the rest of the SNL comediennes losing their minds to M.I.A.’s “Bad Girls” for a pre-taped sketch, Trump’s SNL was less of a brilliant move on Lorne’s part and more of a sad exercise that put a bunch of brilliant talent up against an opposing force that couldn’t give less of a shit about dragging them down. The joke wasn’t on Trump and the intense dislike New Yorkers and the nation at large have for the mogul and presidential candidate. The joke was on us for expecting his second SNL stint to be anything short of brutal and woefully neglectful of our funny bones, too. BUT I DIGRESS.

Of the brief glimmers of hope and intrigue that shone in that infinite-feeling ninety-minute stretch, Sia, back with new material for the first time since the 2014 release of 1000 Forms of Fear, provided most of them. She was just as much of a force to be reckoned with as she was the first time she performed on SNL back in January, when inventive staging and choreography for both “Elastic Heart” and “Chandelier” complemented her cerebral pop songs and devastating delivery. The notoriously spotlight-shy Sia isn’t keen on stepping front and center to bask in the glow of adoration — or speculation — put forth by her fans and critics, and as such, she spent both her first and most recent SNL outings with her face obscured by her trademark wigs and sharing the Studio 8H stage with collaborators.

For “Alive,” the first single off of Sia’s forthcoming This Is Acting (which is scheduled for a January 29 release), Sia was flanked by not only an interpretive dancer but the Harlem Gospel Choir. Her voice is steadfast on its own, but the determined resilience of “Alive” reached seraphim-spiriting heights with the might of the soaring choir behind her. “I’m alive” is quite possibly the most straightforward lyric ever sung; it’s one that states the obvious and leaves room for little more than a shrug in response, as perseverance and living through it is well-trod lyrical territory in lovelorn pop especially. But Sia’s belt is one of the strongest out there, and her voice, buoyed by the choir’s exultant harmonies, is enough to take a familiar sentiment and turn it into an empowering anthem. She’s alive, all right, and there was hardly a misstep in the marching beat that drove that sermon home.

As she did with “Chandelier” just a few months ago, Sia didn’t need more than her voice, the piano, and the visual aid of a compelling dance performance to leave a lasting impression for “Bird Set Free.” With lyrics that bank on independence and self-reliance — “I found myself in the melody/I sing for love, I sing for me/I shout it out like a bird set free” — the dancer used those as a prompt and shirked the clutches of a constricting black sheet before crawling across the stage and acting as Sia’s manic shadow, frantically gesticulating before collapsing to the floor in a distraught fit. Sia, stationary and statuesque, was a perfect foil for this frenetic display, and the two performed in parallel in a way that suited the doozy of a closer beautifully.

Because we can’t have nice things and Twitter is Disneyland for keyboard critics and complainers, there were plenty of folks who focused on Sia’s appearance and sartorial choices instead of her distinctive, stunning vocals. That said, it seemed like the majority of SNL viewers took less of an issue with Sia than they did with Trump’s hosting abilities, even if they really don’t get the whole bangs-as-mask thing:

The “SAME” heard ’round the internet:

Yeah but Trump as a synth player tho.

I mean if “nothing” and “singing the everloving shit out of those songs” are the same thing to you, cool.

DUH

Dad for President.

Mom is fired.

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