Who or what was the best pop thing in 2013? Was it Beyoncé for faffing around, almost losing the plot then storming back with the best album of her career? Was it Lady Gaga for the arguably admirable singlemindedness of the whole ‘ARTPOP’ thing? What about Tegan & Sara for making an incredible album out of nowhere, as well as one of the year’s best product placement moments? And Abz on The Big Reunion? And Hurts with their cassette tape magical mystery tour? Actually, how about the time Jordin Sparks did a Christmas song in associate with Glade air fresheners?
Actually, the pop entity who reigned over 2013 like no other was Sia Furler.
Some would say Sia’s songs are an acquired taste, and we would agree to an extent, which is to say that if you don’t like amazing songs she is probably not for you.
More specifically, we suppose, there’s certainly a Sia sound. Not just in the way the songs are often mid-tempo, usually soaring, and invariably based on ideas of liberation, euphoria and defiance in the context and love and stuff, but in her vocals, which even the planet’s most distinctive vocal superstars can’t help but find themselves mimicking when they record songs from Sia’s demos.
In 2013 alone she’s given great songs to pop icons like Katy Perry, Britney Spears, Beyoncé and Celine Dion, but she’s also managed to work with Diplo, The Weeknd, Eminem and Angel Haze without it feeling contrived or disingenuous.
Being one of pop’s most sought-after writers comes with its own challenges. The gift and the curse of having every popstar on the planet, from the A List downwards, coming to you for songs is that it’s tempting to say yes to everyone, particularly if you’ve struggled to make your voice heard in the past, and have a cupboard full of songs nobody wanted to hear four years ago. It must be tempting to turn a blind eye to the quality control that put you where you are in the first place.
Just as importantly, do we need to worry about what happens to Sia when the distinctive Sia sound falls out of fashion? Actually, no we do not. Her own album — due in 2014 — should act as the tying together of all the loose ends of the last few years.
As well as being bombarded with songs featuring or written by Sia in 2013, we also encountered songs by Sia featuring other people (‘Elastic Heart’) and by Sia on her own (‘Kill & Run’). Both these tracks were placed on high profile soundtrack albums, which was a smart way of reintroducing Sia (or introducing her for the first time, to many) as an artist in her own right, without hitting anyone round the head with big “NOW HERE’S SIA THE SOLO ARTISTE” declarations.
2013 was twelve months of transition for Sia, a handover year when Sia the prolific songwriter and featured vocalist geared up for an even busier 2014. Has this been the plan all along? Has she been dropping clues ever since ‘Titanium’?
There have been a few key Sia moments in 2013. One was when Eminem's album turned out to be a bit iffy on the homophobia front and she announced that she’d give any cash she made from ‘Beautiful Pain’ to homeless LGBT youths.
Another was her extraordinary interview and cover shoot with Billboard magazine in the States, in which she set out her manifesto for 2014. The gist was that she didn’t want to be famous and wouldn’t be everywhere giving interviews and so on.
Splendid as the whole Billboard thing was, the interview was rather frustrating on three counts.
Firstly, this artist who looks likely to shy away from most interview requests is one whose opinions you do actually want to hear.
Secondly, while Sia's never courted celebrity culture and probably never will, it's also true that she's more than happy to give songs to people who are completely submerged in that world, so it's part of her success story whether she likes it or not.
Thirdly, you know what, it would actually be alright if Sia became really famous. Being famous isn’t a bad thing per se: it all comes down to what you're famous for. Miley Cyrus was most famous, in 2013, for sticking out her tongue and reversing into Robin Thicke's groin, and that's a shame because she could have been famous for having made a really good album. Sia meanwhile is becoming famous for being the hottest songwriter on the planet and there's no shame in that.
2014 will throw up its own surprises in terms of Sia songs appearing in unlikely places, but the place we’re most looking forward to hearing them is on Sia’s own album. For the time being, let’s celebrate the Pop Entity Of 2013: a woman whose songs soundtracked the year and whose Twitter bio for the entire twelve months was “I am Sia, I was born from the bumhole of a unicorn named Steve”.