The concept of Sia's new album, This Is Acting, feels like a watershed in the public's growing awareness of the way pop sausage gets made today: The idea is that every song (save one) was originally meant for another artist, who passed. This gimmick relies on listeners being aware that Sia, 40, is at once the Australian singer who camouflages her face under a shaggy wig and had a global smash with "Chandelier" and the behind-the-scenes songwriter Sia Furler, whose prolific output sparked hits for Rihanna, Kelly Clarkson, Beyoncé, Ne-Yo, etc.
Part of the pleasure of This Is Acting, then, comes from the game of matching songs to their could-have-been singers. The risk is that people will infer that this is the reject pile. Sia's openness about the songs' background signals either great confidence that they will overcome that stigma or a cynical assumption that our fascination with celebrity interplay is the most powerful attractor of all. More meta yet, the album opens with "Bird Set Free," which comes across as a recap of Sia's career and a manifesto for her self-realization as a songwriter: "I found myself in my melodies ... I'll shout it out like a bird set free." Pitch Perfect 2 and Rihanna reportedly turned it down; Adele recorded it but ultimately left it and other offerings by Sia off her 25 album.