Sia has a new album coming out in January, This Is Acting, which entirely features songs she originally wrote for other A-listers, but were ultimately rejected. She spoke to Rolling Stone about the process of recycling could-be hit songs for other people into an entire album for herself, and what working with people like Rihanna, Kanye, Katy Perry, Adele and Beyonce is like from her own refreshingly humble perspective.
Her accounts paint the songwriter as an endearingly hard worker who has devoted a large portion of her career to trying to make other people sound good — even though she’s established herself as a formidable performer in her own right. She explains that she usually receives “20 or 30 tracks a week” from producers who want her to write lyrics and melody over them for a particular performer. Two of the songs on This is Acting, “Reaper” and “Cheap Thrills,” are ones she worked on for Rihanna. Kanye shares a writing credit on “Reaper,” though Sia admits they never actually worked side-by-side on it.
“They’ll entice me into a session by saying, “Rihanna will definitely be there” or “Kanye will definitely be there,” she explains, “but it’s hilarious because I turn up and, almost always, they never come.”
Not true of artists like Beyonce, with whom Sia says collaborating is “like a writing camp” and that “she’s very Frankenstein when she comes to the songs,” taking bits and pieces from various songwriters and asking to hear them mixed together. “In the end, she had maybe 25 songs of mine on hold, and I was very excited to get a couple of them back. Definitely one is on the album.”
And what of her famed collaboration with Adele, whose new album 25 was originally going to have Sia’s writing all over it, but came out last month without a single song attributed to her? Adele had already told Rolling Stone, “I actually love the dynamic” of being in the studio with Sia, who had a less confident take on the experience. She describes the regrets she felt about how handled herself during the sessions and even wrote Adele afterwards about how she was fearful that “it was a bit annoying working with me as opposed to satisfying.” Adele’s response to her? “What are you talking about?” Now a single they had worked on together, “Alive,” is part of Sia’s new album. (She muses that perhaps the song was “too much my voice and not enough hers.”)
Regarding her time spent with Katy Perry, Sia felt she never quite jelled with the “Fireworks” singer, whom she describes as “quite dominant, and she’s extremely analytical. I actually quit within the first hour of our first session.” Perry convinced Sia to stay on, which she says she’s now grateful for as one of those songs also ended up on the new album.
“I think that the stuff I write for pop music is terribly, terribly cheesy” she admits in the interview, though the reception of said cheese has helped her come to terms with the fact that a song can be both popular and meaningful at the same time.
“The success of them helped erode my feelings of insecurity around how cheesy they were.”