Sometime around the end of 2010, Sia Furler hit bottom. She was exhausted, numb, self-medicating. She’d had some success, but the trade-off—touring, promotion, life without privacy—felt too steep. She thought about suicide. Then an idea came along: Why put so much of herself on the line when she could just try writing for someone else? Even after coming back to the stage as a solo artist, Furler maintained a degree of playful detachment: The big wigs, the reluctance to show her face. But the music was real, empathetic, even heroic—anthems of vulnerability and self-empowerment that handled huge feelings with a lightness that made it seem like she was dancing slightly above the ground. Pop songs are fantasies, she seemed to say. But they also get us through.
Born in Adelaide, Australia, in 1975, Furler started out singing in a local acid-jazz band called Crisp before moving to London, joining the trip-hop group Zero 7 while starting a solo career. Her early albums—off-kilter pop with hints of folk, electronica and jazz—did fine, but it wasn’t until she started writing for other artists that her career took off. Beyoncé (“Pretty Hurts”), Britney Spears (“Perfume”), Katy Perry (“Double Rainbow“), Rihanna (“Diamonds”): Furler’s writing made for some of the most bright-lined, all-caps pop of the 2010s, while her own tracks (“Chandelier”, “The Greatest”, “Alive”, “Unstoppable”) set new standards for playacting in pop performance, making her—a queer woman whose self-professed higher power is a surfing, Santa Claus-like figure called Whatever Dude—not just a songwriter, but also a kind of oddball role model for anyone who’s ever felt like they didn’t quite fit in. She said a producer once claimed that it wasn’t fair for her to be able to turn out a song in 20 minutes and get the royalty split she did. Maybe so, Furler clapped back—but getting to those 20 minutes took her 15 years.
HOMETOWNAdelaide, South Australia, Austra
BORN18 December 1975