“Uh-oh, running out of breath, but I,
Oh, I, I got stamina.
Uh-oh, running now, I close my eyes,
Well, oh, I got stamina.
And uh-oh, I see another mountain to climb,
But I, I, I got stamina.
Uh-oh, I need another lover, be mine
Cause I, I, I got stamina”
These are the words of the power ballad “The Greatest” written and performed by Sia. Sia is an artist from Australia who made a cross over to American music charts in the 2000s. Sia has found success in anthem-like songs of positivity, self-love, and endurance that come from her own personal experiences with overcoming addiction. “The Greatest” is a mantra like ballad of self-reassurance that was the most successful song off of her album “This is Acting.” Sia, known for her abstract videography and partnership with teen dancer Maddie Ziegler, released the music video in September 2016. The music video is an abstract piece full of expressive choreography and a deep message for the LGBTQ community. In the video we see children lead through a maze of sorts lead by Ziegler all while performing an extensive contemporary dance piece. The video gives a visual metaphor of the coming out process, adversity, self acceptance, and the lesson we must hold on to through one of the largest tragedies faced by LGBTQ community. This visual metaphor for the journey of LGBTQ people is presented to inform those who are unaware as well as inspire those who identify with the message to keep on going regardless of the challenge and adversity.
The music video opens to a girl, Maddie Ziegler, smearing rainbow paint on her face. We then see cut scenes of Ziegler going through various stages of grief, frustration, sadness and anger. The rainbow paint is symbolic of the gay community to which the rainbow is a symbol of pride, hope, and diversity. Gay pride symbols were created not so much as a celebration of being gay, but rather as a symbol of the right to exist freely without persecution (O’Neil 2018). This music video creates a clear message that the rainbow paint symbolizes the girl coming to terms with the identity of LGBTQ community. The cut scenes of Ziegler expressing various
emotions of grief and despair are symbolic of the process most LGBTQ youth go through when coming to terms with their sexuality. It is also symbolic that Ziegler is by herself as she is initially going through these emotions because typically LGBTQ members have to process these thoughts and inner conflicts themselves before being able to confront them with others.
As the video progresses we see a group of 49 children, various ages and ethnicities, laying on the ground and begin to wake up. Each child is wearing different articles of clothing but they are all the exact same color. The difference in style could be a representation of the differences human beings have as far as race, gender, and ethnicity. The clothing all being the same color represents an even stronger notion, although we have differences we are all human and because of that we are the same. We begin to see the children interact with Ziegler in what looks like a jail cell. Ziegler eventually kicks the door open and motions the children to run out. We see Ziegler leading the children through various dim lit rooms and hallways towards rooms where light is shining through. The children’s journey through these rooms and moments of light and dark are symbolic of the adversity members of the LGBTQ community face ad the various highs and lows associated with the lifestyle. The children are always running towards light as a symbol of the fight for equality and a better day where the adversities faced in the community are no longer.
Ziegler continues to lead the children to a hallway where the children seem to have a moment of collapse or fatigue. She is seen picking up each child and telling them not to give up and the children one by one rise to continue their journey. Ziegler, appearing to be older than most of the children, leading the way is symbolic of either an aly to the LGBTQ community or a member of the LGBTQ community who is determined and fighting to help those facing adversity. This moment leads into all of the children and Ziegler in a dance that shows them moving forward and collapsing. Each time they collapse it is for a short period of time and each time they get up their movement appears to be stronger and more animated than it was prior. This pattern is symbolic to the fight for equality where the LGBTQ community has had many victories followed by steps backwards. For example, the fight for marriage equality that has been going on since the 1970s has seen many steps forward and many steps back. In 1970 the first gay marriage license request was denied. Since then we have seen multiple bans on same sex marriage beginning in Maryland in 1973 and bans as recent as the one in Virginia in 2006. The Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that same sex marriage was legal in all 50 states however the process to get to that ruling was an uphill battle filled with many steps back and forth. Even today there are lawmakers working to challenge the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling and this is just one example of the up and down fight for equality(Procon, 2018). Regardless the most important message is that each fall was shorter than the last and each time the children rose they were stronger than before. The entire song and purpose of this video is defined in this simple visualization of fighting and overcoming what knocks you down.
The video now takes us to what appears to be the most lit room in the entire video. The children surround Ziegler as she dances with a smile on her face. The children eventually join in and dance with her. This moment in the video is an example of finally reaching a point of self acceptance in the coming out journey. There is no greater feeling than the moment a person is able to accept and love who they are especially for those in the LGBTQ community thats why this moment appears to be the brightest in the entire music video with only one emotion being conveyed through dance, happiness.
Next in the video the camera pans through the empty hallways, staircases, and rooms that the children journeyed through. This could be a metaphor for the self reflection a person might have once they have made it through a rough journey. The camera eventually finds Ziegler who then dances through various emotions once again. We see movement and expression that conveys sadness, frustration, anger, happiness, confusion and celebration. The difference in the roller coaster of emotions we are seeing is that none of the negative emotions last long in this sequence and none of the negative emotions cause her or the other children to collapse like they did earlier in the music video. This is a visualization that after a member of the LGBTQ community accepts themselves and begins to love who they are the adversity and self doubt doesn’t just magically go away. All of those battles still come, the way you deal with them and the way they affect you changes. Research around the concept of Internalized Homophobia has helped us understand this process of back and forth emotions LGBTQ people face. Internalized Homophobia is a self hatred condition developed by various factors including minority stress, societal concepts of gender and gender roles, and most obviously, bullying. Internalized Homophobia is something that affects all LGBTQ people at various levels. The higher levels are most commonly found in the beginning stages of the coming out process and are the most negative affecting. The lower levels are usually found when a person is out to friends and family but still face adversity and discrimination(Abate, 2018). Ziegler’s contemporary and emotion filled performance is a humanification of the internalized homophobia LGBTQ people deal with at its various levels. Showing this battle is important to the overall message of this video so that LGBTQ persons watching the video identify and see that the battle, although never over, eventually gets easier. It also helps those who are ignorant to these struggles have a better understanding and a visual reference to remind them.
In the last shot of the video we see Ziegler run into a room dimly lit in red hues where all the children are. The children and Ziegler appear to dance in celebration again. The children eventually go off individually and in groups moving in their own individual ways but all conveying happiness and celebration. When they finally reunite they all drop abruptly to the ground and appear not to move. We then see Ziegler open her eyes filled with a blank expression of what appears to be confusion and shock. We then see Ziegler in a red room distraught and crying for the remainder of the video with no music. The room in this last shot is symbolic of a nightclub and the children are seen their celebrating and dancing freely the way most people would in a nightclub. The children dropping to the floor is symbolic of death and it is here where we realize that the 49 children represent the 49 lives claimed in the Orlando Pulse Shooting. On June 12, 2016 a gunman opened fire inside of a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida called Pulse. The massacre left 49 dead and 58 wounded. The massacre which is now being described as one of the deadliest shootings in American history was interpreted as not only an act of terrorism but also an attack directly against the LGBTQ community(Cobos, 2016). Ziegler’s reaction when laying with the children is symbolic of the reaction American’s had when the news of Pulse broke, especially those in and close to the LGBTQ community. The last scene with Ziegler crying is in a red room and the color could be symbolic of emotions like anger or possibly even the color of blood. Her tears and grief represent what so many felt after this incident which would go on to be the second most deadly mass shooting in the history of the United States.
The Pulse tragedy shook the LGBTQ community and the world. This music video delivered three important messages in a time where the world needed it most. The first message was a direct nod to LGBTQ people, almost a validation that the roller coaster of adversity and self-doubt is something that should be understood by others outside of the community to create more understanding and tolerance. Secondly the video gave a message that those who fight get up stronger, and the importance of beating adversity and continuing to fight regardless of how many times you get knocked down. Lastly and most importantly, this message of endurance was delivered to us after the heartbreaking incidents in Orlando. To many LGBTQ men and women the tragedy of Pulse Nightclub was shocking, scary, and left us in a place of hopelessness. The message we have in this video is to keep going, keep fighting, and to regain our fight stronger then before even after such a tragedy. Having allies and understanding from those outside of the gay community is what was so important after Pulse. In order to take the fight for equality to the next level and to help make the road easier for LGBTQ youth we need awareness of what that journey looks like now. Using the tools of contemporary dance and clearly visible and understandable emotion helped the message come across clearly to the multiple audiences it was intended to reach. Breaking down the LGBTQ fight through adversity and relaying to a simple message of stamina and endurance created a relatability between all people. Sia delivered all of these messages in a time when both LGBTQ members needed to be lifted up, and people outside of the community needed to become aware.
Cobos, Daniella . “An Overview Of The Orlando Shooting” The Knockturnal. 14 June 2016.
This source gives a detailed breakdown of the Orlando Pulse shooting. I will use this to give a brief summary of the tragedy and then relate it to the tribute in the video to the victims of this massacre.
ProCon.org. “Gay Marriage Timeline.” ProCon.org. 6 Oct. 2014, gaymarriage.procon.org/view.timeline.php?timelineID=000030
This source gives a detailed timeline of the fight for same-sex marriage equality. It documents every date, place, and event that impacted same sex marriage internationally. I will be using this source to explain the back and forth struggle that took place before reaching a final ruling that legalized same sex marriage. I will then explain how this is an example of the fight for equality for LGBTQ people.
O’Neil, Kevin. “The History Of The Rainbow Flag.” Stop-Homophobia.org. January 2018
This source is a history lesson on what the pride flag and colors mean and where they originated from. I will be using this article to explain to my audience why the rainbow colors are important and used to symbolize pride.
Abate, Anthony. “Internalized Homophobia – The Self Hatred Disease.” ProfessorRamos.blog. 25 June, 2018
This detailed research proposal defines internalized homophobia. The essay explains who IHP effects, how it manifests, and why its a problem. I will be using this research that I presented in my essay to help correlate the idea of internalized homophobia being a huge theme in this music video. It is not exactly common to cite yourself but I felt that I would be using a lot of my original thoughts and research in this essay that were discovered in my last essay
Aphanopanop. “Sia The Greatest.” DeviantArt.com,
Sia. “Sia- The Greatest.” Youtube, Directed by Daniel Askill and Sia, 5 Mar. 2016, https://youtu.be/GKSRyLdjsPA
The text, as well as the lyrics and still music video images.