Billboard called this song a “new empowerment anthem,” which, okay. I don’t know that they listened to all the words. Sia’s voice cloaks the verses like crystallized honey, cutting into clarity only at the chorus — you could listen to this song on the radio a million times and never hear anything but unstoppable today, unstoppable toda-a-ay, dark and soaring. But a Porsche with no brakes is not unstoppable because it is powerful. It is unstoppable because it is lacking the piece it needs in order to stop.
The first line of this song is all smiles, I know what it takes to fool this town. It is very easy to trick people into believing you are empowered, because everyone knows what being empowered is supposed to look like. Lace up your black boots, shake down your hair, slap your palms on the sticky bar and demand another round. I put my armor on, show you how strong I am. Draw on that eyeliner sharp enough to kill a man, but laugh easily and love sex. Be badass. Strong Female Character. Cool Girl. Don’t need batteries to play.
I spent a lot of time play-acting at this role, wearing little black shorts over ripped glitter tights and sipping whiskey from plastic handles, but when the world rolled beneath me one too many times I went home and splashed cold water on my face and pulled the covers around me, shivering. I am lucky. I have always had brakes. Failsafe, built-in, so that even when my whole self is roaring with hurricane wanting I do not give it what it asks for. Sometimes I don’t keep going even when I should. It took me years to learn that not everyone has this luxury, that not everyone feels a compass needle in their chest swinging to point towards moderation and self-preservation. Not everyone knows how to lay down the mantle of wildness and begin soothing the startled kicking heart that caused them to wear it in the first place. Not everyone knows how to stop.
There’s fake it til you make it, and then there’s “we are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be,” and that both of these are highly popular instagrammable quotes as well as possible readings of this song is not an accident. You can choose to hear I put my armor on, show you how strong I am as a rallying cry, a promise that those who grit their teeth and charge through their sorrow enough times will come out as conquerors in the end. Or you can choose to hear it as a sentence of entrapment: I put my armor on, show you how strong I am, meaning retreating deeper and deeper into a cavernous shell of your own making until it is impossible to bring your vulnerabilities to light again, no matter how violently you rattle and clang against the walls.
I mean, I’m invincible, I win every single game is much easier to sing loud and clear to anyone who’s listening than I’ve heard that to let your feelings show is the only way to make friendships grow / but I’m too afraid now, yeah. Equating unstoppable with powerful is much less terrifying than believing it to be a warning sign. Then again: I listened to this song all weekend. When I went out for the first time in two days to buy groceries I rounded the corner of the sidewalk mouthing I’m so confident, yeah, and sunshine blazed from behind a cloud, and in that moment I believed it.
Sia’s new album is titled This Is Acting. It will be out at the end of this week.