The lead single from This is Acting, "Alive" was originally written by Sia for and with Adele, but the English songstress rejected the track at the last minute. Nevertheless, the Aussie decided to take on the track anyway. "It's about [Adele's] life, so I now sing a song from [Adele's] perspective," she told Slovenian news outlet. RTV Slovenija.
The song works perfectly with the theme of the album, as the title stems from Sia creating songs not necessarily meant for herself. She told Australian station Nova 96.9's DJs Fitzy and Wippa: "I'm calling it 'This Is Acting' because they are songs I was writing for other people, so I didn't go in thinking 'this is something I would say'. It's more like play-acting. It's fun."
Sia and Adele wrote three songs in two days, including "Alive," and none of them made the cut. The Australian songstress told Ryan Seacrest, that she said to Adele regarding this song, "Do you mind if I pitch it to, let's say, Rihanna?" The English star replied: "Yeah, but can you take my vocal off it because I don't want my vocal floating around out there on a demo."
Sia added that she agreed to Adele's request: "I was like, 'Sure.' So I went and recut the vocal and everybody in my life was like, 'You can't give this away to anybody.'"
Rihanna rejected the song too, so Sia ended up placing the track on This Is Acting.
Speaking to Ryan Seacrest on his radio show, Sia revealed that she wrote down the lyric "I'm still breathing," after watching an episode of America's Next Top Model and hearing the line being spoken by one of the contestants.
"This beautiful young man... had said that he had had a tough life, but he was like, 'I'm still breathing.' And I really felt emotional, so I wrote it down."
This was produced by Jesse Shatkin, who also worked with Sia on her "Chandelier
" hit single. He told Billboard
magazine that Sia, Adele and Tobias Jesso Jr. started off the writing of the song during a studio session, and the Aussie songstress sent him a hard drive containing a raw piano and vocal demo soon after. "Sia said, 'Would you like to take a crack at it?'" he recalled. "Obviously, I would have killed for the opportunity to do this song. I immediately started listening to it and just realized what a killer song it is. It's so inspired."
The song was originally intended for Adele and crafting the production for the English singer pushed Shatkin to add live elements that he wouldn't have done if it had been originally conceived for Sia. "We had a drummer come in, a guitarist and things like that," he said. "With Sia, I can do my hip-hop/electronic thing. With Adele, I was inspired to do more organic things. Those are still there in the song, and I think those bring a new layer out of the song for Sia."
The video was directed by Sia and Daniel Askill and filmed in Chiba, Japan. The clip features a very young Sia look-a-like with halved black and blond hair performing martial art moves in an abandoned warehouse. The child star is 9-year-old actress/dancer Mahiro Takano.
Sia and Daniel Askill also collaborated on the visuals for "Chandelier
," "Elastic Heart
." and '"Big Girls Cry
," which featured another preteen, dancer and actress Maddie Ziegler.
Sia performed this on Saturday Night Live when she was the musical guest on the November 7, 2015 episode (Presidential candidate Donald Trump was the host). Like her previous appearances, she wore a wig that covered her face while a dancer performed moves as seen in the video.
In this case, the dancer was Mina Nishimura, who is trained in the Japanese Butoh style, which is very expressive. Sia contacted Nishimura after seeing her perform in New York.