This swooping serenade about a party girl's life was the first solo single by Sia in four years, following the release of her 2010 studio album We Are Born. (She did contribute "Elastic Heart" to The Hunger Games: Catching Fire soundtrack in 2013 with Diplo and The Weeknd). Between the two releases, the Australian singer-songwriter "retired" her solo career and began co-writing hit songs for the likes of Rihanna ("Diamonds"), David Guetta ("Titanium") and Flo Rida "Wild Ones"). She still owed one album on her publishing contract, so she delivered 1000 Forms of Fear, which she figured would go unnoticed. Instead, the "Chandelier" video became one of the most popular offerings on YouTube, and Sia became a sensation. Her plan foiled, she shifted focus back to her own work.
The song stemmed from an impromptu jam session between Sia and pop producer Jesse Shatkin. "I usually think, 'Oh this would work for Rihanna, or this would be a good one for B or Katy,'" Sia said to Ryan Seacrest. "But this time I was like, 'Uh oh I think I just wrote a full-blown pop song for myself by accident!'"
Shatkin and Sia came up with the song whilst working with hit producer Greg Kurstin (Pink, Kesha, Kelly Clarkson). "At some point, Greg had to run out, and me and Sia were in his live room with his piano and drum set and just kind of jammed for a second," Shatkin recalled to MuuMuse. "Greg has a marimba, so I was playing marimba - some weird notes - and Sia was playing the piano."
"She records everything on her phone, so we just kind of figured out a chord progression together," Shatkin continued. "She sent it to me on a voice note, and I turned it into a track. She already had the melody instinctively while she was writing the chords. We were real excited that she wanted to do this for her record, and then Greg added his production. I was really proud of it."
Kurstin explained his contribution to Rock Genius: "'Chandelier' was written by Sia and Jesse Shatkin," he said. "Sia brought it in for me to work on and tie into the other songs on the record. I added some acoustic piano, Mellotron and live drums over the track. I left most of Jesse's production; which was awesome."
The song's music video features a dance performance from a Sia-wigged Maddie Ziegler. The 11-year-old star of Lifetime's Dance Moms was personally asked to be in the clip by the singer. Sia co-directed the visual with Daniel Askill, who previously helmed the visual for her hit single "Breathe Me."
Speaking with Dazed, Sia explained the blonde bob worn by her in the 1000 Forms of Fear artwork and by Maddie Ziegler in the music video is a layer of protection from the outside world. "I already have a much larger concept for this album and for how I'm going to present it and that was: I don't want to be famous," she said. "If Amy Winehouse was a beehive then I guess I'm a blonde bob. I thought 'well if that's my brand, how can I avoid having to use my face to sell something', so my intention was to create a blonde bob brand."
The song is a rejoinder to all those pop tunes that celebrate the non-stop party. It is rooted in the now-sober Sia's past struggles with alcoholism. "That's why 'Chandelier' was interesting to me. I wrote the song because there's so many party-girl anthems in pop," she told NPR. "And I thought it'd be interesting to do a different take on that."
Sia and Greg Kurstin wrote this very quickly. "'Chandelier' took like four minutes to write the chords, then like 12-15 minutes to write the lyrics," she told NPR. "Probably 10 or 15 minutes to cut the vocals."
1000 Forms Of Fear topped the US albums chart. Sia's previous best was 2008's Some People Have Real Problems, which peaked at #26. In addition to reaching #1 on the Billboard list, the LP reached the summit on the iTunes albums chart in 47 countries.
In 2018, Sia told Rolling Stone the video is "the best thing I've ever done," giving her impetus to continue as a solo artist. Her manager, Jonathan Daniel, added, "There's no rise without the 'Chandelier' video. We would've stopped. She was fine with not making records and just writing songs."
The song was a wordwide hit, topping the singles charts in France, Israel and Poland.
This song featured in a 2014 Saturday Night Live skit where Jim Carrey and Kate McKinnon each show up to a Halloween office gathering dressed as "the child dancer from Sia's 'Chandelier' music video." The sketch resolves with the pair dancing to the song throughout the entire studio.
Billboard magazine chose this as their Best Song of 2014. They said: "The towering YOLO anthem 'Chandelier' took months to reach the Top 10 of the Hot 100 chart, but pop purveyors embraced its sentiment and Sia's performance almost immediately, turning the camera-shy Australian into an American star."
Sia concealed her face during performances of this song. When she was the musical guest on Saturday Night Live (on her first appearance, January 17, 2015), she sang it with her face obscured by her wig while a mine acted out the song next to her. On The Graham Norton Show, she faced a wall while the dancer Denna Thomsen performed. Sia's faceless appearances were her reaction to the soul-sucking nature of fame and predatory, vapid celebrity journalism.
This was nominated for Grammy Awards for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Music Video and Best Pop Solo Performance, but didn't win any as Sam Smith's "Stay With Me" took the first two and Pharrell Williams' "Happy" the later two.
Sia did perform the song, however, singing it while facing a wall in a set that resembled the music video, while Kristen Wiig and Maddie Ziegler did the interpretive dance.
The video was choreographed by Ryan Heffington, who also did Sia's "Elastic Heart" clip. Speaking with Bullett magazine, he explained: "The song is about addiction, yet the video concept is more abstract than just this. What I find important is that this piece of art has so many interpretations. I don't think I could (or in fact want to) create such definition of the plot, it lives much more vibrant if I do not."
He added: "Early on I requested the architectural detailing of the character's living space and what furniture would inhabit it. Like any of our dwellings we spend an absorbent amount of time in, all material components becomes part of the physical dialogue between us and these objects - walls, furniture, hallways. Although muddled in color and sparse in content, it was a choice to have the environment be rich in means of activity for the character. How often do children find a pile of dirt and a hose the most enthralling playmates? Yes, she may be isolated from other humans or environments, but seemingly rich in imagination with the ability to utilize fantasy to entertain herself via exploring new physical conversations with what simply existed before her eyes."
In 2017, Natalie Portman starred in a commercial soundtracked by this song for Miss Dior perfume. The ad, directed by Emmanuel Cossu, is a mini-movie, showing Portman in various states of exhilaration before asking, "What would you do for love?" It quickly racked up over 30 million views on YouTube.