Sia Biography and Career as Songwriter and Performer

Sia Coachella 2016
Photo by Kevin Winter / Getty Images

Early Life and Career

Sia Furler was born December 18, 1975 in Adelaide, Australia. Her father is a musician, and her mother is an art professor. They both were part of the band The Soda Jerx. Sia grew up in a rich artistic environment. She is also a niece of Men At Work's Colin Hay. As a child she counted Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, and Sting among her early influences. Sia says she came into her own as a singer while studying in Italy when she was 17.

She stood up in a karaoke bar and got the audience to join her in singing Bill Withers' "Lean On Me." In her late teens Sia performed jazz and then trip hop. She traveled with her boyfriend Dan Pontifex. While on her own in Thailand, she received word that he was tragically killed in a London traffic accident.

UK Success For Sia

Following the death of her boyfriend Sia settled in London. She sang backup for Jamiroquai and recorded and released a solo album Healing Is Difficult in 2002. The music is influenced by jazz and soul. The lyrics discuss dealing with the death of her boyfriend. "Taken For Granted," a single from the album, reached the pop top 10 in the UK. Sia recalls the years in mourning over the death of her boyfriend as very difficult and marked by extensive drug use. She recalls contemplating suicide and even going as far as writing a suicide note. In 2004 she released another studio album Colour the Small One.

Six Feet Under and Breathe Me

Sia was disappointed with the marketing of her music and relocated to New York City in 2005. It seemed that Sia's solo career was making little progress until her song "Breathe Me" from Colour the Small One was chosen to play a key role in the series finale of HBO's acclaimed Six Feet Under in the summer of 2005.

The song received airplay on alternative radio stations in the US and Colour the Small One broke into the Billboard Heatseeker chart. In response to the success of the song, Sia toured across the US to familiarize audiences with her other music.

Some People Have Real Problems

While pursuing her solo career, Sia also gained acclaim by appearing as a vocalist on albums by the English electronic music duo Zero 7. Strong anticipation for her 2008 pop solo album Some People Have Real Problems helped the collection reach #26 on the US album chart. It reached the top 5 on the alternative album chart. The single "The Girl You Lost To Cocaine" became a top 10 dance hit. In 2009, Christina Aguilera approached Sia about writing songs for her album Bionic. Sia wrote three songs on the album. She also co-wrote "Bound To You" from the soundtrack to the film Burlesque and it earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Song. In 2011, Sia appeared as an adviser to Christina Aguilera's team on the first season of the hit TV singing competition show The Voice.

Sia's Top Hits as Songwriter and Artist

  • "Titanium" (2011):  Featured Artist with David Guetta - #7
  • "Wild Ones" (2011): Featured Artist with Flo Rida - #5
  • "Diamonds" (2012): Songwriter for Rihanna - #1
  • "Chandelier" (2014): Solo Artist - #8
  • "Cheap Thrills" (2016): Solo Artist - #1

We Are Born

Sia's 2010 solo album We Are Born was her most upbeat pop record yet and she gave some credit to childhood idols Madonna and Cyndi Lauper. The album was produced by Grammy-nominated Greg Kurstin. It became her first top 10 hit album at home in Australia. In the US it broke into the top 40 on the album chart, her second consecutive album to do so. 

Sia's Pop Hits as Featured Vocalist

Following the success of We Are Born, Sia grew uncomfortable with growing fame and recognition. She began wearing a mask on stage and began taking drugs again. She decided to retire from her career as a recording artist and concentrate on songwriting. Throughout her career Sia has collaborated with a wide range of other artists, so it comes as no significant surprise that her worldwide pop singles breakthrough should come through appearances on songs by other artists.

In December 2011 David Guetta released the single "Titanium" with featured vocals from Sia, and it became a worldwide top 10 pop hit. The song was originally intended for Alicia Keys and then sent to David Guetta when it was rejected. The same month Flo Rida released his single "Wild Ones." It became Sia's first appearance in the pop top 10 in the US. "Titanium" was not officially released as a single in the US until the spring of 2012, and it quickly climbed the pop singles chart into the top 10. Sia also co-wrote songs for other artists including Beyonce and Kylie Minogue.

Sia was frustrated with David Guetta's decision to include her demo vocals on his recording of "Titanium." She told NPR Music, "I never even knew it was gonna happen, and I was really upset. Because I had just retired, I was trying to be a pop songwriter, not an artist."

Solo Pop Star

With the success of her featured appearances and songwriting on Rihanna's #1 pop hit "Diamonds," Sia reconsidered her retirement from work as a solo artist. She began singing for a world primed for her ascent as a pop star. Accompanied by a striking music video featuring 11-year-old dancer Maddie Ziegler, "Chandelier," the first single from the album 1000 Forms of Fear, became Sia's breakthrough hit as a solo pop artist. It reached the pop top 10 around the world including #8 in the US. Sia promoted the song through an unusual string of TV performances. She wore a large wig to conceal her face while the audience focused on performances by dancers.

"Chandelier" was followed by the top 20 hit "Elastic Heart." Released in July 2014, the album 1000 Forms of Fear was a #1 hit in the US. "Chandelier" earned Grammy Award nominations for Record of the Year and Song of the Year. 

Sia contributed three new songs to the film soundtrack for the 2014 adaptation of the Broadway musical Annie. She also worked on revisions of songs from the Broadway show. Her work on the new song "Opportunity" earned a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Original Song.

Number One Hit

By February 2015, Sia revealed that she had completed This Is Acting, her follow up album to 1000 Forms of Fear. The new collection consisted of Sia's versions of songs she wrote that were rejected by other artists including Beyonce, Adele, and Rihanna. The single "Cheap Thrills" became Sia's first #1 pop hit single in the US in the summer of 2016. It was promoted with Sia's third music video to feature Maddie Ziegler. The album This Is Acting reached #4 on the US album chart. "The Greatest," the follow up single to "Cheap Thrills," included rapping from Kendrick Lamar and climbed inside the top 20 on the US pop chart. This Is Acting was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Album and "Cheap Thrills" was nominated for Best Pop Duo or Group Performance.

Sia has also contributed music to a variety of other projects. She recorded a cover of the Mamas and the Papas classic "California Dreamin'" for the soundtrack to the film San Andreas in 2015. She sang on a cover of Nat King Cole's "Unforgettable" for the animated film Finding Dory in 2016.

She also contributed songs to the films Lion and Wonder Woman. In March 2017, Sia performed live at the Dubai World Cup horse race with her dancers including Maddie Ziegler.