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This Is Acting is the seventh studio album by Australian singer and songwriter Sia. It was released on 29 January 2016 by Inertia, Monkey Puzzle and RCA Records. The album is mostly composed of songs written by Sia for other pop artists that were not included on their albums. Sia described songwriting for others as "play-acting," hence the title This Is Acting.
"Alive", the album's lead single, was released on 24 September 2015. The second single, "Cheap Thrills", was released on 11 February 2016, becoming a top 5 in a number of markets and marking her first number one on the US Billboard Hot 100. The remix of the track featured guest vocals from Sean Paul. A deluxe edition of This Is Acting was released on 21 October 2016 featuring seven new tracks, including the single remix of "Cheap Thrills" and the solo and Kendrick Lamar-assisted versions of "The Greatest". The fourth single, "Move Your Body" was released on 6 January 2017. The singles "Cheap Thrills" and "The Greatest" both reached the top 5 in numerous countries. The singles "Alive" and "Move your Body" only managed to reach the top 100 in numerous countries.
The album received generally positive reviews from music critics, who complimented Sia's vocals and deemed it a concept album. However, some criticized the impersonal and indirect nature of the songs. The album debuted at number one in Australia, and also reached number four on the US Billboard 200, selling 81,000 album equivalent units in its first week--of which 68,000 were from pure album sales, becoming Sia's highest first week sales in the country. To further promote the album, Sia embarked on the accompanying Nostalgic for the Present Tour in September 2016. This Is Acting was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Album.
Background and development
This Is Acting is Sia's follow-up to her sixth studio album 1000 Forms of Fear (2014). In December 2014, Sia told Spin that she had "two [more records] completed and ready to go". She revealed details of This Is Acting for the first time in an interview published by NME in February 2015. In the article, she confirmed once again that work on the album was finished and that its content was "more pop" than her previous material. She also revealed that the success of 1000 Forms of Fear, specifically its lead single "Chandelier", encouraged her to continue releasing new material, and said of the album's title: "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." The album's cover art features Sia's face digitally altered. Shortly after Sia's announcement, Out published a list of her "10 Greatest Hits for Other Artists" in anticipation of the album.
Release and promotion
During an online chat with fans in April 2015, Sia revealed that the album would "probably" be released in early 2016, but possibly before the end of 2015.
The Target-exclusive deluxe edition of This Is Acting features a song by the name of "Summer Rain." It is believed that this song was rejected by Christina Aguilera. An alleged track list for Aguilera's eighth studio album was leaked early in 2015, and the fifth track was entitled "Summer Rain", suggesting that she was planning on recording and releasing a song dedicated to her daughter with the same name. Sia is also listed as one of the producers on the record. Now that a song whose title is identical to Aguilera's alleged track name has been realized and placed on Sia's extended album, it is thought to have been planned for Aguilera initially, but declined shortly after.
A deluxe edition of This Is Acting was released on 21 October 2016 featuring seven new tracks, including 3 brand new tracks: "Confetti", "Midnight Decisions", and "Jesus Wept", as well as the single remix of "Cheap Thrills", the Alan Walker remix of "Move Your Body", and the solo and Kendrick Lamar-assisted versions of "The Greatest".
In September 2015, Sia confirmed the album's lead single "Alive" would be released later that month and was originally written for Adele; the English singer and songwriter co-wrote but "rejected" the song at the last minute. The album's release date, 29 January 2016, was confirmed in early November 2015.
"Cheap Thrills" was released as the album's second official single on 11 February 2016, and it was originally planned for Rihanna.
"The Greatest" was released as the first single from the deluxe version of the album on 5 September 2016. It features vocals from American rapper Kendrick Lamar.
"Move Your Body" was released as the fourth single from the album on 6 January 2017. The song was originally planned for Shakira.
"Bird Set Free" was released as the first promotional single along with the pre-order of the album on 4 November 2015. The song was originally written for Pitch Perfect 2 but it was rejected in favor of "Flashlight". The song was then pitched to Rihanna. After being rejected, it was then recorded by Adele but did not make the cut for her third studio album, 25.
"One Million Bullets" was released as the second promotional single on 27 November 2015. The song is the only one on the album that was not pitched to another artist.
"Cheap Thrills" was announced as the album's third promotional release and was released on 16 December 2015. The song was one of two tracks rejected by Rihanna who, as Sia described, was a no-show at the recording sessions.
"Reaper" was released as the fourth promotional single on 7 January 2016. The song was written by herself and Kanye West for Rihanna, but Sia decided to keep it.
"Unstoppable" was released as the fifth and final promotional single on 21 January 2016. Jessie Morris of Complex commented that the song sounds like a "page torn right out of Demi Lovato's Confident book", while editors of other media platforms like Idolator noticed this as well, which raised speculation that the track was intentionally written for Lovato.
This Is Acting received generally positive reviews from music critics. The A.V. Club gave the album a favorable review, stating that "There's a clear theme here, and it's emancipation--from fear, from doubt, and most of all, from feeling as though she wasn't meant to be a star. Gone is the uncertainty that still clung to many of her earlier efforts at mainstream pop hits of her own; success has granted her the confidence to dive into the deep end of the mainstream music pool, and the results are potent."
Jon Pareles from The New York Times gave the album a mixed review, writing "In 'Alive,' as she repeats 'I'm still breathing!' in the chorus, she makes her voice break a different way each time she sings it. But Sia's success as a hitmaker has also turned into a pitfall. Even as she and her producers flaunt their layered vocals and whiz-bang sound effects, there are already so many of Sia's midtempo victim-to-victory anthems around that they offer diminishing returns, particularly when listened to as an album."
Kathy Iandoli of Idolator was more positive towards the effort, stating that it "feels like the aftermath of coming to terms with her nagging demons, as Sia maintains brutal honesty cloaked in cinematic, mainstream music -- albeit through songs that, as we well know by now, were written for and rejected by other artists."
She continues: "Her voice is so bold and beautiful that when she attempts to wedge herself into songs designed for thin voices (check "Sweet Design"), she sounds like an opera singer in a dancehall."
On a more personal aspect, she writes "feels as though Sia's career has been idyllic thus far to everyone but her. She started in the super cool indie world, moved over to mid-level pop majesty, took a break to be a hit songwriter and then slid into near-icon status. But when you live inside your head, none of that really matters, and that's what This Is Acting reveals."
Billboard listed This is Acting among the best albums of the first half of 2016, with an editor writing "While other artists shudder at the thought of being labeled a sellout, Sia celebrated the moniker - and turned it into a concept album."
This Is Acting debuted atop the ARIA Albums Chart in Australia, and received a gold certification for sales of over 35,000 copies. It debuted at number four on the US Billboard 200 with first-week sales of 81,000 album equivalent units (68,000 in pure album sales), which became Sia's highest sales week in the country. As of 1 January 2017, the album has sold 299,600 copies and 904,000 total equivalent units in the United States.
In its 26th week on Billboard 200, the album vaulted back into the top 10 for the first time since its debut week, as it rose 11-6 with 30,000 units, supported by the success of the second single "Cheap Thrills", which reached the summit of the Billboard Hot 100 at the time.
In its 39th week, it vaulted 18-11 due to the deluxe edition of the album being released, and became the greatest gainer of the week. Also, during this week, the lead single off the deluxe edition, "The Greatest", rose 25-19.
As of August 2017, the album has sold 2,000,000 copies worldwide.
"Sweet Design" samples elements of "Thong Song" (1999) performed by Sisqó, written by Mark "Sisqó" Andrews, Tim Kelley, Bob Robinson, Desmond Child and Robi Rosa, "Remind Me" performed by Schiller Street Gang, and "Life Walked Out" performed by The Mist.
Sia - vocals, executive producer, all photos, art direction, design, font creator
^"Czech Albums - Top 100". ?NS IFPI. Note: On the chart page, select 201636 on the field besides the word "Zobrazit", and then click over the word to retrieve the correct chart data. Retrieved 12 September 2016.