Track Review: Sia – The Greatest (feat. Kendrick Lamar)

I’m gonna start this off on a bold declaration: I friggin’ hate empowerment anthems. Especially when it comes to pop music, it usually comes off as pandering to the insecurities of your core demographic. They tend to overuse the same cliche phrases like “rise” or “not afraid” or other self help manual bullshit. A song like “Fight Song” doesn’t have the energy or that bombast that is generally required of an actual fight song. When I think of a fight song I think of something like “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” or “Rolling in the Deep”. Now those are songs to pump you up before a football game or burning down an exe’s house. And that’s the key point where most of these so-called anthems fail. The thing that derails so many of these types of songs is usually down to the inability of the performer to really give a powerful enough performance to inspire the sort of confidence they’re trying to sell to the listener. 

That’s where Sia’s a little different from most artists working in mainstream pop. Most of her best (and most popular, for that matter) songs don’t rely on subtlety. They find strength in simply blasting the listener with that powerful voice of her’s on top of an equally powerful hook. And while she holds the belting back to a certain extent on “The Greatest”, at least compared to other songs of hers, she still delivers a vocal stronger than most of the stiffly comped, autotuned, pieced-together-from-a-hundred-takes-to-salvage-any-good-bits-they-can studio work that comes with certain other more bottom of the barrel pop acts. *coughcoughfifthharmonycough* 

 -RANT OVER.-

 Anyways, where was I?

The production here is great. The backing has a bit of an island flare, but it’s blended into the music a lot better than when someone like Twenty-One Pilots try to incorporate disparate dance hall bits into their songs . It’s punchy, with just the right amount of vocal layering to give it some space without drowning out the lead singing. I especially like how they they cut together a drum track with some hip-hopish rattling high hats, but with more organic percussive sounds than your typical 808s would give. A weird little thing I noticed is that there seems to be a male voice harmonizing under Sia’s voice specifically on the line “I got stamina”, and I’m not sure exactly who that is. It’s the type of thing that you don’t really notice at first but once you do it seems louder each time you listen to it.

To be honest, the only thing that I’m sort of disappointed in with this track is Kendrick Lamar, which is something I thought I would never say; he usually takes a lesser song and makes it better. But here, I think the problem is that his verse is just too short for him to delve into any cool wordplay or extended metaphors that he’s known for. I’m not sure exactly of the reason for this but I have a theory. The song is pushing four minutes, any longer and most top-40 radio stations get more and more unwilling to play the song. But there’s about a half-minute long fade out on this track with just repetitions of the chorus! They could’ve used that for more lyrics from Kendrick or bridge or something but maybe I’m just nitpicking at this point. But still, why get the guy who’s renowned for his complex lyricism and emphasis on conceptual themes and give him only fifteen seconds to work within? Maybe that’s just in keeping with the overall flow of the song.

Lyrically, this song is dead simple, which I think is part of what saves it from being lumped in with other crappy songs that try something similar. It doesn’t try to be faux-poetic, and a literal interpretation probably wouldn’t be far off from a deeper reading. While it’s more subtext in the standalone song, the video has very direct references to LGBT struggles and the Pulse nightclub shooting victims, which gives the track a legitimate emotional weight that might be a little too serious for other pop acts to address without a  great amount of tact. The addressing of social issues is certainly done better here than that atrocious “Where’s the Love” song that came out just a little while ago as well. 

So yeah, I like this song. It’s good. Really good. No surprise there really, seeing how Sia’s output thus far has been consistently solid, even as she transitions from her more indie-oriented work to a poppier sound. It’s certainly a breath of fresh amidst all the Travis Scott that keeps coming up in my Apple music playlists.

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