Coachella 2016: Sia changed the whole concept of star power on the main stage

Sia performs on the main stage on the final night of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival's first weekend.

Sia performs on the main stage on the final night of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival’s first weekend.

(Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

At a festival dominated by guest appearances, Sia’s Sunday Coachella set had plenty of them. But as the dust between festival weekends, it’s worth noting the transgression behind Sia’s set. It inverted the whole concept of a main-stage star turn while proving that she is as good a pop star as she is a singer and songwriter.

The misdirections of her set involved beautiful prerecorded music videos, which closely mirrored onstage performances in ways that hit a kind of uncanny valley. The clips, featuring Kristen Wiig, Tig Notaro, Paul Dano and others, were velvety, evocative dance numbers that looked amazing on Coachella’s new wraparound video monitors.


But more than just an accompaniment, the videos were a genius way of putting Sia where she wants to be (as an obscured prop in her own performance) while still allowing her set to hit all the necessary notes of a big Coachella moment.

The setup was so good, in fact, that she had to issue a statement clarifying who, exactly, was onstage and their relationship to what was happening in the videos. (Maddie Ziegler and Stephanie Mincone, with male dancers Wyatt Rocker, Nick Lanzisera and John Litzler, as directed by Sia and Daniel Askill with choreography by Ryan Heffington.)


Amid all the hype surrounding Guns N’ Roses this weekend, Sia is something rarer and all the more exciting right now -- a pop star who found a new way to hide in plain sight onstage. She sounded great, of course, with a set split between favorite singles, covers and cuts from her new album “This Is Acting,” a witty selection of songs she wrote for other artists who previously declined them. That record itself was a comment on the strange nature of authorship in collaborative pop music. Live, it took on new layers complicating what it means to write and perform.

Perhaps no one writing songs today has the same acumen for high-wire pop and EDM emotion. But her playfulness with the concept of star power (a move born out of a genuine discomfort with performing and being seen) is what separated her from the vast pack of artists trying to create #CoachellaMoments by surprise guest appearances.

The way she played it, everyone was on stage, and no one was at all. That’s a headliner move we’ve never seen before, and in hindsight, made for an actual moment no one saw coming.

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