When I lived in Singapore, I once had a conversation with one of the brothers there about what I didn’t miss about the United States. Don’t get me wrong, I love my home country now and I did then, but the question didn’t leave me speechless; there were some things I was more than happy to be without then and could do without now. One of the things I mentioned to the brother is the rap music culture that developed as I grew up in Hotlanta (sorry, I mean Atlanta—see the influence a culture can have on you). In describing the rap songs that were popular in my teens and early twenty’s, I told the brother there were basically only five topics rappers discussed: pride (i.e. the rapper talks about how great he is compared to others), partying, sex (including graphic descriptions of the opposite sex), curse words (if that can be called a theme), and drugs (including alcohol). If you got rid of all the references to these five themes, then most of the rap songs that were popular just before I moved overseas would be just a few articles, conjunctions, and prepositions set to a backbeat. Yep, I can’t say that I missed that or that I’m glad to have it back.
Many American “pop” songs however still did make it overseas, and as my time abroad continued, the benefit I experienced in having moved overseas became less and less. The five themes I noticed in rap music and pointed out to that brother increasingly became the topic of pop songs too. Today, I’m not sure that there’s much of a difference at all. There’s a lot of money to be made in these five themes; people seem never to get tired of them.
However, every now and then a song pops up that causes me to listen a bit more closely; such was the case with 2014’s “Chandelier” by Sia. When I first heard the song, I thought she had picked the theme “drugs” and ran with it. ”1,2,3, 1,2,3 drink” she repeats in the chorus before the namesake line, “I’m gonna swing from the chandelier.” She then adds, “I’m gonna live like tomorrow doesn’t exist… I’m gonna fly like a bird through the night.” However, after that last line something strange comes up to break the mold: “Feel my tears as they dry.” Where did those tears come from?
The song opens up much lower than the chandelier—it’s daytime and she’s preparing for a night out with friends who want to party with her. As she’s getting ready, she says, “Party girls don’t get hurt, can’t feel anything; when will I learn? I push it down, push it down.”
Regret and shame seem already to be there before she even goes out to party. Given that’s the way she feels, why on earth would she go out? The apostle once said, “Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits’ (1 Corinthians 15:33), and the truth of the adage seems to apply to the words in Sia’s song. She goes out because the pull for companionship is too great. Her friends call her, pick her up from her house, she “feel[s] the love” from them and together they drink. She’s swinging from the “Chandelier”—on top of her world.
However, after the portion of the chorus mentioned above, Sia seems to come spiraling down just as her tears are drying:
But I'm holding on for dear life, won't look down won't open my eyes
Keep my glass full until morning light, 'cos I'm just holding on for tonight
Help me, I'm holding on for dear life, won't look down won't open my eyes
Keep my glass full until morning light, 'cos I'm just holding on for tonight.
After these powerful lines comes the most telling line of all: “Sun is up, I'm a mess, Gotta get out now, gotta run from this, Here comes the shame, here comes the shame.” After that, sadly, the chorus repeats. The only escape from the shame of the hangover (and all she’s done while drunk) is to drink again.
The song stood out to me at the time because in it I finally saw someone saying something different about one of the favored five themes of modern musicians. Sia was not glorifying drinking; instead, she was describing the incredibly tragic cycle that accompanies alcohol use.
The tragic cycle that Sia describes in her song is not foreign to the Bible. God’s book provides everything we need to live better and more godly lives (2 Peter 1:3), including the warnings that we need (1 Corinthians 10:11). It could have kept the Sia, or the character she imagined for her song, from experiencing the cycle at all. Compare the above lyrics from “Chandelier” with the below words from the Proverbs writer:
Who has woe? Who has sorrow?
Who has strife? Who has complaining?
Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes?
Those who tarry long over wine; those who go to try mixed wine.
Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly.
In the end it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder.
Your eyes will see strange things, and your heart utter perverse things.
You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, like one who lies on the top of a mast.
‘They struck me,’ you will say, ‘but I was not hurt; they beat me, but I did not feel it.
When shall I awake? I must have another drink’ (Proverbs 23:29-35 ESV, emphasis added).
Sia’s highs and lows echo the warnings of the Proverbs. She (or the character of her song) is experiencing the cycle the Proverb’s author warned us against
In the world of “Chandelier,” there’s no escape from the cycle of alcohol. However, the proverbs writer offers a preventative solution, “Do not look at wine.” It’s so simple, and yet so profound. The best way not to fall from a chandelier is not to get up there in the first place. Ask the girl in the song come daylight—there’s absolutely nothing worth having up there.
What if you find yourself caught in the cycle which Sia describes, whether with alcohol or some other addictive substance or behavior? Such struggles can seem humanly impossible to overcome; you can see it in Sia’s lyrics, and you might be feeling that way right now. However, even in this, the Bible doesn’t leave us alone. Notice the frustration in the words Paul uses to describe his life before he became a Christian (Romans 7:14-23). The impassioned cry at the end of Paul’s description of his own cycle of sinful behavior echoes the frustration of Sia’s song: “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (v. 24). However, the Bible doesn’t just commiserate; it seeks to save souls (James 1:21). Paul was describing his past, not his present in Romans 7. He found a solution and we can find it too: “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (v. 25).
The cleansing power of Christ’s blood can remove the guilt and shame that came from our past sinful lives. When we are baptized into Christ, our old man is destroyed; sin loses its grip on our lives as we celebrate a new life (Romans 6:4, 6). Further the sanctifying power of the gospel can remove us from the lifestyle that created the habits of our former sinful life in the first place. If the song is anything to go by, Sia was led (or at the very least led back) to alcohol by her “friends.” Christ removes us from old friends and binds us to more than friends—the family of God (Ephesians 2:19). The old paves way for the new as we no longer walk down the path of being “drunk with wine” (or whatever other sinful way held influence over our lives), but instead seek to “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).
It is so sad that we live in a world that glorifies the very things that enslave us and destroy us. It’s encouraging though that a few small voices of that same world are at least beginning to be honest about the realities of those things. However, if we’re passively waiting for the popular world to change for the better or—even more unlikely—for it to change others for the better, we’ll be waiting a long time. I doubt many people give much thought to Sia’s lyrics as they’re dancing to her song at a club, sipping alcohol.
It’s even more encouraging to realize that we as Christians are not left to be tossed to and fro in the currents of popular media, whether towards the five themes I mentioned before or any other sinful theme. God has not left us to discover what is dangerous and harmful for ourselves; we don’t have to climb to the chandelier to find out it’s a bad idea. Instead, God has identified the things that are dangerous for us in His word. Even if we’ve gotten caught up in those things, He gives us a way of escape. What a blessing.
 All Scripture quoted is taken from the NKJV Bible unless otherwise noted.