"The Greatest," a new music video from Sia, begins without music or spoken word. Various sweeping shots reveal a jail cell, a dilapidated hallway, and a dim, gray room all littered with equally colorless and motionless bodies. Dancer Maddie Ziegler, who previously starred in Sia's "Chandelier," "Elastic Heart," "Big Girls Cry," and "Cheap Thrills," drags her fingers down her cheeks, leaving streaks of rainbow colors behind.
The video features 49 dancers, one for each of the Orlando victims.
Sia herself has yet to officially comment on the underlying message of the video, but the imagery and the narrative strongly anchor into the LGBTQ community and, more implicitly, the tragic mass shooting at the gay Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, FL, in June that left 49 dead. People attached to the project have acknowledged the connection, with a young man named Matt Moseley sharing a snap on Instagram and writing, "Humbled to be a part of this video . . . 49 beautiful lives lost. This is for you." Another woman named Kerrynton Jones also shared a behind-the-scenes photo, writing, "Much love going to all the Orlando victims."
At first glance, the video could speak to the trials and tribulations of the coming-out process. The dancers stir in their tiny, cramped cage. Then, Ziegler kicks open the door to the cell, and they're free to run. But it's not an unbridled dash toward freedom. It's frantic and fearful, and in the end, they're all still trapped: for as cathartic as it is for a gay person to assume their true identity, to free themselves, there will always be a bigger cage. In the modern ages, the cage takes many forms. It can manifest as an antagonistic bathroom bill or the outing of closeted gay athletes. Then, of course, there are the hate crimes against members of the LGBTQ community. In fact, LGBTQ people face a higher risk of being attacked than any other group, reports The Atlantic.
The last major sequence of Sia's video features a room filled with dancers. We see 49 bodies present, including Ziegler, as noted by People. That makes one dancer for each of the 49 victims who lost their lives in Orlando. The darkened corners and the red-blue lights become, in this moment, the echoes of the Pulse nightclub. As the song concludes, all the dancers fall limp to the ground, exposing in full the back wall, which appears to have been riddled with bullet holes. The closing shots of the video are identical to the opening shots: lifeless bodies strewn about in a bleak room, a dim hallway, and a locked jail cell. Ziegler cries silently, and her rainbow colors bleed together.
The music video seems to ask, how much progress have we actually made when it comes to LGBTQ rights? It's 2016, and we've just endured the most deadly mass shooting in US history, with members of the gay community as the primary target. When will our closets stop opening into dark, abandoned houses? The lyrics, of course, seem to offer an answer. "I see another mountain to climb, but I got stamina . . . Don't give up, I won't give up, don't give up, no."
The gay community won't give up. It's always better to be free than to stay, locked and safe, in that tiny cage.