Over a year after the release of her sixth album, 1000 Forms of Fear, Australian singer-songwriter Sia is back with a new album underway. With her seventh album, This Is Acting, set for release on January 29, 2016, she’s already beginning to promote it with the release of three of its tracks and on November 5th, she released the music video for the lead single, “Alive.”
Similar to her previous music videos, Sia is nowhere to be seen as we are instead treated to a choreographed piece performed by a child in the trademark bob wig. Unlike the previous music videos, the one for “Alive” has martial arts rather than a dance routine, and instead of 13-year-old dancer Maddie Ziegler, it’s 9-year-old Japanese karate star Mahiro Takano who dons the bob.
All focus is on young Takano who appears to be alone in an empty room. She is meditating and stirring tea at the beginning of the video, and then performs a number of moves as Sia is heard belting out the song. Conceptually, the video is an interesting take on a song about overcoming struggles and becoming a fighter, especially in the parts where she looks as if she’s sparring an invisible opponent.
I could see this music video as an extension of a listicle I did last year about music videos that respectfully depict Asian culture. There are many examples where Asian culture is objectified in music videos, such as Avril Lavigne’s “Hello Kitty” and Nicki Minaj’s “Your Love,” but this music video is one of only few examples that doesn’t resort to cultural appropriation. Sia, who also served as the co-director for the music video, made a respectable and creative choice of using the Japanese martial art as a symbolic visual for her song by simply having Takano show what she knows.
In addition, it’s also wise to note that a young Asian girl is the star this time around. According to Entertainment Weekly, Sia found Takano online after coming across videos of her on YouTube. In fact, one of Takano’s demo videos went viral last year, where she is seen performing Kanku Dai kata (a karate form), and it has since garnered nearly five million views. Much like the music videos for Sia’s previous album, as author Shannon Carlyn observes in her article for Bustle, the casting of young girls has not only been a way of filling in for her absence, but also as a way to empower young girls and women to not feel limited in what they can or cannot do.
Ziegler, who beforehand was known for being on the reality show Dance Moms, gained wider notice after appearing in the music videos for Sia’s “Chandelier,” “Elastic Heart,” and “Big Girls Cry.” Due to the seldom appearance of Asians in music videos, the fact that Takano might receive similar attention for her performance in “Alive” is a really exciting possibility. It does, however, depend on her deal with Sia. While Ziegler was signed on to do three music videos, it is currently unknown as to whether or not this will be the only one Takano appears in.
The music video does have the potential to be subjective to enforcing the stereotype that all Asians know martial arts. Ideally, I’d like to think that we’re in a time now where people would know better, but if that were truly the case, then the stereotypical roles and lack of visibility of Asians in the media wouldn’t be as significant an issue as it is. But considering Takano’s background in martial arts, I hope that the music video can be seen more as a way of showcasing her talent, similar to how “Chandelier” showcased Ziegler’s. Besides, it’s not that often where martial arts are included in a music video. Unlike mainstream martial art films where they’re made to look flashy with post-production visual aesthetics, Takano makes it real by simply demonstrating the moves she has learned that has led to her earning a black belt.
This past year, we’ve begun to see a turnout in better representations of Asians and Asian Americans in the media landscape. With this music video out there now starring a talented Japanese girl, my hope is that it ignites the move to diversify actors and performers in the future of music videos.
Cover image source: Sia