Inscrutable pop priestess Sia found herself with a juggernaut on her hands last May, when she released the lead, platinum-selling single “Chandelier” from her sixth LP, 1,000 Forms of Fear. Instead of slapping on some makeup and thigh-high boots to star in that song’s video, she let a (literal) kid take the spotlight—in a janky blonde wig and a nude leotard. It was an outfit that launched a thousand parodies and tribute Halloween costumes. The tween at the center of the meme was dancer Maddie Ziegler, star of camp-reality show Dance Moms. In the video, she delivers a performance that’s spookily intense, delightfully weird, and thoroughly twitchy—one that placed Maddie squarely in music-video history.
Sia tapped the now-12-year-old Maddie to star alongside Shia LaBeouf in her latest video, which spotlights the single “Elastic Heart.” The result—a tough-to-deconstruct face-off between Maddie and the temperamental actor—is already the subject of controversy and a slew of think pieces. We chatted with Maddie about being “family” with Sia, her place in the pop-culture pantheon, and what she really thinks of Shia’s dance skills.
EW: How did you first meet Sia?
Maddie Ziegler: I met Sia last year. She tweeted me, and she was like, “I’m a big fan of the show, and I would like you to be in the video for my new song, ‘Chandelier.'” I didn’t even see [the tweet]—it was my mom or someone on my team that saw it, and I was like, “This isn’t even real. Someone’s trying to prank me.” So then everyone started to look into it, and believe it or not, I actually flew to L.A., like, two weeks later. It was real. I didn’t even know if I could do it, because we’re filming our show, Dance Moms. But it was amazing. They gave me four days to learn the dance, because they were like, “She won’t be able to learn it in less than that.” So they gave me four days, and I learned it in three hours, I think?
When Sia walked in—she was at the rehearsal place—I was nervous. I didn’t know what to expect from her, because there’s obviously pictures of her when she was younger, and videos, but there wasn’t any new pictures of her, because she hasn’t shown her face in a while. So I didn’t know what to expect, but the second she saw me, she just ran and gave me a big hug. We just felt like we knew each other, really.
How often do you see her now? I imagine you guys having breakfast together every day, but I’m sure that’s not the case.
[laughs] Every time I’m in L.A., we meet up, or we’re doing a performance somewhere together. We’re doing SNL next week, or some time. But we like, randomly see each other. When we’re in L.A., we meet up or go do something. Like I said, we’re doing talk shows, and when we do those together, it’s like, “Oh cool, I get to see Sia.” But we really have become a family. We really have.
Were you a fan of her music before she got in touch with you?
I was familiar with her songs, but I wasn’t a humongous fan. Because it’s not like she shows her face. Most artists are like, putting all that stuff out there, music videos and all that stuff. But she didn’t really have a lot of that, except when she was younger. But I met her, and actually, when were filming “Elastic Heart,” I was singing one of her songs from a while ago, “I’m in Here,” and she was like, “Oh, you’re singing my song!” and I go, “That’s your song?” Like, all of my favorite songs are Sia’s and I didn’t even realize it! I didn’t even know it was her. All I listen to is her album, literally.
Obviously working with Sia changed everything for you. How has your life been different since this all started?
I’m surprised people recognize me. People used to say, “Oh you’re Maddie from Dance Moms,” but now, most people are like, “Oh, you’re the girl from the ‘Chandelier’ video!'” But it’s like, “How did you even recognize me? I was in a blond wig!” But everything’s changed for me. I’ve had so many opportunities. Getting to do another Sia video is just crazy. It’s been a lot of fun, and definitely a lot more special appearances and cool performances with Sia. I didn’t get to do that before.
When I came back from filming the “Chandelier” video, everyone was like, “So what’d you wear? What did the room look like? How many chandeliers were there?” And I was like, “Well, I wore a blond wig, a nude leotard, the room was dirty, and there was no chandelier.” And they were like, “Whaaat? That doesn’t make any sense at all.” I didn’t even know what to say. It was such a big change for me, because I’m not used to doing that style in normal dance competitions. It was definitely very different for me, but I love being able to do that kind of style.
What even is that style?
I don’t know! It’s like, quirky, contemporary-ish. It’s pretty much all different things put together, because some parts are really soft, some parts are quirky, and then there’s the huge dance break. It’s all different.
How has it been essentially being a replacement-Sia for all these performances?
It’s just amazing that Sia’s let me take over part of her, you know?
You’re kind of “speaking” for her, in a weird way.
Yeah, totally. I’m her mini-me, pretty much.
What do you guys talk about when you’re together?
I don’t even know. Well, she loves dogs, and I love dogs, too. We talk about animals a lot. And she’ll just tell us crazy stories that happen to her and her husband. I love them—they’re so sweet.
Have you started planning for SNL yet?
Not really. Next week, I leave, so…
Can you spill any secrets about what you’re doing on the show?
To be honest with you, I really don’t know. I know I’m probably gonna dance. Every time I do a talk show or something, I’ll be like, “I’m doing ‘Chandelier’ right?” and they’re like, “No, you’re doing a skit and three dances.” It’s different every time. I never really know what I’m doing until the day before.
The “Chandelier” video isn’t just popular—it became this huge “moment.” You’re a part of music-video history now.
It’s crazy. I don’t even know.
Do you have anything else in the works with Sia?
Uhhh, not really, uhhh…. I can’t really say anything else.
So there is something that you’re not allowed to say?
I don’t know…
Very crafty answer. So what was the “Elastic Heart” shoot like, where you teamed up with Shia?
It was amazing. The story behind it is a lot different than the “Chandelier” video. When I did “Elastic Heart” obviously it was the same concept with my leotard and wig, but we were really dirty. I’m going to be honest with you, it was the most dirty I’ve ever been in my whole entire life. My shower was disgusting, and the water was like…ugh. I was disgusted. We had to rehearse in the cage, so we could get used to it, and we just kept getting dirtier and dirtier. And I brought wipes and everything and a change of clothes for when we left, and I was like, “Shia, you’re gonna need these,” and I kept giving him wipes. But he was like, fine with it, and I was like, “Ewwww! I don’t like being dirty!”
What did they put on you? Plain ol’ dirt?
No, it was makeup, but we also had real dirt from the floor. I don’t know, boys are different—they don’t care about being dirty. And girls are just like, “Ew, I don’t like this!”
Shia is known for being an unconventional guy. So how did you get along?
Actually, it was the same as with Sia—I felt like I knew him when I met him. Before we started filming “Elastic Heart,” he took my mom and I to eat, just to start to know each other and stuff. You have to get used to your dance partner. Even though we’re battling and fighting against each other, we still have to know each other, you know? You can’t just walk in and be like, “Hey, let’s start dancing with each other!”
What’d you think of his dancing?
I was confused, like, “Wait, Shia’s not a dancer, is he?” And everyone was like, “No.” But he actually did really well, he did. He wasn’t a bad dancer at all. For him, it was mainly fighting, and acting, and running around. And screaming. [laughs]
Well, he definitely wasn’t Maddie-level, but he’ll do, I suppose. I don’t know what Abby Lee Miller, your teacher, would have to say.
She really loved the video. I wouldn’t expect her not to. But she really liked it. It was completely different from what Miss Abby and everyone expected, and that’s what I liked about it. About five or six people yesterday, my friends were calling me, and saying, “Can you tell me what the story is about ‘Elastic Heart’?” No one knows what the story’s about, and that’s a good thing, because you have to keep people guessing. You know what I mean? I like that. I like when people have to figure out what it is.
There’s been some controversy over the “Elastic Heart” video, and people maybe misinterpreting it. What do you think about all that?
I think it’s funny when people, they try to imitate the “Chandelier” video. I think it’s hilarious. But the “Elastic Heart” video, it was a whole step ahead. It was completely different. That’s what I like. Because people have already seen that. Obviously I’m going to stay in the same wig and leotard, but it’s a different story.
What other kinds of music do you like?
I like Sam Smith and Taylor Swift. I love pop music, but I also like Sam Smith’s slow songs. That would be more to dance to. I think dancers like different genres of music, compared to just a regular person. Not that we’re not regular, but you know what I mean?
Well, I’m so glad that we talked, because I’m a huge Dance Moms fan. I’m always impressed with how composed and professional you are on the show.
We have to around Miss Abby. We have to look like we’re not about to cry.
Even if you definitely are.