After the horrific, brutal, and unprovoked shooting that happened in Orlando at the Pulse Nightclub on June 12, Sia and Kendrick Lamar released “The Greatest” in support of those in the LGBT community who were affected by the mass shooting. “The Greatest” music video has roughly 210 million views on YouTube.
The video starts on a black screen with the words “#WEAREYOURCHILDREN“ printed across. We then see a crying Maddie Ziegler wiping paint under her eyes, as if she is crying rainbow tears, or perhaps applying war paint for battle. A large group of kids lie on the ground below her, motionless, and she begins screaming, urging the kids to get up.
Once the music starts, Ziegler leads the group as they begin moving in unison. The kids dance through an old house, eventually coming together as one group. They jump up and down, moving together as a single entity before collapsing to the ground, leaving behind the haunting visual of bodies on the floor.
Absent of any social context, it’s all striking and beautiful and overwhelmingly sad. What makes the video so potent and so specifically awful about this massacre is that its subjects do seem to have struggled and triumphed in finding freedom to flip out together, and they are still cut down. It’s bookended by Ziegler crying, as is appropriate; there’s no take-home moral to make what happened seem okay.
There is a clear, if abstract, narrative. Through the motions of both the individual dancers and the groups, you can see the armor that they put on to rise above when they are being brought down. It is how they portray their strength that really signifies the struggle and difficulty that has happened to those in the LGBT community.
Whether it is being pushed into a wall or pushed to the ground, the choreography articulates the sheltered and vulnerable parts that make that individual him or herself. LGBT community members already have to shield their uniqueness and try to fit in with the regular crowd.
The song is about the Orlando shooting, but it is also about how anyone can be “the greatest” with dedication. That your value, as seen by others, should be rooted in your existence, not your gender, race, sexual identity, etc. It can also connect with anyone living through hardship and looking for motivation to still move forward. When Sia sings the line, “I’m free to be the greatest, I’m alive,” she’s pepping the listener up, but also defining the value of life, marking the human potential that’s been lost through this and other tragedies.
This song has a connection to the Orlando mass shooting that took the lives of 49 people, but it also connects to those who don’t feel that they are worth it. It is for those who aren’t able to see their full potential and be reminded that you are valued in life and that you have stamina to continue on and fight through any difficulty that comes in your life.