On June 8, Sia released the video for “Free Me,” an emotional new song with a powerful message in support of a great cause.
Sia is known for unique, visually captivating music videos. Her latest, for a new song called “Free Me” is all that and important too.
Starring Zoe Saldana with narration by Julianne Moore, the video follows the impassioned journey of a mother-to-be who’s just found out that she’s HIV-positive.
The video — which was choreographed by Ryan Heffington (who also choreographed videos for “Chandelier,” “Cheap Thrills,” and “The Greatest”) — is the stunning work of art the world has come to expect from Sia. But “Free Me,” and the cause it was made to support, has an important backstory.
The song was inspired by Sia’s manager, David Russell, who came out publicly as HIV-positive in a 2016 interview.
Russell’s diagnosis in 2002 inspired Sia to become more engaged in HIV-related activism. Over the course of the past 12 years, the two have worked together as manager and client — both watching the other grow in their own ways.
“I’ve been thrilled to witness Sia’s reach grow further and further, all the while using her status as a person of influence for good,” Russell writes in an email. “‘Feel Me’ is a gorgeous record and I’m so happy and proud to work with an artist as generous and open hearted as she is. She makes a difference.”
Sia wrote in Billboard that Russell’s “transformation of his shame into self acceptance has been magic to watch.”
A lot has changed for the better since Russell first got his HIV-positive diagnosis.
That’s due, in part, to efforts designed to fight HIV stigma — and messages like the one in Sia’s “Feel Me” video.
“When I was diagnosed, it was only five or six years after the first round of anti-retrovirals were introduced so concepts like ‘undetectable = non-transmission’ or regimens like PrEP were either unavailable or not common knowledge,” Russel writes. “I’d say the first five years of my living with HIV were at the tail end of the ‘panic’ years, and as a result I experienced a lot of negativity about my positive status.”
Over the past five years or so, preventative treatments like PrEP and a fuller understanding of how and when the virus can be transmitted began making their way into common knowledge. As a result, HIV stigma has started to decline.
Proceeds from “Feel Me” sales and streams will go toward the #endHIV Campaign‘s efforts to develop an HIV vaccine.
While HIV isn’t anywhere near the death sentence it was in the ’80s and ’90s, it’s still a serious issue without a cure. Nearly 40,000 Americans were diagnosed with HIV in 2015, adding to the more than 1.1 million living with it in the U.S.
“While this is a diagnosis nobody looks forward to it can also be a blessing in disguise,” Russell writes when asked what advice he’d offer someone newly diagnosed with the virus. And that’s really what the video is about — the scary moment of diagnosis and the flood of emotions that come after.
“Finding out I’m positive led me to look closer at my relationships, my health — both physically and mentally — and challenged me to live my life in the present. We’ve made such enormous advances medically that anyone diagnosed in 2017 can expect to live a normal life with regular check-ups and adherence to medication.”
“Free Me” is now available on all major streaming and digital platforms. For more information about the #endHIV Campaign, visit the group’s website.