Sia’s SNL Mime and Sign Language in Pop Music

January 23, 2015 in Community News, Interpreting & Transliterating

 

 

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By Lydia L. Callis
Sign Language Interpreter, Community Educator, Advocate
01/20/2015

Last weekend, singer/songwriter Sia was accompanied by a noteworthy performer as she sang her hit “Chandelier” on Saturday Night Live. With his face painted white like a mime, the visual performer used a mix of expressive American Sign Language and interpretive gestures to bring Sia’s words to life. On one hand, it is refreshing to see musical interpreting on a show that has such a wide audience. But on the other hand, perhaps there are more inclusionary and culturally competent ways to incorporate elements of Deaf culture into pop music.

There is a fine line between showcasing the beauty of ASL, and utilizing sign language as a gimmick. Hearing artists often toe this line without even considering the opportunities that exist for better collaboration. To give an example, there was a bit of controversy surrounding the use of ASL in Paul McCartney’s “My Valentine” video. The simplistic black and white video features Johnny Depp and Natalie Portman, neither of whom are native ASL users, each facing the camera and signing lyrics. Deaf individuals were quick to notice a number of errors in the actors’ signing — including both Portman and Depp appearing to interpret “tampon” instead of “appear.” (Whoops!)

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