Singer-songwriter Troye Sivan comes into his own as an out pop sensation. Deal with it.
ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Executive Editor
In photos, Troye Sivan strikes an image of being waifish and delicate. He has the lost, vulnerable appearance of Falconetti in Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc, or Kate Moss modeling a thin chemise on a windswept heath.
But take a moment to watch him — like, really watch — as he moves around in one of his videos: He’s self-possessed and confident, aware of his body; he can appear panther-like in his decisiveness. The man may not be as innocent as the image suggests.
Which is kinda the point.
At 23, Sivan is startlingly young for someone who has met with such success, but he’s still an old pro at this music thing. South African by birth but reared mostly in Australia (he now makes his home in the Hollywood Hills, but retains the accent), he is by no means an overnight sensation. True, Bloom — only his second full-length studio album — dropped just two weeks ago (following 2015’s Blue Neighbourhood), but don’t discount his Australian EPs and singles before that, or his live TV appearances starting when he was just a tween. And then there’s his acting career (his latest? A supporting role in Joel Edgerton’s highly-anticipated Boy Erased, a true story about the horrors of gay conversion therapy). How about being a huge YouTube star since 2012 (his channel has 6.5 million subscribers and more than a quarter of a billion views)? There’s his world tour in support of Bloom, which kicks off next week in North Texas at the Toyota Music Factory. (See our interview with Sivan’s guest on the tour, Kim Petras, on Page 82.)
Sivan has done all this (he writes his own music as well), while simultaneously living out-and-proud as a gay music icon who doesn’t shy away from being upfront about his sexuality. The first track on Bloom, “Seventeen,” is about a young man exploring his first sexual encounter with an older man; the title track — with its lyric Promise me you’ll / Hold my hand if I get scared now / Might tell you to / Take a second, baby, slow it down / You should know I, you should know I / I bloom just for you, has been described as perhaps the first anthem about bottoming.
You don’t get as far personally and professionally as Sivan has without having a steely sensibility, his twinky bone structure aside. Sivan was happy to discuss all these points — including his first Pride event, the anniversary of his coming out and his dream collaborators — when we chatted just before the album’s release. █
Dallas Voice: You came out almost exactly five years ago… Troye Sivan: Did I? I didn’t realize.
Well, you’ve had other things on your mind lately, I suppose… Was coming out a big deal for you? It definitely was a big deal. I think personally it’s a big deal for anyone; I had a fairly traditional [coming out experience] with my parents — I sat them down and told them. It’s not like I brought a boyfriend home or anything. It definitely felt like a pivotal and momentous moment. It was the best thing I ever did.
Despite being very hot as a pop star and headlining a tour, you’ve remained very connected to the gay community… That feels both intentional and something even I find interesting. I’ve always wanted to make pop music — that’s what I really love — but also something that feels challenging and interesting to me. You have to do what feels right and you find what makes you [express] your individuality, so I can do [Wango tango] and then turn around and perform at a gay club.
And you’ve been very, very out — you put a gay porn actor in one of your videos, the lyrics for the single “Bloom” are, ummm, suggestive …. For sure. I just put that song out. … Yeah [laughs]. Honestly, I never would’ve thought I would have written that song. That song came out of a session that I felt wasn’t going too well. [So we said], “OK, well how do we make the most of this day? Let’s just start messing around and having fun.” And we wrote it that night — never, ever thought that it would see the light of day. We ended up with something that I thought was really, really cool and interesting and real.
Writing a song like “Bloom” or using the pronouns that feel honest to me [is important]. That’s stuff I could never have imagined I would be able to do when I was a kid. Getting to make the music I want is [amazing].
What influenced you to deliver something more queer-specific? It was having all of these really inspiring experiences and meeting all of these really inspiring people. Whenever I start writing music, my number one goal, always, is to keep things honest and real, because I think it’s the only way to stay relevant and stay true over a long career. I wanna be doing this for the rest of my life, and I don’t know if I’m gonna be able to be thinking about cool concepts and things like that for the rest of my life. But I’ll always be able to speak about where I am in my life, that’s always gonna be there. So I fall back on that, and I wanted to not hold anything back. It’s so cool to me to be able to celebrate all of those things I was celebrating in my real life. So, why not go for it and talk about that on the album?
The album feels like it might help gay fans work through issues of self-acceptance…. A lot of the residual issues that queer people deal with have also completely followed me into my older life, just internalized homophobia that I’ve held onto without meaning to from when I was, like, 13 or whatever. It’s like, “Oh no, you can’t talk about that or you can’t sing about that.” I’m doing my very, very best to actively throw all that away. It’s been really empowering.
You’ll be launching your new tour in Dallas, just a week after Dallas Pride; this interview will actually appear in our Pride Edition. Oh wow, cool!
Do you remember your first Pride event? I do — I remember it very well. It was the year after I came out to my parents. Even though I was out it felt like a scary thing to me but I told them I wanted to go, and they said ‘OK, we’re going to come with you.’ So not only were they OK with this, they want to celebrate it with me. That was in Perth; Sydney is one of the best in the world. I’ve been the past two years or so. Sooo much fun. A huge event and an amazing parade.
What’s it like launching a tour and dropping an album? For me the scary part of the process is now, lining stuff up. Now is when I am slammed and once I am on stage in Dallas all the hard work will pay off. Then you are on the road and get to enjoy it.
What do you want to accomplish with the live show? I think the goal of the show is to achieve, first, a really great, theatrical, dramatic show — I’m really excited about it — but also to foster an environment that is a special one. I want people to meet like minded people — a meeting place for people to get together and celebrate who they are.
How do you characterize your own sound? On your new album, “My My My” is a great dreamy electronica ballad, but I also I detected shades of Bon Iver, Simon & Garfunkel, Belle & Sebastian on the chillwave synthpop of “The Good Side.” Totally. The references were really all over the place — from Toto and Phil Collins who I listened to when I was growing up [from my dad] to Carly Rae Jepsen and This Mortal Coil. It’s a mish-mash. I found myself in the middle of all those.
Do you think actively about then when you’re writing? I try to make music. I think it’s impossible to have any real perspective on something you’re real close to. I don’t even know if it feels cohesive [I just know I like it].
You’ve done your share of “celebrity” — Alessia Cara, Betty Who, and most recent, Ariana Grande on “Dance to This.” From a creative standpoint, what’s it like to pair up with other established artists? For me that’s one of the funnest parts about making an album — when you write a song that begs for another voice on it, or another perspective. [So you find a collaborator], and get to brainstorm and work with these insanely talented people. It’s so incredible to be able to work with Ariana Grande, or this Australian artist I’m obsessed with [named] Gordi is so special, and I’m very thankful they were willing to give me their [talents].
Is there anyone you dream about doing a song with, living or dead? I would love to work with Taylor Swift and Christine and the Queens would be a great with me. Amy Winehouse was the one who made me want [to write music] so I would … well, I would be too intimidated to actually write with her, but I would love to be in the room while she was writing.
You are 23 and have been singing professionally for 12 years. Do you recall a life before music? I honestly don’t, really. Some of my earliest memories were being in talent shows and going to singing lessons. It’s been a constant.
You have a role in the upcoming gay conversion drama Boy Erased. You’ve acted before, but what led you to take on this role? I just couldn’t put the script down. It really tore at me. Then I read the book and started immersing myself as much as I possibly could in that world. My coming out experience – and the moment where I accepted my sexuality as something that I couldn’t change – was a weight off of my chest. This wasn’t for me to deal with; it was more for everyone else. I had come to the point where I had accepted it within myself, and then it was about navigating through the rest of the world: my family, my friends.
So, the thought of going to a program like the one in the film at that crucial, vulnerable moment and being told, “No, this is 100 percent back on you, and you’re filling a God-shaped hole in your life with these tendencies” was one of the most harmful and hurtful things that I can imagine. It’s been proven to be ineffective and extremely dangerous, and you’re signing these kids up for an impossible task. It really hit home and struck a chord with me, and I haven’t wanted anything as bad as I wanted this role in this movie.
Lots of things are going on with you right now — the album, the tour, the movie … and you will be a judge on the next season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Where do you see your career headed? For me, I think the reason why I feel lucky every day is, I really have no idea what I’m going to do next. When I feel lost or wonder what to do, I ask myself, ‘What feels exciting, what feels cool?’ I think I could be doing this the rest of my life because it has taken the craziest twist and turns. If I keep that formula going, then people will [continued to] be interested and I will keep doing it.
(Additional reporting by Chris Azzopardi)