The New Times has released the interview and photoshoot they did with Troye Sivan. High quality photos from the session have been added to the gallery. Click “Continue Reading” to read the full interview.
Troye Sivan Is a New Kind of Pop Star: Here, Queer and Used to It
The 22-year-old singer is climbing the charts while demonstrating how his sexual orientation is both part of his art and beside the point.
Toye Sivan, 22, has been famous for more than a decade in Australia and in corners of the internet. With his forthcoming second album, he’s hoping to expand his reach worldwide.
The crowd at “The Tonight Show” had not exactly been prepped for Troye Sivan. The main entertainment was Jimmy Buffett, bluff and chortling, on hand to promote his feel-good jukebox musical. It was a mild March afternoon, and Mr. Buffett charmed the studio audience, even before he accepted a guitar and led them through “Margaritaville,” which everyone knew, chorus and verse, like a soused catechism.
Then, cutting through the margarita mistiness, appeared Mr. Sivan: a long-limbed elf with a wick of bleach-blond hair and the doe eyes of a Snapchat filter. As a panel of video monitors played behind him, Mr. Sivan vamped his way through “My My My!”, a thumping club anthem of undeniably sexual exhilaration, in a belted-and-buckled blazer that gaped open at the chest and closed around the waist, an outfit Grace Jones might have worn and enjoyed. Mr. Sivan stalked the stage like a supermodel in still-shaky training, his nipples peeking out as he danced. Margaritaville was in the rearview mirror, receding fast.
Hip-swinging pretty boys in eye makeup are nothing new; they’ve been singing on television since Elvis on Ed Sullivan. But Mr. Sivan is a creature of our time: a self-possessed, on-his-own-terms heartthrob, gay and untroubled, with the commercial sheen of a Disney star and the charisma of a boy prince.
At 22, he has been famous for more than a decade, albeit in far-off corners of the globe and the internet. He sang his way into YouTubing, YouTubed his way into acting, grew up on webcam (he came out on vlog at 18), and now, ramping up to the release of his second album, is working hard to turn himself into a frisky pop phenomenon. With every TV appearance and video release, Mr. Sivan is barreling ahead, his identity worn proudly but easily. Are you ready, America? He’s Troye Sivan! He’s here, he’s queer and he’s used to it.
“YOU HAVE THE moments where you kind of pinch yourself,” said Mr. Sivan the following night, nursing a beer at Julius, New York’s oldest gay bar. Two months before, he had ticked off another milestone: a performance on “Saturday Night Live.” “My hands were kind of sweating. My mouth was a little bit dry,” he said. “For the first time ever, I welcomed those feelings.”
When young gay fans approach Mr. Sivan, he feels a powerful connection: “I see myself in them.”
“Saturday Night Live” represents a new frontier for Mr. Sivan, and the audience he has to win over with his forthcoming second album, “Bloom”.
“We’ve been following Troye from the beginning,” said Brian Siedlecki, a producer of the show, who oversees the musical bookings, “watching his evolution through his early career and realizing this kid has the goods.” His second album release had not yet been confirmed when “S.N.L.” reached out. “We thought let’s get him early, so we don’t miss him this time around.”
Mr. Sivan already has a fan base built, millions strong, from his years broadcasting directly into the homes and ids of Generation Z on his YouTube channel, and as of last month, his own app. His first album, “Blue Neighbourhood” in 2015, yielded a platinum hit, “Youth”, a kind of offering from an uber-accessible star of the digital age: “My youth, my youth is yours.”
But “S.N.L.” isn’t just youth. “It’s live, and all these parents watch it”, he said, “and people that are not my demographic. It’s just scary.”
What Mr. Sivan has to reassure him — besides the healthy push of Capitol Records, a major label that is also home to Katy Perry, Paul McCartney and Sam Smith — is the die-hard fans to whom, to judge from the comments left on each of his Instagram posts, he is “God” and “Dad” and whose greatness leaves them de-wigged. (In drag slang, gentrified into gay slang, gentrified into everyone’s slang, “Wig” is one-word shorthand for “I am shocked, I am overwhelmed, my wig has been snatched off” — no actual wig necessary.)
Such online bravado covers up the more tender, nervous side of his teenage fan base: the young gay boys who come to his meet-and-greets and signings and cry. “Sometimes they’re shaky when they come up and say hello,” Mr. Sivan said. “With this album, I’m trying to reach a wider audience than I have before. But then when I do a meet-and-greet like that, it makes me realize that’s not that important. No matter what, for whatever reason, this person standing in front of me who’s shaking and crying and I have connected. I see myself in them.”
Mr. Sivan is not the first gay pop star, by a long measure. Gay men have been making, managing and influencing popular music and rock ’n’ roll since its birth, in ways both implicit and explicit. But whereas the mainstream gay pop stars of a generation ago, like Boy George and George Michael, began their careers closeted, Mr. Sivan has been out since before the beginning of his.
“The music industry in my eyes is still pretty homophobic,” said Mr. Smith, who came out publicly just before the release of his first album. “It’s a very difficult place for any L.G.B.T.Q. artist to come out and be supported.”
But Mr. Sivan is a part of a wave, including Mr. Smith and Olly Alexander of Years & Years, whose outness is matter-of-fact. His songs are addressed to “him”; his music videos show him canoodling with men. (In one, fans identified his real-life boyfriend, the model Jacob Bixenman, whose face was never shown, by comparing birthmarks).
“It was just fearless,” said Brett McLaughlin, known professionally as Leland, and who is one of Mr. Sivan’s closest friends and songwriting collaborators. “There was not a question of ‘should we do this or shouldn’t we.’ It was more a question of ‘why wouldn’t we?’”
“We knew exactly who he was from the moment we signed him,” said Michelle Jubelirer, the chief operating officer of Capitol Music Group.“We couldn’t have been more supportive and thrilled. He certainly wasn’t one of those artists who waited for success to be who he is.” His demographic, she added, is young and diverse (and not short on young women who have crushes on him, in addition to young men).
Growing up, Mr. Sivan said he had felt hyper-conscious about the way he spoke, stood and danced — gay “tells.” But “Bloom” is an album of tells, flamboyantly, defiantly expressed. The title track, released earlier this month, sounds a lot like a coded anal sex anthem. (Mr. Sivan politely countenanced the suggestion without agreeing or disagreeing.) And it is not uniformly glossy: “Seventeen” recounts an underage sexual experience, based on one Mr. Sivan had with an older man he met on the gay hookup app Grindr.
But “My My My!”, an ecstatic love song and especially its music video, is a celebration of the tell. Mr. Sivan does his spring-jointed runway walk — his throbbing flail — throughout. (“I’ve never had the guts to call it dancing or work on it really,” he said.) It is, to a certain kind of boy, immediately recognizable: The private dance of a would-be diva alone in his bedroom. Which is, Mr. Sivan said, more or less exactly what it was.
“The way that I danced, the way that I moved, was the way that I moved when I locked my door as a kid and listened to ‘Like a Prayer’ by Madonna,” he said. “One-time, I remember, my sister walked in to the room — I guess I didn’t lock it. I was giving it. I was so mortified. She may as well have caught me, as far as I was concerned, watching gay porn. I was that vulnerable in the moment. I felt that exposed.”
That was then.
The night he filmed “My My My!” he said, “I might as well have been Naomi Campbell.”
“He’s moving in that video like every single gay boy,” said Mr. Smith. “I identify with that video so much.”
EARLIER THIS YEAR, Troye Sivan did what pop stars do, and moved to Los Angeles. It’s a long way from Perth, in Western Australia, where he grew up and attended a small modern Orthodox Jewish school, which does not by default set one on the path to pop stardom. But he could sing, started lessons at 7, and in short order was transfixing the congregation at his local shul with his rendition of yigdal at Shabbos service on Friday nights. “I used to try to make all the Jewish mums cry, that was the goal”, he said.
From there, he traveled Australia’s equivalent of the borscht belt circuit, singing at High Holy Days services. At 12 he began making videos online, parlaying fame and comfort in front of a camera into intimacy and brand-building as well as film roles. He started writing songs, just a boy and a laptop. A self-produced EP got him signed to EMI in Australia at 16, which then put out two more, the second of which was later incorporated into “Blue Neighbourhood.”
Mr. Sivan’s is not a show business family, per se. His parents are from South Africa, where Mr. Sivan was born. His mother, a former model, worked at a modeling agency, and his father, a plumber by trade, cycled through a host of jobs: real estate agent, garage storage installer, motivational speaker. “He did it all,” Mr. Sivan said. “Now he has an Airbnb business. And drives Uber.”
Mr. Sivan has three siblings and said he had a happy and supportive childhood, albeit with a familiar lacuna. “I didn’t know any gay people growing up,” he said. “I just had no idea what life was supposed to look like.” He absorbed what he could from secret viewings of “Queer as Folk,” looking over his shoulder as he watched.
There’s no one gay life, but the dream life for a young, lonely gay kid could easily be the one Mr. Sivan is living now, with or without the arenas and the TV performances. He and Mr. Bixenman share a Hollywood home where he arrived with half a suitcase of clothes and is slowly filling in the blanks, as one does at 22: learning that rugs are expensive, buying whisks and drawer organizers as-needed on Amazon, FaceTiming his dad when the roof sprung a leak. He tools around town in his new Tesla. In April, he threw his first solo Passover Seder, an ad hoc mix of Jewish tradition and takeout Thai food. Ariana Grande, who has a guest appearance on Mr. Sivan’s new album, attended; so did his friend Hari Nef, the model and actress.
For his young gay fans who mob his meet-and-greets, it’s a dream life, and a message, especially to those in imperfect circumstances, that it can and does get better.
“I can’t squeeze them hard enough”, Mr. Sivan said. “Sometimes you hug someone and you can just feel too much weight in their chest for a 14-year-old. You’re like, I see you. I get what’s going on.”
THE MOST UPLIFTING story of acceptance and inclusion in music, of course, doesn’t go too far if the music isn’t good. The reaction to the first three songs from “Bloom” have been positive — “My My My!” has spent eight weeks near the top of the Billboard Dance Club songs chart — and more songs will roll out over the spring and summer before the album is finally released in August.
The pressure of writing and recording a second album can be intense, especially if a plaque celebrating your first hit single’s sales is leaning up against the wall. “The only difference between writing the first album and the second album,” Mr. Sivan said, “was the second album we had that staring at us the whole time.”
But “Bloom” doesn’t sound fearful or timid. It’s darker, more guitar-driven and at times sexier than what’s come before. Sitting in the studio in Los Angeles, Mr. Sivan pulled up a Spotify playlist on his phone, a sonic mood board: Sky Ferreira, Drake and the Replacements. Mr. McLaughlin recalled arriving for one of the first album sessions with a bag of wigs to lighten the mood. (Wig!)
“Troye is somebody who’s very good at showing up and understanding the pitch with him, the thing that sets him apart, is his outspokenness about his identity,” said Ms. Nef. “But I think his new work transcends that.”
In person, Mr. Sivan is cheerful and obliging but, in the way of many young people who have broadcast themselves early and often to fame, a little remote: an uncrackable carapace, the onscreen projection of a (former) teen dream. “He’s sort of mysterious, in a way,” said Ms. Nef. “I don’t know whether it’s his background or just him, but I’m used to socializing with Americans and they say things like ‘I love you’ really quickly and they’re super wet as people. I wouldn’t say Troye’s a dry person, but there’s something a little more reserved about him.”
I had the sense, as the Tesla sped us back toward Hollywood, that that reserve only fully leaves him onstage, where Troye the person meets Troye the star and the world is the show. He is planning the world tour for “Bloom,” which kicks off in the fall, excited for the new Troye — louder, freer, Troyer — to meet the world.
“I would be doing myself a disservice if I didn’t just go for it,” he said. “So as scary as that is, I’m getting a little bit more comfortable with the idea that if you do something confidently enough, I think people have no choice but to accept it.”
That will require a wind machine, he decided, having gotten his first taste at his largest show to date, for 6,000 people in Australia, outdoors, with the actual wind in his face.
“I was like ‘Oh my God, this is something else,’” he said. “Now I can’t kick it. By the end my mouth is so dry and I’m trying to sing, and that gets tough. So, I’m going to figure out how to do it on tour. How does Beyoncé do it?”