There have been gay pop stars before, obviously. But obviousness is often in the eye of the beholder. It was entirely possible for a mainstream audience to hear and see the Village People and think that they were nothing more than a bunch of fun-loving men extolling the benefits of naval service and the Young Men’s Christian Association. For most of his career, George Michael played it straight for the adoring crowd; Michael Jackson never came out at all. Elton John was openly gay, but as a pianist, he had to perform sitting down; sedentary and docile, the posture made him safe for popular consumption and acceptance even in an era when homophobic culture warriors ran rampant.
In short, till recently, there was no way for a major pop artist to be openly gay and actively physical. The real advance in tolerance for gayness that’s taken place in the past decade or two has opened the possibility that such a thing could come to pass, but if the door has been open, only Frank Ocean and Sam Smith have really walked through it. Yet, if his recent song is any indication, Troye Sivan looks set to join him. Born in South Africa and raised in Australia, Sivan, 22, has been out since 2013, when he made the announcement to a growing fan base over YouTube. A thespian as well as a singer (he played the young hero in 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine), Sivan’s Blue Neighborhood (2015) was an assured showing for a debut album, garnering critical praise, going gold, spawning a Top 25 single in “Youth.” Now, his new track “My My My!” is set to scale new heights. Built over full, spare, nimble synth notes and building to a classic EDM crescendo, the song ideally frames the compact power of Sivan’s voice in much the same way that the Grant Singer–directed video catches the artist’s well-toned body at its best angles. Curtly focused on longing and consummation, the lyrics aren’t elaborate, but they don’t have to be. The point is that the song is rocket fuel, and Sivan’s profile looks likely to soar behind its force.
The relative chastity of the video, which shows off the bodies of gay men but never displays them in contact with each other, makes for an interesting contrast with Madonna’s “Justify My Love” video, whose black-and-white cinematography it mimics. With its soft-core dynamics and light bondage themes, Madonna’s video was, like a lot of strong art in the ’80s and ’90s, thumbing its nose at religious conservatives; it was also about as close to porn as all but the most dedicated smut hounds were likely to get access to. Technology has changed the terms of access to erotic images; with the internet, available to all, fairly drowning in porn, there’s no incentive for pop artists today to over-sexualize their videos. Mores are different as well. The closing caption to the “Justify My Love” video (“Poor is the man whose pleasures depend on the permission of another”) was originally intended as a libertine stab at the oppressive sexual prohibition of the religious right; it reads rather uncomfortably in the light of the unending revelations of sexual assault and coercion that now comprise much if not most of the entertainment news cycle. Sivan’s video has a caption, too, at the beginning, but it’s just a content warning for epileptics. (There are a lot of flashing lights.) If the thrust of the current moment is to be considerate and safe, he looks to be ahead of the curve.