Both Sides Now

Troye Sivan aims for broad pop stardom by getting personal.

Troye Sivan. Photo: Ramona Rosales/August
Troye Sivan. Photo: Ramona Rosales/August

On Bloom, his sophomore album, Troye Sivan makes a play to be both a broadly appealing star and offers a specificity rare in pop music. Even at his most upbeat, in exuberant songs like “My My My” and “Bloom,” Sivan is in confessional mode, singing about falling in love with men and, in the latter track, winkingly describing sex with them. (Sivan insists the title track is just “about flowers.”) A former YouTube star and child of the internet, the 23-year-old Australian is learning how to be genuine on a mass scale but also how to keep a little to himself.

Bloom’s an album that you’re going on tour with — it’s got to be big and dance-y, but there are also a lot of very intimate, personal details on the songs.
I have this philosophy about music — it hasn’t come back to bite me yet — that there’s nothing too personal. I discovered Amy Winehouse when I was 14. I remember listening to her lyrics. Even though we were having these completely different life experiences, it connected with me in a deeper way than music had before. It really shaped my view of songwriting.

The album starts off with “Seventeen,” which is about going on dating apps and having uncomfortable yet thrilling experiences with older men. Putting that first feels like a statement of intent. Why did you decide to write about that? And why start the album with it?
That was probably one of the hardest songs to write because I wanted to handle the situation sensitively. A lot of young queer people listen to my music, and I didn’t want condone anything that would put someone in a risky or uncomfortable situation. At the same time, a couple of experiences that happened when I was 17 had been playing on my mind. It made me uncomfortable, though I don’t regret those experiences. I decided that it was better to have this slightly uncomfortable conversation. As a listener, I hoped the people who maybe have been through that, and who feel that loneliness and have a desire to connect, feel a bit more seen. I think
it’s better to get it out in the open. I, as a 23-year-old, still feel like I’m totally going through that all the time. I don’t know if that journey ever ends.

I went back and watched the coming-out video you posted on YouTube. You did that before you signed a record deal, which meant you’d never not be out. Were there other times when you made sure to nudge your public image toward something closer to your actual self?
This album in general was a big step toward that direction. With the first album, I was conscious that I really wanted to be palatable to as many people as I possibly could, while still being able to share my story. I was a lot younger. I feel like the music was maybe a little bit less mature, a little bit less explicit.

After that album, which I was so proud of, I went away. I was touring. I went through a breakup and had a couple of months just relaxing. I met my current boyfriend and went to a lot of parties. When it came time to start making the second album, I was like, What is honest and what is real? How am I going to talk about that?

Was there anything you felt like you’d never sing about that you ended up putting on the album?
“Bloom.” I did not anticipate writing that song. Me and Leland, my best friend, we write together all the time. We were like, “How can we turn this around and make this fun for ourselves?” We started having a laugh and writing this song that I never thought would see the light of day.

There’s a real sense of humor on it too.
I’m writing with some of my best friends. We are, like, dying laughing in the studio half the time. We’re all pop nerds who love messing around and trying things. The bridge on “Dance to This” comes to mind, where I do this weird mumbly, talky thing. When we got Ariana Grande on the song, I was like, “What if you do the second half of the bridge with me in your brattiest pop-star voice that you can possibly do?”

You want young queer people to see themselves in your music. Did you see yourself in any pop culture when you were growing up?
Honestly, not really. I remember the few times that I saw a gay character on TV. I saw an episode of Queer As Folk once, when I was younger, in the middle of the night. That really shook me. There was a gay character in Degrassi. I looked to the extremely powerful women who got to really celebrate their flamboyance in the way that I felt like I couldn’t. I wish I’d had more people like me to look up to.

Who were your own role models in pop music?
The thing is that it’s such uncharted territory. I don’t feel like any one new queer artist has absolutely taken over the world. We don’t have a queer Rihanna yet. We don’t have a queer Beyoncé. It feels like we’re all in it together and we’re all constantly looking to each other for inspiration to keep going. The current visibility that we have is from years of hard work from our elders in the community. When I see a Kevin Abstract music video, that’s inspiring to me. When I see Ryan Beatty’s new music video, that’s inspiring to me. I hope we’re all fueling each other to keep going in a time where none of this is being handed to us.

Your career was launched on YouTube.
I have no idea where I would be without the internet, professionally or personally. I didn’t know any gay people growing up. I had to look to the internet for any sort of community or strength or anything like that. I think the cool thing is that it is completely fast-tracking conversations that either wouldn’t have happened otherwise or would have taken a really long time.

But when you become famous on the internet, fans on the internet want to know everything about you, and they ask for so much. Do you struggle with keeping certain things private?
It’s a balance that I’m still trying to find. I really value privacy. People who follow me online, they know who my boyfriend is. They know who my family are. They know who my best friends are. But the ins and outs of those relationships are mine. I keep them that way. That makes me feel safe and secure. I know that if all of this was to go to shit one day, I could go home to Australia.

You’re acting in Boy Erased this fall, playing a character in gay conversion therapy.
I read the script and loved it, and with the current political climate, I felt like it was especially important to be having the conversation. I haven’t auditioned for anything in a really long time. Acting has been something I put on the back burner for a long time while I was focusing on music. All of a sudden, my acting manager, who I haven’t seen in a few years, came over to the Airbnb that I was staying at, at the time. We taped an audition. I felt like I was 15 years old again. Thankfully, Joel Edgerton, who directed the movie, really loved it. We hopped on a FaceTime call a week later and he told me that I got the part.

Joel Edgerton is Australian. So is Nicole Kidman. It seems like everybody in the movie, except for Lucas Hedges, is Australian. Was it weird to be making such an American story with all of them?
This was the hardest movie in the world do to an American accent on. In between takes, everyone would be talking in their full Aussie accent. But I have so much faith in Joel. He was working so closely with Garrard Conley, who wrote the book. He was on set all the time.

Is Nicole Kidman’s wig as fantastic in person as it looks in the movie’s trailer?
Completely. When she walked onto the set, she has this crazy aura about her. She’s so tall and so beautiful and so talented and smart. I still haven’t seen the movie. I’m seeing it in a couple of weeks at Toronto.
Apparently, her performance is incredible.

Bloom is out on Capitol Records today.

*This article appears in the September 3, 2018, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!

Troye Sivan Aims for Broad Pop Stardom by Getting Personal