The Charmed And Charming Life Of Mr Troye Sivan
Mr Troye Sivan remembers the exact moment he realised he wanted to be a performer. He was a small child in Perth, Australia, watching a video of Mr Michael Jackson in concert. “It was one of those moments where he comes out and he just keeps his head in one place for ages,” he says, mimicking the dramatic pose Jackson held on stage. “And the crowd just gets crazier and crazier. And then he moves his head.” At this point, the lissom singer-songwriter flicks his chin upwards and giggles. “And they just lose their fucking minds. I thought, that looks fun.”
Sivan is a performer of a different ilk, less a slick showman, more a sensitive, glittering, nymph. He has a long, lithe frame that is at turns seductive and awkward, the very embodiment of his musical oeuvre, one that expresses the intense highs and lows of adolescent first love. Sivan, who is gay, reframes these passions and heartbreaks through a distinctly queer lens, cocooned within the lush sonic landscape of modern pop. In that way he is reclaiming this aching rite of passage and, at the same time, forging a new canon, one that is unabashedly, unashamedly gay.
If that sounds like a big deal, it is, but he is quick to put it in context. “It comes down to the privilege of being born when I was born,” he says on a sweltering morning in Los Angeles, his brown hair a mess of curls atop his angelic face. “Because of the groundwork that the people who came before me laid. Because of that, it honestly never really felt like a big deal.
“As far as thinking, oh, I’m proudly gay and I’m gonna make a statement, it just sort of doesn’t feel like a big deal to me. It’s just true. And it is a big part of what’s made me the person I am. I feel very Australian and I feel very gay and I feel very Jewish, so it’s like, I didn’t really know what else to do.”
Now 27, Sivan grew up with a certain amount of representation around him. He was a toddler when the TV host Ms Ellen DeGeneres came out on the cover of Time magazine and when the sitcom Will & Grace, which prominently featured LGBTQ+ characters, started its long, influential run. “I’m grateful for that,” he says. “The fact that I don’t have to worry about it that much.”
He also grew up alongside the internet and it’s through the internet that he became famous. After that fateful encounter with the Jackson video, he became obsessed with other musicians, such as Madonna, and would belt out their hits through his home. Eventually, he started recording himself and posting the videos online.
He says he was interested in teaching himself how to edit, but his gentle pre-teen warble earned him fans. “I would say I was part of the second wave of YouTubers,” he says. “It was still this crazy new thing and there was a whole community around it.” In 2013, the singer publicly came out on the video-sharing platform.
That was a lifetime ago. Since then, Sivan has released two studio albums – Blue Neighbourhood in 2015 and Bloom in 2018 – and five EPs, including In A Dream in 2020. The way he releases music feels in line with his post-album, digitally native generation who have been raised on streaming platforms, not CDs. Sometimes it’s a smattering of songs, sometimes it’s something longer and more developed, other times it’s just a single track, such as last year’s “Angel Baby”.
“I fall in love with the little things,” he croons on the synth-heavy number, which, in the accompanying video shows him embracing a brawny guy on a motorcycle. “Counting the tattoos on your skin/ Tell me a secret/ And, baby, I’ll keep it/ And maybe we could play house for the weekend.” (The lyrics to his song “Bloom” are, by turns, coyly erotic, downright horny and defiantly gay.)
“One of my favourite things about making music is that it’s like flicking through an old photo album or something,” he says. “I’ll forget about a song for a few years and I’ll go back and listen to it and it’ll make me smile because I write really personally, so it’ll make me feel nostalgic and tender towards that person, who I was.”
“This might sound contradictory, but I don’t think I’m a loud dresser”
Sivan has been expanding his profile, most notably with acting roles, including a cameo in the 2018 gay conversion therapy drama Boy Erased, which led to a lead role in last year’s coming-of-age drama Three Months. Next, he has a role in The Idol, a mysterious and highly anticipated HBO show from Mr Sam Levison (Euphoria) and the musician known as The Weeknd.
When we meet, the details are under wraps, but he has this to say about the project: “Honestly, it’s just been such a fun process. I think I’ve just met friends that I think will be friends for life. It kind of feels like high school again or something, like you go to the same place every day with the same people.”
A moody trailer has recently dropped, which paints a stark, menacing and evocative scene, but Sivan says filming has been a striking contrast. “The feeling on set is definitely not dark,” he says. “I mean, we laugh a lot. And Sam is just so much fun to work with. There’s so much creative freedom and he really trusts everyone, like everyone.”
He says the project has been the most collaborative one he’s worked on, thanks to the invitation for the performers to make the roles their own, including improvising.
He has been enjoying the back and forth of toggling between music and acting, even if each is taxing in its own way. He says he finds acting intense and internal while music is performative and extroverted. “With music, you can make something and put it out online and get immediate feedback, whereas with acting, you make it in this bubble and it comes out a year later,” he says. “So there’s a certain level of trust. I trust Sam, 100 per cent, hands down.”
Sivan has been in Los Angeles for the better part of a year now filming the show, which is set to debut early next year. He splits his time between here and Melbourne. His updated Victorian home there sent the internet swooning when it was featured in Architectural Digest last year (the tour on YouTube has been viewed 7.2 million times). He is now using the same interior designer on a renovation for his home in Los Angeles.
Last year, Sivan made waves in the fashion world when he arrived at the Met Gala in a sleek, minimalist tank dress by the designer Mr Joseph Altuzarra for his gender-fluid label Altu. A few days later, Sivan walked in a pair of sparkling booty shorts for the pop star Rihanna’s Fenty fashion show.
“This might sound contradictory, but I don’t think I’m a loud dresser,” he says. “At the Met Gala, that just made me feel so sexy and sleek. I felt really powerful that night.”
Today, he is wearing an Acne Studios shirt that, at first sight, appears to be denim, but is a slippery, silky material. He’s been learning more about fit from his stylist, Mr Mel Ottenberg. “When we do a fitting, say like I’m going to wear blue jeans, he’ll bring in 15 pairs or more and we try on every single one,” says Sivan. “And they’re all similar, but slightly different and then it becomes all about finding the best version of something. Because I really do wear a lot of basics in my daily life, but if I’m going to wear a white T-shirt and shorts to the gym, I want it to be the right white T-shirt and shorts.”
Like so many people, Sivan’s work was disrupted by the pandemic and he found lockdown uninspiring. “It was difficult for me to write music, both personally and logistically,” he says. “I tried to do the whole Zoom thing and it was the worst.”
It gave him time to pause and reflect on the incredible trajectory of the previous five years and deal with the break-up with his longtime boyfriend, the model Mr Jacob Bixenman. “It was a really insightful time,” he says.
Sivan is back making music again, in the studio and recording. You can sense in his energy the anticipation a butterfly must feel when readying itself to burst out from its cocoon.
“I think next year will be a very outward-facing year, with The Idol and a new album,” he says. “There’s a lot of things I’ve been working on for a long time that I think we will finally see come to fruition. I prefer the inward years to the outward years, but I’m ready.”
The Idol airs on HBO in 2023 and will stream on HBO Max