Three Rounds With Troye Sivan: The pop star celebrates his smoldering album 'Bloom' with a few (strong) cocktails
My, my, my, has Troye Sivan arrived.
The Australia-raised, South Africa-born showman ascended from viral YouTube roots — the kind of buoyant bedroom vlogs that endeared him to millions of teen fans — to mainstream music stardom with his 2015 debut album, Blue Neighbourhood. It was a moody, broody slice of suburbia pop that introduced Sivan as a prominent new Gen-Z voice, not to mention added exposure to his platform as an openly gay teenage role model (a still-nascent population in the entertainment industry).
Sivan has since become a ubiquitous pop collaborator, sharing studios and stages with Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift, Alessia Cara, Sigur Rós, Betty Who, Zedd, and Carly Rae Jepsen. He’s a burgeoning actor, appearing in the Oscar-buzzy gay conversion drama Boy Erased this November (and, always available on YouTube, as an erstwhile young Hugh Jackman in X-Men Origins: Wolverine). He’s an increasingly influential voice in the LGBTQ community, using digital savvy and video artistry to infuse most of his music with gay themes. And at 23, he’s moving past the sweet spot of adolescence as an adult ready to drop his smoldering sophomore album, Bloom (out Aug. 31) and introduce the world to his good side.
Cause enough, EW thought, for three rounds of celebration with the singer at one of his favorite Los Angeles haunts (the Cha Cha Lounge in Silver Lake, Calif.) on the eve of his career’s next great blossoming. Read our extended interview with Sivan (featured in the latest issue of EW) below.
ROUND 1: BEER
Three years ago, on your debut album Blue Neighbourhood, you sang, “I’m just a lost boy, not ready to be found.” So, three years later — do you feel like you have been?
I do, to a certain extent. Something that’s really exciting to me is that I know that growth and change are forever, but I’m definitely the most settled and secured that I’ve ever been. At the same time, I’m learning so much every single day about myself and about the world and about music, and I’m really enjoying that. I think the biggest difference is that there’s a little bit less anxiety.
You’ve said that you didn’t want to give the world a “sad gay album” right now. What, then, is Bloom?
Ultimately, it’s a love album. Almost all the songs are these really passionate, longing love songs, and I had a really good time writing about that because, before this album, I didn’t know what me writing happy music even sounded like.
It very much feels like an album about declaring, confidently, what you want right now in life.
It feels really up front to me. It definitely helps that I wrote the album with some of my best friends in the entire world, so there’s no judgment in the room. They already know all this stuff about me. And so it’s just about working that into a song that feels real. If that’s admitting sides of yourself that you don’t like, if that’s talking about past experiences really frankly, or talking about where you’re at right now in a really open way, I was down to do it and deal with the consequences later.
Are you a musician with a mission? Did the album you set out to make ultimately become the album you ended up making?
It actually was, this time around, and that was a signifier to me that I had done a good job, you know what I mean? It’s really empowering when, as an artist, you can visualize something and then have the final product turn out the way you wanted it to. It’s the most satisfying thing in the world and for the longest time, I didn’t know how to do that, I didn’t know how to get there. And this time I came in really determined and inspired and I feel like I kept really true to that vision.
On “Seventeen,” there’s a lyric I loved about recognizing you were too young for a relationship. I think often millennials and Gen-Z aren’t given the same license to reflect on their past mistakes and say, “I am young, but guess what, I also used to be even younger.” How do you feel your age factors into your music and how it’s perceived?
One thing I loved so much about Lorde’s second album was that we got introduced to this person that we loved so much on the first album, and then the second just made complete sense. It felt like that same character, that same person has grown up. That’s the way I see my albums, hopefully for the rest of my life. Just a kind of update, a diary of where I’m at in my life. Songs like “Dance to This,” about the fact that I have a house now and like nine out of 10 nights I’d rather stay home than go out, really accurately capture where I am in my life.
Among other words to describe it, Bloom is a very chill album — in a very not-chill time. What mood did you try to cultivate in the studio and how?
I think that stems from my musical history. I have always gravitated towards sad, melancholy music. If something is upbeat, it’s often really sexy, and at the same time, whatever I’m listening to, that’s the music that makes me feel passionate and sexy and inspired. And so I’ve never really been one to put on, like, bangers, you know? I don’t really know how to write songs that don’t have this kind of tinge of introspection, and I feel like that results in something that feels maybe a little bit more slowed down or thoughtful.
As someone with very evocative music videos, what do your videos unlock in your music? If you could never make another music video again, would there be a huge gap missing from your artistry?
Definitely. Yes. I write really visually. In my head I’m constantly picturing things as I’m writing, so for me, videos are such an expressive part of my job. I hope I communicate a lot through the visuals I make. I would feel very empty without them. I’ve got music video ideas for, if I could, every song on the album.
Is there a lyric or visual you’re particularly proud of?
The second verse in “What a Heavenly Way to Die.” It makes me really soft and mushy. It’s this idea of a little gay couple getting super old and wrinkly together and listening to that song 60 years in the future. I had this really sweet image of the old man from Up listening to that song with his gay boyfriend. I don’t know why I made him gay in my head, but he’s gay in my head.
ROUND 2: BLUE HAWAII
It sometimes feels like headlines about you always seem intent to qualify you as “gay artist Troye Sivan.” How much weight do you feel is put on you to represent the queer community and assume that mantle?
I’ve always said that as long as people are still talking about it and doing stuff like that, it means that it’s something that needs to be spoken about. There’s hunger for that conversation. So I’ve always been totally fine to talk about and embrace that. Am I excited for the day where [a headline is] just, “Troye Sivan puts out a song?” Sure, yeah, that’s exciting. As I’m excited for the day when a trans woman of color can walk down the street and not fear for her life, you know what I mean? We’ve got so much work to do as a community, and the only way is forward. We’ve just got to keep going. There’s going to be some uncomfortable and painful moments along the way, but I have so much faith in us to stay strong through all of that.
Who do you lean on in the industry for that conversation?
There’s a bunch of young queer artists on the come up right now, which is so exciting, people like Kehlani and Kevin Abstract and Perfume Genius. There’s a bunch of really inspiring people who are doing amazing things in music. So I guess them. But in all honesty, that’s not a conversation that I’ve really had with any other musicians.
How do you feel about the current state of LGBT representation in music?
I think it’s the best it’s ever been, but still a really, really long way to go.
This is a fairly random thought, but how do you think your artistry might have been different had you worked through a different era?
I probably would have been forced to stay in the closet. I’m sure I would have worked my way around it. What’s cool to me is there [were] definitely times when artists could be a lot more flamboyant, and that’s really inspiring to me, that there was a time when David Bowie could exist and the world was in love with it.
When do you feel the most glamorous?
I get a lot of my glamour from my mum. She was a model when she was younger and we’ve got this portfolio of all of her photos and newspaper cuttings from when she was a kid, and sometimes I look a little like her when I’m done up, and that makes me feel pretty glam. And as well, I feel most glamorous and sexy when I find that line between masculine and feminine that feels most authentically myself.
Is Bloom a sexier album for you?
I think so. Maybe ‘cause it’s a little more real about that stuff. With the first album, I felt pressure to keep things more mild and palatable. I was a new artist — still am, but — I was new, openly gay, still young, and I just wanted to keep things as PG as I could. Whereas this time, I was like, no — I want to make music for queer people. I want to make music for people like me, and make something real about what’s actually going on in my life, which…it is what it is.
How did you reconcile your parents listening to your more sexually suggestive songs?
I literally pretend it’s not happening. I don’t think my parents know the lyrics to any of my songs, so I just kind of put faith in that and hope for the best.
So they don’t know what the song “Bloom” is about?
Well, now they do because everyone and their mum has talked about it. But whatever!
ROUND 3: VODKA TONIC
You’ve just moved to Los Angeles from Australia. What was the biggest shift for you?
It’s honestly been a really tough experience moving over here. I’ve built a life for myself now that I really love, but it was hard. It’s super different from Australia and really far from my family and friends. I grew up in a very tight-knit community where everybody knew everybody’s parents. I grew up in a family of six. And then I got here and I knew very few people, everyone’s traveling in and out all the time, it’s huge, and you’ve got to learn to drive. So it took me a while to find my feet. I’m still very much on that journey, but I’ve built my own sanctuary here where I feel so happy. And I’ve just got a dog! His name is Nash. So I’m working at making this feel like home.
What’s the biggest misconception you think there is about you?
I think people think that because I came from online, I’m a really public person, and I’m actually really not, I’ve found. As I’ve grown up, I feel like a very private person, actually. I really enjoy my family and friend time and my privacy.
What did your YouTube roots define about you?
The relationship with the fans. There are some people who follow me on Twitter who I potentially have been speaking to for over 10 years, which is so nuts, but that’s a real relationship. I cherish that more than anything.
Speaking of your Twitter, I don’t think you get enough credit for your sense of humor. Do you consider it a secret weapon of yours?
Totally. I’m laughing all the time. I look to Lily Allen for that all the time. People used to ask me about my inspirations and I would say Lily Allen. Her music sounds not like [mine] at all, but it was just her wit and her lyrics and not being afraid to take the piss a little bit in a lyric. Same thing with Amy Winehouse. She was always super cheeky and I just love her. I try to work that in sometimes.
What was your last pinch-me, out-of-body moment?
I can think of three off the top of my head. Number one is performing with Taylor Swift at the Rose Bowl [in May]. That was crazy and overwhelming just because it’s Taylor Swift and it’s the Rose Bowl, with 60,000 people, which is the biggest crowd I’ve ever played for, and we were singing my song. That’s a moment where, had I been able to fast-forward into the future as a 15-year-old and seen that, I would have just literally cried uncontrollably. Shooting the “Dance to This” video with Ariana is another one. When you see Ariana being Ariana Grande, when she turns it on and does the whole pop star thing, it’s so incredible to watch. She’s just a legend. And the last one was seeing the trailer for Boy Erased, the movie that I’m going to be in, and hearing my songs from the soundtrack underneath these incredible performances by Lucas Hedges and Nicole Kidman. That gave me chills.
Your character in Boy Erased is a teenager at a Christian gay conversion therapy camp. How did that acting experience change you?
That movie was a really intense time for me, honestly. First of all, my music team knew I was going to shoot this movie, so they all completely backed off and it was dead quiet, music-wise, for a month, and that was the first time that’s happened in years, so I was completely absorbed on set in Atlanta and completely present. It was amazing, but at the same time, it was gnarly. [Conversion therapy] is such a hurtful thing to witness, even when it’s pretend. It was super eye-opening and really lit a fire in me to try and change.
How do you describe the song you wrote for the soundtrack, “Revelation”?
I worked with Jónsi from Sigur Rós and Leland. It’s this really tender song about the moment where you let yourself go and fall for someone of the same sex for the first time and realize that God didn’t strike you down. It’s the moment of, maybe this is okay. This feels right…maybe it is.
What’s your ultimate goal with acting?
To do stuff that I feel is interesting, both for me and for the people who come to see the movie. To be able to have the luxury of not being a starving actor who’s trying to book anything they can, and to find a perfect project and really go for it and audition for it and try your very, very best and even if you don’t get it, it’s not the end of the world. I see it as hopefully something that throughout my career is going to be a really exciting thing to follow. My general goal with my life is that I want to be someone that people trust as a creative. “Oh, Troye made a new album, I’m sure that’ll be really cool” or “Troye made a movie, I hope that’ll be cool.” I just love making stuff.
Dare I ask: Does Nicole Kidman listen to your music?
I’m…not sure! She said in an article that she and Keith are fans. And I was really gagged by that. I just don’t know if it’s true or if she was just being really nice.