Photography by Luke Gilford. Styling by Michael Cook. Hair: Harper at Exclusive Artists Management. Makeup: Jeffrey Baum
All clothing by Prada.
Supreme confidence coming from a 20-year-old can be worrisome, but in Troye Sivan’s case, it’s actually heartening. “Unless you feel you need a full-length album to tell your story, I don’t feel like it’s that relevant or important anymore,” says the petite YouTube star, his angelic features shadowed by the twilit living room of a plush rented Venice Beach home. “I’m doing one to prove to myself that I can do it, but I didn’t feel the pressure to stick to that format.”
His self-assurance is far from unfounded. An artist coming up in this stream-and-download era could probably do just as well with a handful of catchy radio singles and a knack for Twitter one-liners as they could slinging something as old-fashioned and time-consuming as an album.
This is a fact Sivan has gleaned from experience: His debut album, Blue Neighbourhood, arrives this winter with a pre-established following, thanks to an adolescence spent recording videos in his hometown of Perth, Australia, where he’d sing to and engage with a dedicated online audience that now tallies more than 3.6 million subscribers. Eight years entertaining the Internet is plenty of time for trial and error — plenty of time to build the confidence (not to mention new-industry know-how) necessary to shape a budding career as a young, out, major-label songwriter. It’s what makes Sivan one of pop’s most exciting superstars-to-be.
On a warm October evening, the singer speaks lovingly of his most ambitious project yet. He often uses the phrase “100 percent” to emphasize his investment, and his tone suggests the album has surpassed even his own lofty standards.
“Maybe I’m being hard on myself, but I feel like [production] came to the rescue sometimes before, and I didn’t want that to happen this time,” he says, recalling the process that resulted in his two “mini-albums,” 2014’s TRXYE and this September’s Wild. “I wanted to write songs I could strip back and play on the piano, and the production would just make them sound fresh and new.”
Neighbourhood, which comprises the songs from Wild plus six more, is an elegant, synth-pop-inflected collection that balances this innovative production with Sivan’s almost-literary approach to lyrics (“your hands and lips still throw their weight around”; “quiet nights poured over ice and Tanqueray”) — to say nothing of the earworm hooks of its flagship songs, “Wild,” “Fools,” and “Talk Me Down,” which arrived piecemeal over several weeks this fall.
Sivan chose not only to release them as separate singles, but also as a video trilogy. He says the suite, which chronicles the childhoods of two working-class boys whose romance is stifled by intolerance and abuse, is an exact reflection of how he wants to navigate the industry: as himself.
“I’ve been excited for a long time to be honest as an artist, because we’re in a really cool time when we can be,” he says. “I’m gay. I like boys. These songs are about boys. I think some people think I’m trying to make this big statement by having a boy in these videos. It’s like, ‘What, am I supposed to have a girl?’ ”
But the trilogy exists as more than a moving portrayal of a young gay love story. For Sivan, its ultimate message is more urgent. “I don’t think [my fans] are going to be particularly shocked by it — the goal for me was actually to reach the people around them,” he says. “It makes me so frustrated [thinking about] the potential we’ve already lost in the war against LGBT suicide. So much of that happens because of the way those around LGBT people deal with the news. I hope my fans’ parents see it, or they’re watching it on their laptops and their brothers or friends see it.”
Sivan, who came out at 15, considers himself “the most privileged kid in the world,” having grown up in an encouraging, accepting family. His poise and unwavering vision were clearly being cultivated long before he created a social media account.
“Every dad gives lectures, but I’ve always loved listening to my dad’s,” he says, smiling sheepishly. “It was always ‘design your own life,’ and ‘happiness is number one,’ and ‘if you feel like things are slipping out of your control, you can take a day off; you can turn your phone off.’ I have 100 percent carried that advice with me.”