Troye Sivan: ‘There’s power in living openly while being gay’

With his Madonna referencing music and porn star-featuring video, the vlogger turned musician is redefining what it is to be a male pop star

Troye Sivan is pop’s greatest hope for the future. His horny and hedonistic new single My My My! is already the year’s best, and its accompanying video – all heaving torsos, wet-look hair and more strutting than a Victoria’s Secret runway show – screams “superstar” in big neon letters. In person, 22-year-old Sivan, like that other modern-day superstar Lorde, is a softly spoken, hugely intelligent over-thinker. But the Troye Sivan of My My My! is the epitome of what 2018 needs: a star sashaying in a billowing shirt, frayed denim and tight white vest, singing a synthpop explosion of a song about sex from a male perspective that doesn’t make you want to bathe in bleach immediately after hearing it. While Justin Timberlake wonders what his lady friend is going to do “with all that meat” (pop it in the freezer?) on comeback single Filthy, and Jason Derulo literally equates women with animals in his video for Tip Toe, My My My! is a universal, celebratory rush saturated in playful lust.

While the single doesn’t use male pronouns, Sivan – who, unlike some of his peers, actually seems as obsessed with pop as his own fans are – was adamant it should still reflect who he was.

“I wanted to make the song sounded gay, down to the production, by paying homage to a certain clap sound in an old Madonna song,” he explains on the phone from LA, to which he’s recently relocated from Perth, Australia. “Also, in the video there are shirtless guys, but they’re not touching each other – I didn’t want anybody to be like, ‘This video makes me uncomfortable because it’s gay.’” There’s a pause. “But at the same time it’s sooooo gay.” One of the shirtless guys not touching anyone is porn star and model Brody Blomqvist (AKA Justin Brody). Was Sivan involved in casting? “I was, but in my defence I just thought he had a really great … look.”

While the videos for his debut – the elegant electro-pop record, 2015’s Blue Neighbourhood – featured nascent love stories gone wrong, or footage from LGBTQ history, My My My! feels like a coming-of-age moment, not unlike Lorde’s personality-packed Green Light video from 2017. Director Grant Singer, responsible for both, agrees that Sivan represents the perfect pop star for today. “I don’t think there’s anyone quite like him,” he says. “He’s a special and rare talent.”

With straight male sexuality in pop rightfully under more scrutiny post-#MeToo, My My My!’s central conceit feels more prescient than ever.

“It’s a confidence and an attitude that I really wanted to explore,” says Sivan. “It’s that feeling where you go out with your friends and you can feel that sense of community when a bunch of people who have probably been through some rough times come together and are enjoying moving however they want to move, and being whoever they want to be. I wanted to explore that more so than actual sexuality.”

Even so, he’s also pushing the sexuality envelope. Historically, male gay pop stars have either been outed by the tabloids, tricked into outing themselves, or forced into packaging their sexuality into mopey ballads about longing in order to fit a narrative. For Sivan – who recently referred to himself as “world-renowned pop twink” – his preference when it came to who he fancied wasn’t going to be an issue. “From before I knew I was gay, I knew I wanted to be a singer, so I didn’t ever want to let [my sexuality] change that trajectory,” he states. “I’m just doing what all the other pop stars are doing: writing love songs, singing love songs and putting love interests in my music videos. I think there’s power in living openly and truthfully, while also being gay.”

Sivan performing on Saturday Night Live.
Sivan performing on Saturday Night Live. Photograph: NBC/Getty Images

Growing up in Perth, Sivan was obsessed with YouTube from the age of 12, when a short clip he posted of him singing quickly received thousands of views. “It clicked for me really early,” he says, “the potential of reaching people you’d normally never be able to reach.” Initially he’d upload pop covers, before eventually, as the YouTuber phenomenon took hold, upgrading to more personality-led videos called things such as How To Make Friends, Australian Boy Does Accents and the ambitious Life’s Unanswerable Questions. On 7 August 2013, aged 17, he posted the self-explanatory Coming Out, an eight-minute piece that has since racked up 7.7m views.

Two months earlier he’d signed a major label record deal, but posted the video without his new label’s knowledge. “It was a very conscious decision I made to get it out of the way,” he says. “I was really scared of being outed. I was getting close to turning 18 and I wanted to be able to go to gay clubs, so I was scared that people were going to see me and the label would find out that way. It was about me taking back that control.”

Already out to his friends and family, for Sivan, this public announcement was also him paying it forward. “Watching coming-out videos on YouTube was such a massive part of my personal coming-out process that it felt like it was my time to give back to the community a little bit.”

Also saved to his YouTube favourites was a compilation of scenes from Channel 4’s late-90s drama Queer As Folk. “I was too scared to watch it on the TV so I would watch video compilations of the guys making out,” he laughs. “I remember very vividly the few times I ever saw LGBTQ representations on TV growing up. Those are all etched in my memory.”

This lack of representation is why all the videos to the songs from Blue Neighbourhood featured scenes of male love interests, with the central Neighbourhood trilogy depicting the negative fall-out from being “exposed” as gay – something he had avoided. “I had the easiest coming-out experience in the world,” he says. “Everyone was super-supportive, so I definitely try my hardest to use the platform I’ve been given to shine a light on people that maybe haven’t had the same opportunities I’ve had.”

As our interview time comes to an end, talk turns to a Twitter storm Sivan has been engulfed in. “Oh my God, flowergate 2k18,” he laughs. For those who haven’t followed the saga, on a recent visit to New York, where he performed My My My! and the more melancholic, Sufjan Stevens-esque The Good Side on Saturday Night Live, Sivan was handed a bouquet of flowers by a female fan. Hugs were exchanged, chat was had and everyone went home happy. Later, Sivan was pictured dumping said bouquet in the bin. For a short time, it was all pop Twitter could talk about, with streams of tweets suggesting Sivan was “cancelled”. “I feel really horrible about it, I do,” he says, before explaining that he basically had to extend his New York trip, was moving hotels and chucked the flowers in a bin.

“The thing that sucks was that people thought I ditched them 10 minutes later, but I kept them for three days,” he says. He’s in good company, I tell him, referencing the 2011 video of Madonna receiving some hydrangeas from a fan only to roll her eyes, mouth that she hates them and drop them on the floor. “And, wait, she didn’t get cancelled?” he says, mock incredulously. Well, no, she’s Madonna. “Ah, I see. Well, hopefully that’s the biggest scandal I will get myself into.”

Fingers crossed it’s not – pop needs its rebels.


Michael Cragg

The GuardianTramp

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