Troye Sivan blooms on new record
Jake Winningham | Friday, September 7, 2018
“My boy like a queen / unlike one you’ve ever seen” may be the best couplet in pop music this year — and one that would’ve been unthinkable coming from any male pop star before Troye Sivan. The Australian singer isn’t the first gay man to make an impact in the pop world, but he is certainly the first to gain fame while being out of the closet and singing so openly about other men. It took years for Elton John to come out, and the subjects of Sam Smith’s mass-consumption ballads are often so anonymous as to have no gender at all.
The closest precedent for Sivan’s success is George Michael, but even he never spoke as brazenly about his desires. The opening line of Michael’s greatest song is notable for its uncertainty, “Well I guess it would be nice/if I could touch your body.” When he sang “I Want Your Sex,” it seemed more like him practicing lines in a mirror than anything else.
Sivan has no such hang-ups. “I got my tongue between your teeth / go slow, no, no, go fast,” he sings on “My My My!” Here, there’s no question at all that he’s addressing a real person.
That frankness is one of the best qualities of Sivan’s sophomore effort “Bloom,” which shows flashes of greatness until the album’s quality drops off sharply in its back half. Like his pop contemporaries, Sivan can make club-ready bangers seemingly on demand. What sets him apart are his lyrics, as honest as any you’ll find this year. The title of album opener “Seventeen” refers to the age at which Sivan downloaded Grindr and started meeting older men, while on the title track he implores a partner “Promise me you’ll hand my hand if I get scared now.”
Musically speaking, Sivan paints from the same palette as fellow internet darlings Charli XCX and Carly Rae Jepsen: waves of keyboards, processed vocals and oppressively catchy hooks. These coalesce perfectly on “My My My!” It’s an absolute and total bop that I wouldn’t mind hearing at every party I go to for the rest of my life. Admittedly, this method becomes numbing as the album goes on, yet certain flourishes stick out and demand repeat listens — the Phil Collins drum fills on “Seventeen,” the glam-metal guitar curlicues on “Plum” and guest singer Gordi’s turn on the gentle “Postcard” all come to mind.
Speaking of “Postcard,” that song closes the album’s first half, and is followed by the single worst song I’ve heard all year. The transition from “Postcard” to the Ariana Grande collaboration “Dance To This” is about as jarring as a punch to the face and about half as welcome. It’s not just that “Dance To This” is bad, though it certainly is — the album’s nadir is the song’s risible faux-tribal breakdown that inspired me to take out my headphones on my first listen. More crucially, it’s disappointing. Listen to it once, to see how profoundly it wastes the abilities of two of pop’s most talented and idiosyncratic vocalists. And then never do it again.
Conversely, the album’s high point is “The Good Side,” which is that ultimate rarity: the mature breakup song. Where virtually every other entry in that mini-genre falls on the spectrum between scorched-earth diatribe (Alanis Morrisette’s “You Oughta Know”) and self-pity (Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U”), “The Good Side” sees Sivan apologizing for the state in which he left his ex. The best (and perhaps only) comparison for the song is ABBA’s “The Winner Takes It All,” although Sivan flips the conceit of that masterpiece on its head. This time, we’re hearing the story from the “winner’s” side, and he knows how unfair he’s being. In the song’s most wrenching moment, Sivan acknowledges that, no matter how sorry he seems, he still wants to use his partner’s pain to write a hit. “The people danced to the sound of your heart / the world sang along to it falling apart,” he croons. In that moment, Sivan gives you all you ever need from pop music: a heartbeat (or heartbreak) you can dance to.
Artist: Troye Sivan
Favorite Tracks: “My My My!”, “The Good Side”
If you like: Charli XCX, Carly Rae Jepsen
Shamrocks: 3 out of 5