Every time I write about Troye Sivan, I feel the immediate need to point out that while he is indeed Internet Famous, he’s not your typical YouTuber.
There’s a certain, uh, stigma that comes along with the gig: After all, plenty of the popular ones are buoyed by a bright smile and an agreeable personality. But as far as actual talent? Err.
Yes, Troye’s cute, bright-eyed boyishness certainly fits the bill of the typical successful YouTube star, but that’s selling him short: He makes music that’s very, very good. And until people come around to the idea (with his new EP, that moment might happen sooner rather than later), I’ve got to keep saying the same thing. And now we said it.
Last year, Troye made an impressive start with his major label debut TRXYE, led by the sulking “Happy Little Pill.”
The EP contained heavy traces of influence from Lorde and BROODS, positioning him as a thoughtful, slightly depressive teenage synth-pop heartbreaker, as opposed to the teenybopper-approved dance-pop dreamboat one might have (understandably) anticipated.
Granted, he did do the dance floor thing later on in a collaboration with Zedd called “Papercut,” but even then, he brought the downtrodden emotion — a perfect pairing, as it turned out.
And then, there’s the whole gay thing.
Troye, like many YouTubers these days, came out publicly on his YouTube channel. It happened a year prior to the release of TRXYE, although his sexuality wasn’t addressed on that EP — at least not overtly. But with the release of “Wild,” the first part of a video trilogy from his new WILD EP, out today (September 4), it seems Troye’s ready to address his love life directly this time around.
The visual bounces between a nostalgia-inducing narrative, which follows two young boys forming a very close relationship, and the present day, where we see Troye holding tight to a mystery boy in bed — presumably the two boys all grown up. By the end, a conflict between their fathers threatens to drive the little boys in the story apart. (Starry-eyed lovers torn apart by family beef…very Romeo & Romeo.) Most pearl-clutchingly of all, modern day Troye ends with a split-second kiss with his boy.
It helps to point out also that the song — co-written with Alex Hope — is a good one. The snap-heavy, atmospheric track sees Troye’s breathy voice working through some vaguely ’80s-leaning synth textures…and an earworm of a child-led chant just for good measure. (“Wha-a-a-ayld!“) The rest of the EP is equally solid, and more intriguing and sonically ambitious than last year’s release: It’s a largely downtempo set full of worldweary introspection and substance-filled angst, positioning Troye as a young Darren Hayes or the male answer to Lorde — or, at least, the anti-Bieber/Mahone.
When it comes to openly gay male pop stars, there are, perhaps unsurprisingly, few major mainstream success stories, although the window is opening: Along with Darren, Adam Lambert, Frank Ocean, Jake Shears and Sam Smith are important exceptions, but none of them necessarily belong to the Tumblr generation as Troye does.
While the music as a whole isn’t explicitly gay, there’s an underlying sense of alienation and heartbreak throughout that resonates as a gay man, including his “Wild” daydreams about leaving his “blue neighborhood” with his guy. He’s evidently done some exploring in the short time since his last release: The Allie X and Leland co-penned “Bite,” a shape-shifting, eerily sensual production, finds Troye supplying some dark, albeit cautious seduction: “Kiss me on the mouth and set me free,” he tempts, “but please don’t bite.”
Distance is maybe the most prominent theme, and much of the mini-album feels like the product of a doomed long-distance relationship including “The Quiet,” a frustrated plea for communication over crashing waves of downtempo electronica. “Distance makes the heart grow fonder,’ said by someone stronger than me / So what do I do now?” he laments on the BANKS-like closer, “DKLA,” featuring Tkay Maidza.
He seems to be somewhat weary of his newfound celebrity on “Ease,” a no-brainer collaboration with musical soulmates BROODS, worrying about the life he’s building for himself while longing for simpler times across the lush production. “Take me back to the basics and the simple life,” he dreamily coos alongside Georgia Nott. It’s a bit of a heartbreaking sentiment from someone who isn’t even old enough to legally drink in America yet, but proof that Troye has much more to him than a vanilla, by-the-numbers self-empowerment anthem.
For his millions of subscribers, Troye already serves as a role model, and has likely helped many young gays accept themselves and begin their own coming out process. Judging by the first visual for the campaign, he’s unafraid to embrace his sexuality, and he’s doing so in a way that doesn’t feel heavy-handed. And, thankfully for us, the accompanying music isn’t lame. In fact, it’s more vulnerable, intelligent and sonically adventurous than many might have anticipated.
It’s interesting to think about the idea of a Troye figure being around during high school. While I do love my pop queens and attribute a huge part of my coming out process to them (and, once I eventually found out about him, Darren), I think it would have been nice to have someone around my age waiting for me on my iPod; openly grappling with the same feelings and demonstrating that I wasn’t alone. (Not alone, not alone, not alone…)
I’ve got a lot of hope in Troye’s potential, not only as a pop star, but a young, gay singer-songwriter living his truth. This EP has only further cemented that faith. Go wild, boy.