Troye Sivan's new album has something to give us
Updated October 17, 2023 at 1:22 PM ET
Troye Sivan is a rarity in pop music. He's a global star with millions of hardcore, devoted fans, but unlike Harry Styles or Justin Bieber or Bruno Mars, when Sivan sings about love and dating and sex, he sings about men. And on his new album, Something to Give Each Other, he gets specific about aspects of queer life that don't often get a mainstream platform.
It wasn't always this way. Sivan says that during his childhood in Perth, Australia, he tried hard to suppress his identity — to the point that he couldn't even bring himself to privately imagine what his favorite pop songs might sound like with the pronouns flipped. His career in music, then, can be seen as a belated gift to that younger version of himself.
"I really am doing that in so many ways, you know?" Sivan says. "Of course, there's a big element of pride in the fact that I am now so comfortably, openly gay. But also just musically, especially on this album, there's so many little nostalgic references to the pop that I grew up listening to — pop stars of the early noughties — even down to the choreography and the music videos. I really am doing it for 6-year-old me, who just wanted to be a pop star so badly."
Sivan spoke with NPR's Ari Shapiro about designing Something to Give Each Other to be attuned to the details of queer love and attraction, and the small handful of listeners he still feels shy in front of. Hear the radio version at the audio link, and read an edited transcript below.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Ari Shapiro: It's one thing to write a same-sex love song. You often go further than that. The big single from your last album, "Bloom," had an explicit double meaning. And on this album, the lead single, "Rush," could describe the general feeling of being on a dance floor — or it could reference the specific brand name of a borderline-legal product that makes people feel great on a dance floor. Is there ever a part of you that thinks, "Should I really be letting people in on this particular aspect of the queer experience?"
Troye Sivan: You know, I actually don't think about it that much. I feel [so] emboldened by a supportive family and supportive friends that I feel kind of bulletproof when it comes to talking about whatever I want to talk about. Maybe to other people, that can feel like maybe a bit more intentional or radical than it does to me.
It's funny, because you and I were both raised in observant Jewish families that were liberal and supportive — and even I sometimes feel like, "I can't believe my parents are going to see this." And I'm not the one making music videos in a jock strap or chaps. You never, ever feel that way?
OK, so that. I don't care about the world hearing it; my parents I care about, definitely. My hope is that it goes over their head a little bit, and I kind of just leave it up to them to educate themselves.
So you have not had the "Rush" conversation with them.
No. No, I have not.
But you trust that they figured it out at some point.
I know that they have figured it out, because I have siblings, and they talk. But you know, singing about anything intimate, I worry much, much more what my older brother is going to think than I do what the rest of the world will.
One of the other things you explore on this album is the way casual encounters can be more than just hot. They can be an opportunity for real connection — not despite their anonymity but, in a way, because of it.
Totally. I have always kind of been geared, I think, towards long-term relationships. Then I found myself single for the first time, really, since I became an adult. And I just had a few encounters that really, really changed the way that I look at intimacy.
You know, when you're cuddled up to someone that you met a few hours prior and you're really enjoying that moment, that's not fake. It's just different. And I got such joy and such a pleasure out of these quick encounters that can totally, totally fulfill you. So that's ultimately where the album title came into it, was me realizing that everyone has something to offer each other, and something to give each other.
There's a great, specific lyric in the song "How to Stay with You" that goes, "I feel like my brother might like you / Just not in the same way I do." What do you think makes that level of detail work for a broad, general, global pop audience?
Well, that's something that I really learned listening for the first time to Back to Black by Amy Winehouse. She was writing these super-specific lyrics, and you would think it would kind of alienate the audience. But I think it does the opposite — it just brings them in. I think people are really good at taking a feeling from a song and applying it to their own lives. And the more specific that feeling is, the better. So that's something I try and do always in my songs, is just really write from a place of real life.
People take different paths to pop stardom, and yours led through video blogging. Almost exactly a decade ago, you posted a coming-out video at the age of 18. You'd been out to your family before but not yet to the public. And you were, at the time, in talks with a record label but had not yet signed a deal. From where you sit today, what would you want to tell that teenager? What would you want him to know?
I don't know that I would say too much to him. I mean, maybe I would give him a little hint that music is going to go well, and you're going to be really happy with how everything goes. Maybe I'd show him just a tiny snippet of a music video or something.
How would he react to that?
I think he would be really, really excited. I think I would be scared — you know, speaking of that early internalized homophobia, I think maybe there would be a little bit of fear, like, oh, wow, you're doing that? Or, wow, sometimes you wear makeup? I think there would be fear, but I think there would be a huge sense of relief as well. And I'm sure that he would be very, very excited for the future.
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