“Can I ride this wearing high heels?” Troye Sivan asks, eyeing a scooter suspiciously. The high heels in question are raising his pointy black Helmut Lang boots about two inches off the ground – “I’m not sure if they’re men’s or women’s” – and the scooter is the popular new motorized kind that you unlock with a smartphone app. Sivan steps aboard, kicks off and lurches forward. Another question occurs to him: “How do you stop it?”
It’s mid-June and Sivan, a 23-year-old pop phenomenon, is in search of a good coffee on the west side of Los Angeles, the city he currently calls home. He’s got an excellent new album on the way, Bloom; a new single, “Dance to This,” featuring Ariana Grande, which premiered this morning; and a photo shoot this afternoon. But he’s learned to carve out downtime for himself, and so this morning, after he woke up around 7 a.m. at the hillside house he shares with his boyfriend – a model and photographer named Jacob Bixenman – he hit his pool for a soak. He pointedly did not bring his phone in. “I try not to use it for the first hour of the day,” he says. “My parents were like, ‘Don’t get on your phone first thing. Use your pool more.’ ”
Many of us claim various degrees of dependence on technology, but Sivan wouldn’t be who he is today without it. Born in Johannesburg and raised in the Australian coastal city of Perth, he rose to prominence as a teenage YouTube star – posting song covers at first, then charismatic straight-to-camera monologues that ranged from the comedic to the diaristic. When he knew he was gay, around 14, social media proved indispensable to shaping his identity – albeit anonymously at first: “I’d go to YouTube, put on private browsing and watch one coming-out video after the next.” He also hung out in queer forums under a pseudonym; later, he lied about his age and joined Grindr. (“I met one guy through there, and it wasn’t, like, a hookup — it was a date,” he notes.) Later, after coming out to his parents and siblings, who were supportive, he got a fake ID and met some older guys at bars – a “period of self-discovery” and occasional “uncomfortable situations” that he sings about on the Bloom opener, “Seventeen.” But it was the virtual realm where he truly grew into his skin as a young gay man; in 2013 he posted his own “coming out” video, which has nearly 8 million views. “I’m so thankful I had the Internet,” he says.
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Sivan has blue eyes, dyed-blonde hair and a little hoop nose ring. In conversation he’s ruminative; on a scooter he’s cautious bordering on mercenary. As we approach a steep downhill he slows to let me lead: “You go first.” At the bottom we roll into an intersection and, halfway across, our motors unexpectedly stall. “Did yours die, too?” Sivan asks. We haul them awkwardly to the curb, before the light changes: it turns out we’ve gotten too far out of range from Sivan’s management team, who unlocked the scooters using their phones.
He tells me about Bloom as we walk the rest of the way. It’s the follow-up to his Top 10 debut, 2015’s Blue Neighbourhood. “I wasn’t really sure what I was doing on that one, and it kind of came together song by song,” he says. “It was a coming-of-age record, whereas Bloom was written after finishing a tour, during the period of finding a house, being really happy in my relationship and figuring out so much about myself. I was going out a lot, hearing music I’d never heard, going to queer spaces where you feel completely free to do whatever you want; where, for the first time, you don’t feel like the minority.” The result is a self-assured 10-song set that swings from uptempo electronic tracks to strummed acoustic ballads like “The Good Side.” Frank Ocean is one of Sivan’s cited influences; so are the Replacements, Francis and the Lights, Kate Bush and Cocteau Twins. He chose the digital clap sound on one Bloom song because, in its evocation of classic Madonna, it struck him as sounding appealingly “gay.”
Soon Sivan will head out on a theater tour, so he’s been taking dance lessons to get more comfortable onstage: “We spent the whole first class just moving in slow motion for, like, two hours.” He’s got reason to be optimistic, though. When we get to a cafe, Sivan orders an iced latte and receives a text from Grande, sharing good news about their new song’s performance on iTunes. Sivan shows me his phone and beams: “She just texted me, ‘Top 10, ho.’ ”