Wonderland.

TROYE SIVAN

On his blonde revival, finding home in LA and politely rejecting that ever present “gay icon” prefix.

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Troye Sivan is flourishing. Like a long-stemmed white dahlia, he stands in a warehouse space overlooking the urban oasis of LA’s MacArthur Park. His head is cocked to one side as he marvels at the light blasting into a converted studio which houses today’s photoshoot. It’s Saturday, 9am. The city is recovering from Friday’s debauchery. No one decorates the streets below other than one shuffling homeless woman. Sivan sees so much beauty in LA. And for the first time there is a city that truly sees the beauty in Sivan.

In black trousers and white boots, he wears the self-assurance that 22-year-olds wear when they’re thrilled by their own becoming. You know the sensation: when your wardrobe, your haircut, your lingo, your life feels like it’s connecting. Despite this, Sivan is not cocky. He’s a delight. “My hair is such a mess!” He says, batting away compliments. When the Australian YouTuber-turned-pop star came back into public consciousness earlier this month with the release of his anthemic, bright snap of a single — “My My My!” — he also launched a new look: blonde. The music video moves from monochrome Madonna voguing to the glossy colours of a MAC advert. “That video ended up exactly how I’d dreamed it would,” he says.

“My My My!” presented a Sivan having far more fun; enviable fun, the fun you have when you’re liberated from both external pressure and self-judgment. “The last month has been one of the most rewarding times in my life,” he says, his blue eyes scintillating. “You know those moments when everything seems to click into place? I wanted that moment to happen really, really bad.” In the last month, Sivan has released two songs (“The Good Side” was the follow-up) to stellar reviews and performed both numbers on Saturday Night Live. “I really wanted to do SNL for the last album,” he says, speaking about 2015’s critic’s darling of an LP Blue Neighbourhood. “They wouldn’t book me. My first album was so much more successful than I ever could have hoped for, but I never had a hit song. I still want that, you know?”

Finishing the Blue Neighbourhood era, he took 2017 to regroup and moved out properly to LA from his family home in Perth, Australia. “When I came here I felt like, ‘OK, [doing music] is not gonna be as easy as I thought.’ I knew I needed to work really hard ‘cos I’m not good enough yet.” Sivan’s self-identified fault, if he does have one, is surprisingly his lack of confidence. He promised himself not to get in his own way any more. “I’m gonna go for it this time,” he says to me, but really to himself. “I can’t hold anything back. I’m determined to become a better version of myself.” Today he says he’s comfortable, happy, relaxed. “Growing up there’s that thing of, ‘Can I wear this? Can I pull this off?’ You don’t allow yourself to be free. I wanted to keep myself as neutral as possible.” As soon as Sivan started emitting this newfound inner peace in LA — the city of karmic energy — things fell into place. “It’s working!” he says, clapping. It really is.

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It wasn’t supposed to be working for Sivan quite so quickly, but when SNL calls you change your timeline. “My My My!” was slated for a February release, Sivan was leisurely finishing the album. “Everyone was like, ‘Whoa I’ve never been this prepared for a release before’!” Then everything moved forward by a month. SNL was something Sivan dreamed about in his teenage bedroom — “fairly often”. “Every time my hands would start sweating and my heart would sink,” he recalls. Handily, his pal Alessia Cara had done SNL so he called her for advice. “She said: ‘It goes so fast. Try and slow it down’.” A technical issue during rehearsals slowed things down substantially — to a halt.

“I’d rehearsed a million times. It had gone perfectly every time except the time before we did it live. All of a sudden it wasn’t a fun blur, it was: ‘Holy shit I am here, I am present.’ I had this one moment thinking, ‘What if I just faint onstage? What would happen if I tried to leave right now?’” He managed to reel his brain in enough to save him from freaking out. “I don’t even know if I had the mental capacity to shit myself,” he laughs. “I just needed to work really fucking hard.”

When Sivan talks, the light bounces off his head. Due to the purple shampoo he has to use for the peroxide dye, flashes of violet tinge his curls as he rotates towards the sun. Screw your eyes and he’s candy floss on a stick. “He’s like a magical forest creature,” says pop star Allie X, frequent collaborator, over text message. “Super beautiful, kind and intelligent, brings light to everyone he meets. I have nothing negative to say about him. One of the most successful friends I have and the kindest. Those don’t always go hand in hand… especially in this city.”

The songwriting community embraced Sivan in LA and it’s his down-to-earth Aussie character traits that keep him in check. In Perth he grew up Jewish with three siblings, a housewife mother and a father in real estate. Sivan started singing when he was seven but gained notoriety via his own YouTube channel from the age of 12, gleaning views in the thousands per post. In tandem, he travelled Australia singing in synagogues during the High Holidays. Eventually YouTube led to a small part in 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine (he played young Logan) and his record deal with EMI Australia in 2013. In 2014 he released his first EP “TRXYE”. Today he has almost 8m Twitter and 7.7M Instagram followers. Popularity wasn’t always his strong suit…

“Singing never got me cool points at school,” he says. “I used to be called ‘gay’ for it so I sang privately. My YouTube videos… that was all stuff I was embarrassed about.” He finds it ironic that LA rewards his inner music nerd. “Back home I was embarrassed I didn’t play sport. That would have got me into the parties!”

Sivan was only three years-old when George Michael came out on CNN. Not that he remembers. In 2013, at the age of 15 he revealed to his 4 million YouTube fans that he was gay. At the time he had the third most subscribed-to channel in Australia. Alongside the likes of Rookie‘s Tavi Gevinson and Willow and Jaden Smith, he joined the ranks of an elite group of “influential” generational teens. He doesn’t seem to be a fan of such accolades and flinches when presented with the idea of being a “gay icon”. The responsibility he has to grapple with there is not stepping up to that task, but acknowledging when to stand back from it.

“Knowing when to shut up,” he explains, offering examples. “I will never understand the struggles of a trans woman of colour growing up. What can I do as an empathetic person? How can I help? That’s why I politely reject the term ‘gay icon’. I would never wanna put that on myself.”

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Perhaps a better way to look at it is normalisation. Sivan does what all pop stars do: he makes songs about his relationships. They just happen to be gay. “Everyone’s reacting as if I’m doing some crazy shit. I’m not. I’m living my life, but I appreciate that’s a vital thing to do.” Sivan describes his as “the most pleasant experience that you can possibly have as a queer person”. Coming out never held him back professionally, his family and friends were super supportive. “It was a piece of cake compared to the experiences so many others have. It’s not my place to be the face of the gays. I’m the face of some very, very few lucky gays.”

He may recognise his own privilege, but Sivan can’t control how his music speaks to those less fortunate. For LGBTQ people who can only dream of having access to the LA queer universe he says he almost exclusively lives within now, his songs are windows to a place of hope. Take “My My My!”. It’s based on the nights out he discovered in LA, New York and Sydney. It’s imbued with that intoxication you feel when you’re at a club and see someone you fancy, they lead you to the dance floor and your senses run riot. You walk behind them, studying the way their hair outlines their neck and you feel like you might die.

“I’ve been to those dingy warehouse parties,” he explains. “I’ve seen a lot. I never thought that writing about it would feel radical to people who haven’t been exposed to it.” Sivan describes the comfort of going out; finding the pot at the end of the rainbow he’s been longingly staring at in the distance forever. “It’s like, ‘I’m here and no matter how gay I am, there’s someone gay-er. No matter how weird I am, there’s someone weirder.’ To feel like you blend in, you’re invisible, you can lose yourself in the night, that was such a rare feeling for me growing up. Everyone in the LGBTQ community wants to feel like they’re everybody else. I wanted to capture that relief.”

It’s a universal experience to anyone seeking their own sense of belonging but its sense of release is heightened by Sivan’s out-and-proud queerness. “When I think about the songs that I grew up listening to that made me feel…” — he searches for a descriptor — “gay, it was mostly straight women: Cher, Madonna, Miley, Robyn, Lady Gaga. Those are my gay icons, which is a bit strange. I would have loved to have had more queer music growing up.” He pauses. “That would have been nice.”

If “My My My!” is the one-night-stand queer anthem Sivan never had, “The Good Side” is its devastating aftermath. The soft lullaby revealed there to be more to Sivan than newfound hedonism. It’s an ode to a relationship long deceased, the one that informed the bulk of Blue Neighbourhood. “I got the good side of you, send it out into the blue…” he sings, referencing that LP. Whether you’re in Sivan’s position, or his ex’s, the lyrics are all the more gut-wrenching for their wise distance: “I got the good side of life, travelled the universe twice/So many thoughts I wanted to share, but I didn’t call because it wouldn’t be fair.”

It’s a mature reckoning with a melody that’s pure Simon And Garfunkel. Imagine Sivan covering “America” but instead of walking off to find Woodstock and flower power and the Civil Rights Movement, Sivan unveiled LA’s LGBTQ nightlife and young firebrands angry at the Trump Administration. He discovered freedom and glory and acceptance, but there were still ends to tie up. “I never wanna hurt anybody ever,” he says of his ex. “It just sucks. The whole situation. I don’t want the drama of it being out in the world. He’s doing way better and everything is fine.”

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I’m not allowed to tell you about the album. Not the title, nor about the other three songs I’ve heard. Sorry. For Sivan, though, it’s the pinnacle of everything he’s been striving for so far. He’s still putting the finishing touches on it here in LA. It features production work from pop mastermind Max Martin’s Wolf Cousins group and Ariel Rechtshaid (Vampire Weekend, Haim). “I heard something about how when an artist reaches their peak, the thing that’s in their head winds up being the same as the thing they’re creating. This album is the first time in my life I’ve been able to do that. If people don’t like it I’m shit outta luck.”

It’s fortunate then that 2018 seems poised to be Sivan’s for the taking. Not only is he the new face of Valentino, he’s also had time to act (“I’m a glorified extra,” he jokes) in forthcoming film Boy Erased about a young man (played by Lucas Hedges), who is sent to gay conversion therapy camp. Other stars include Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman. The latter left him “completely starstruck”.

He’s even starting to get papped, like a proper pop star. In New York last week, while prepping for SNL, he was snapped with his boyfriend, model Jacob Bixenman. A scandal unravelled when the tabloids fabricated a story around a shot of him throwing a bouquet of flowers away. They suggested he discarded a fan gift he’d just received. Twitter went wild. Troye, can we talk about flowergate?

“Oh my god, yes!” He says, laughing. “It’s awful! I should preface by saying I’ve never had paparazzi before…” Sivan landed at the airport and they were there waiting to pounce. “They weren’t calling my name so maybe I just looked famous,” he says. “I didn’t even have time to look poised and cute!” Once he got to his hotel, paparazzi were outside all the time. It was Grammy week after all and his accommodation was a hotspot. The flowers were gifted to him by fans outside the hotel at the start of the trip. He took them to his room and remained at that hotel for several days, a generous amount of time to keep flowers.

The twist came when Sivan had to move hotels. (He details this story so minutely it could stand up in a court of law). “Housekeeping comes up. The room’s a mess. I pick up the bouquets and leave,” he says, documenting it step-by-step. He and Bixenman decided to bide their time with a stroll. It was perishing outside. Sivan’s hands were cold. Something had to give. It was, sadly, the flowers.

“Keeping in mind I’ve had the flowers for three days: loved them, appreciated them,” he says, still anguished. “I don’t think twice about it. I throw them away. I can’t take them to my next hotel! So I put them in the bin and my boyfriend goes: ‘Troye, you are not gonna believe me but someone just drove past and took photos of you throwing away those flowers, and I was like…” He gasps. I gasp. “’No!’”

For the rest of the day he awaited publication, filled with dread that the feelings of the fan who gifted them would be hurt. “I look so sinister [in the pictures],” he says. “I have this weird beret and glasses on.” 

“You look like you’re dumping a dead body,” I suggest. 

“Exactly. Ugh. I’m so over paparazzi.”

If this new album does reward Sivan with that elusive hit song this time around, paparazzi might become a more regular fixture. Regardless, he doesn’t see anything changing his modest demeanour. He has what’s termed “tall poppy syndrome”. It’s an Australian thing. “In Australia it’s extremely important to be humble,” he says. “As soon as you think you’re too big for your boots they cut you down. I don’t wanna be a wanker who thinks that they’re the shit.” There are many colourful adjectives one could use to describe Troye Sivan. Wanker is absolutely not one of them.

Taken from the Spring 2018 Issue; out now and available to buy here.

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Photography
Daria Kobayashi Ritch
Fashion
Sean Knight
Words
Eve Barlow
Hair
Nikki Providence at Forward Artists using Lemonhead LA
Makeup
Kali Kennedy at Forward Artists using Bumble and Bumble Brilliantine, and Bumble and Bumble Hairdresser’s Invisible Oil Dry Oil Finishing Spray
US Commissioning Editor
Oly Innes
TROYE SIVAN