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Troye Sivan on His New Album and Struggling With Internalized Homophobia

When Australian singer Troye Sivan first set out to be a pop star as a young teen, he had two potential hurdles in front of him: distance (he hails from Perth, aka the most remote city on the continent) and his sexuality (Sivan came out at the age of 18). But thanks to YouTube, where he first gained attention with a series of viral videos, and an embracing audience, Sivan’s 2015 debut, “Blue Neighborhood,” cracked the top 10 of the U.S. album charts and paved the way for an  elaborate build-up to his sophomore album, “Bloom” — which Capitol will release on August 31 — including an appearance on “Saturday Night Live” and duets with famous fans like Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande. Sivan also has acting chops. He portrayed a young version of the titular character in the 2009 film “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” and costars with Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe and Lucas Hedges in Focus Features’ Oscar bait, “Boy Erased.” If there was any doubt, the 23-year-old is ready to prove that he’s traveled far and has arrived.

“Bloom” is a relatively compact album. Why only ten songs?
It feels like a bold statement—to be able to sum up my life and where I’m at, and who I am as a musician and as a writer, in ten songs. That felt interesting to me and like a challenge.

Do you struggle with internalized homophobia?
Totally. I used to struggle with it a lot more than I do now, and I can almost laugh at it when it does rear its ugly head. I was thinking about a moment on the “Bloom” [shoot] where I was actualizing this vision I had for this extremely flamboyant music video and I caught myself in the mirror and my heart sank. I felt fourteen years old again. Like, “Is this OK?” And of course it’s OK. It’s what I wanted to do. I felt cool. I felt sexy. Yet there was that internalized homophobia making me doubt myself and question myself. It’s hard to shake that kind of thing.

At the same time, you’re so sex-positive.
With my first album I felt the need to educate people a little more. I wanted to hold the hand of someone who isn’t queer and gently ease them into a queer love story that was super-PG. This time around, I wanted to write music for people like me—honest music. And real music.

Musician Troye Sivan photographed at Capitol Records in Hollywood, CA in July2018 by Jim Wright
CREDIT: Jim Wright for Variety

You started out so young in the business. Have you ever experienced any sexual harassment or abuse?
I actually have when I was really, really young. And thankfully it didn’t go as far as I think it could have, so I’m really lucky that I avoided that. The other day, I was talking about it and someone said to me: “The only thing is now what if that person is doing that to somebody else?” And that has really stuck with me.

What is your career goal as an artist?
Respect. I want people to trust my taste, so I hope my image is that of a tastemaker people can rely on. I don’t necessarily feel pressure to be the biggest pop star in the world. I just want to be able to keep doing what I’m doing, which is having the best time making stuff that I’m passionate about whether it’s film or music or maybe fashion. To me the thing that I’m so appreciative of in my life is that I really do get to do what I want. And as a creative that is the biggest blessing in the world.

Are you comfortable becoming a brand?
Yeah. As long as I feel proud of what I’ve made, I have no problems promoting the shit out of it.

Do you feel like you have to walk a line between being provocative and politically correct?
My version of provocative, in my eyes, is really mild. It’s like a boy wearing lipstick. Oh, my God, that’s what people freak out about? To me, it’s not that crazy. I’ve heard people sing about sex my entire life. I guess it is provocative to some because it’s a boy singing about another boy. But I don’t see it as that big of a deal.

You’re on the same label as Sam Smith but you could not be more different.
Sam is such an incredible artist and to me, he’s kind of a timeless act that will be around long after he’s gone. The biggest difference is that we make completely different music. I’m out here trying to make pop music and he’s writing these super-heartfelt, big, classic kind of ballads. I get the comparison because we’re both openly gay—and there are few and far between openly gay artists in the industry—but other than that, I don’t think we’re trying to do the same thing.

Boy Erased” is not your first movie, but it’s your first dramatic film. What was different about making it?
It’s based on a memoir by Garrard Conley, who was sent to a gay conversion therapy camp by his parents. It was an intense personally experience because I was getting back into acting after a long time away from it. And that was nerve-wracking. It felt bizarre to get a break from music—that month I spent [on set] in Atlanta was so strange because everyone left me alone. Because they knew that I was shooting. So I felt completely detached from my life as I know it. And entered wholeheartedly into this other world. And I wasn’t ready for the affect that it was going to have on me even though, of course, the entire time I was conscious that we were making a movie. Thankfully none of that was real, but the subject matter is real for many people, so I constantly kept that in my mind and heard the harmful rhetoric that was said in the scenes. We got the original source material that kids would be given when they got to the camp. I read through the booklet and that really hurt me—it opened up my heart so much to anyone who has ever been through that. And filled me with a fire to try to make a change.

Did the material resonate with you?
It did. First of all, it made me thankful to realize how lucky I was to have the experience I did when I came out. But also it was such a moment of relief when I realized that this was something that I couldn’t change. Like that moment of: I’m going to stop trying to be straight now and stop trying to push this out of my head and I’m going to confront this. That moment was like a real gift. And it was a weight off my chest. As soon as you realize that something is out of your control, there’s no sense driving yourself crazy about it. In the film, the first speech you hear when you arrive at these camps is about how there’s no such thing as being born homosexual; it’s a choice that you made because you have a God-shaped hole that you are trying to fill. I thought about how harmful for anyone arriving at these camps—whether it’s somebody young or somebody in their forties—to have all this pressure put back on you. To be assigned this task that is completely impossible and setting you up to fail. They talk about how dire the consequences are—you’re going to get AIDS and go to hell. Putting that on anyone is so unbelievably scary and hurtful and it definitely affected me for sure.

Why did you choose to focus on music instead of movies?
It was my first love. That was the thing that I wanted to do from when I was a little kid. And then I kind of stumbled into acting. I thoroughly enjoyed it but acting doesn’t feel quite as satisfying to me as making music. Because with my music, I am in control of all aspects of the project: I get to play with production, I get to write songs, I get to sing, I get to creative direct, I get to make music videos, I get to design a tour show and a merchandise line. It’s like all of my favorite jobs slammed into one. Whereas with acting, you show up on set and you do your part—which is an extremely creative process—but it’s a smaller role in the big picture of things. It’s up to the director and the editor to put it all together. That’s also why I was so desperate to work on the soundtrack to “Boy Erased”—I wanted to be involved in a bigger way than I was.

Would you describe yourself as a control freak and a perfectionist?
I am probably a control freak but I wouldn’t say that I’m a perfectionist. Cause I really believe in and I’m excited by growth. I look back on my first album and I recognize that it’s not perfect. But I kind of like that. It’s endearing to me. It’s like diary from when I was 19 that I’ve grown apart from, but it’s still really nice to look back at. So I’m open to imperfection. I’m not scared of that because it makes me excited for the future.

Who is your dream duet partner?
I may as well reach for the stars: Taylor Swift would be really cool. We [already] performed live. And I admire her so much as a writer. So even if we didn’t duet and we just wrote together, I would be totally into that idea—so I could watch her work. She’s a master of pop.

Taylor purposefully avoids being political, but how important is it to you to be political?
I don’t have a choice. My existence in a way is political. I also see an opportunity to amplify the voices of others who deserve a platform, so I try my best to do that whenever I can.

If you were straight, who would you rather date: Taylor or Ariana Grande?
I’m going to say Ariana. She is so fucking funny.

Things You Didn’t Know About Troye Sivan 

AGE: 23 BIRTHPLACE: Johannesburg where he was raised: Perth, Australia FIRST CONCERT: The Black Eyed Peas (“I took my sister for her bat mitzvah”) KARAOKE SONG: “Where Is the Love?”

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