On Wednesday, singer Troye Sivan turned 24, and the following night, he celebrated with the inaugural edition of his queer-centric Go West Fest at the Wiltern. Sivan’s goal in founding the gathering was not just to provide an alternative to other music festivals but to offer an alternative to typical L.A. Pride events, too — one where his young male fans would feel comfortable wearing dresses, wigs and makeup.
“It started from a conversation my manager and I had about nine months ago,” Sivan told Variety early Thursday afternoon, ashewas trying on potential costume changes. “At the time, it was kind of a theoretical dream about creating a Pride event that really excited me. And as a music nerd, the idea of being able to curate a line-up was like a dream come true. But the most important thing was seeing this as an opportunity to genuinely give back to the LGBTQ+ community in a bunch of ways.”
Aside from the charitable element (which had a portion of proceeds benefitting GLAAD), Sivan envisioned a space for cultural offerings of a non-musical variety — a responsibility delegated to Faye Orlove, founder of the non-profit art space Junior High, who promotes the work of marginalized LA-based creatives. At the Wiltern, she had an entire floor to fill with local LGBTQ artists (and allies) selling everything from prints to T-shirts and keychains. “Pride feels like it’s been coopted by corporations and by, like, this weird rainbow fantasy that does nothing for actual queer liberation,” she said. “So I appreciate that Troye’s concept feels more queer-identified than some brand trying to profit off the backs of young queer people. This event is for young queer people and that rules,” she added, “because L.A. doesn’t always have the space to be the most inclusive.”
There was no lack of stylistic inclusivity in the festival’s musical line-up. Its first performer was Dizzy Fae, a 20-year-old classically trained artist who has opened for the likes of Lizzo and Toro Y Moi. “Tonight was one small step for queer me, one giant leap for queer-kind,” she said backstage.
Dorian Electra, a gender-fluid Charli XCX collaborator and veteran of the underground queer scene, is known for writing catchy pop songs about toxic masculinity, women’s reproductive rights and gender non-conformity. The Texas native, who prefers the pronoun “they,” graced the stage in an S&M cowboy ensemble to perform fan favorites like “Clitopia,” “Flamboyant” and “Daddy Like.” Meanwhile, a new generation of female emcees was well represented by Quay Dash and Chika. The former is a transgender woman of color from the Bronx whose debut album is titled “Transphobic.” The latter a 22-year-old rising hip-hop star best known for calling out Kanye West in a viral video and for reimagining Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” as a “gay as hell” Pride anthem. The trend of fearless female artists continued with in-your-face performance art from the Russian digital punk collective known as Pussy Riot.
Following confrontational acts like that, Charli XCX seemed relatively tame by comparison. She took the stage and immediately launched into a Lizzo-less version of their current duet, “Blame It on Your Love.” The gays love Charli, and she knew exactly how to work this audience: “Get down. Trust me, get the f— down,” she commanded. “It will look so good in your Instagram video.” The crowd went craziest for her performances of “I Love It,” the sassy hit she wrote for Icona Pop, and, of course, “Boys.” It’s almost like she wrote the lyrics with Go West Fest in mind: “I was busy thinking about boys, boys, boys / I was busy dreaming about boys, boys, boys / Head is spinning thinking about boys.”
But Charli only had eyes for Sivan on this night. Despite the fact that he credited her as a co-founder and co-curator of Go West Fest, she downplayed her involvement and introduced him as “the main reason this whole night happened.” Then she told the crowd: “You guys know it was Troye Sivan’s birthday yesterday, right? And you also know that I can’t sing without AutoTune, so… you guys have got to help me sing happy birthday to this f—ing icon.”
Charli’s surprise gift? Her newest collaboration with the birthday boy, an as-yet-untitled unlikely single; what it lacks in traditional song structure and melody, it more than makes up for in AutoTune. The downside of performing a brand new song is that the crowd can’t sing along — even the singers themselves seemed like they had trouble remembering some of the words. But Charli knew the perfect ones to end her set. “I owe my whole career to the LGBTQ community,” she said.
Sivan started his set around midnight with the sex-positive anthem “Bloom,” then introduced “Heaven” as “this song is about my coming out experience. I say it’s ‘the gay song’ as If I had one song that was about being gay, but literally every single one of my songs is about being gay.”
He shared his first experience at a Pride celebration, and the lasting significance of what that moment meant to him. “I remember the first time I went to Pride,” he said. “I was like: ‘Holy s—, I can breathe here. I can wiggle my hips around and talk how I want to.’ Just to be the majority for once,” he added, “after being the minority for so long, and feeling so alone. Us gathering in spaces like this to genuinely give back to our own community and to celebrate us and to just let loose? It’s so sacred and important. And so I want every single person in this room for the next four minutes to feel like they are the baddest bitch in this world. I’m literally up here shaking my non-existent bum, and I expect every single one of you to do the same.”
Charli XCX joined him onstage wrapped in a rainbow flag for their nostalgic smash, “1999.” A downpour of silver confetti capped their exuberant duet and rained down on the crowd as Sivan said, “We’ll see you next year, hopefully.”
Afterward, the stagehands seemed to be in no rush to sweep the stage in anticipation of Gia Gunn’s performance. But around 1 a.m., the breakout star from “RuPaul’s Drag Race” emerged to serve up geisha realness while lip-syncing to a retro Japanese tune. Among its other irresistible charms, Go West Fest can find an inclusive spot for singers who don’t actually sing.