Troye Sivan is such a charmer that just his skin is enough to make you swoon. “It’s beautiful!” says a beaming facialist, rubbing a cold gel that smells and feels like strawberry yoghurt on his pale cheeks. It’s a warm winter Thursday in Los Angeles, and the Australian singer and I are splayed out on a pair of chairs at a ‘facial bar’, reclined down so our heads are angled towards the floor. His skinny legs and Saint Laurent motorcycle boots are sticking up in the air, and his shaggy platinum blonde hair is being held back by an elastic band. As steamers blow soft mist into our noses and toxins are extracted from our pores, I learn that Sivan uses Cetaphil to keep himself dewy and acne-free, his favourite ice cream flavour is vanilla, and the sweet youthfulness of his appearance is more than skin-deep. The 22-year-old can’t grow a beard because it comes out patchy. “I’d look like a rat,” he says with a self-deprecating laugh.
These are the kind of cutesy factoids that might have pleased a teenybopper fan reading about their favourite idol in the pages of Seventeen during the American Bandstand days of the 1950s, and Sivan does have some of the wholesome, pin-up charm of teen stars of yore like Sandra Dee and Bobby Darin. But once we’re done with our spa treatment and walking down sunny Ventura Boulevard, it’s clear that Sivan is about as modern as a celebrity can be, his career – which, with a new album and movie on the way, might reach still-dizzier heights in 2018 – only possible in the weird, wild days of the internet age. For one, Sivan is gay, a fact he has not hidden from the public and, conversely, has made plain in his songs, in which Sivan never shies away from using the ‘he’ pronoun for the object of his affection. Tab Hunter and Johnny Mathis and even George Michael, closeted at their peaks in conservative eras, never had the same chance. “Someone actually asked me once if I used coming out as a publicity stunt,” he says. “It’s cool that we live in a time when being gay could be seen as helping your career.”
Secondly, before signing to EMI on his 18th birthday (and later Capitol), Sivan found his fame all by himself on YouTube. He had been acting in stage productions in his hometown of Perth since around 2007 and, pursuing a film career, landed a role as the young Wolverine in 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine. But it was the pop-song cover versions he started posting to YouTube from the age of 12 that helped him build an international following. “I used to think I would be a jazz singer so I would do, like, Michael Bublé,” he says.
In 2012, Sivan took things a step further and started creating funny, confessional faceto-camera clips about his life with titles like “HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS” and “WHAT’S YOUR SEX SONG?” The Troye Sivan channel would routinely get millions of views, and a 2013 upload that officially served as his comingout now has more than seven million plays. He’s the kind of famous that entails being stopped repeatedly by fans looking for selfies – including, today, two girls with braces outside an ice-cream shop (Sivan chose purple honey lavender over vanilla). The pair FaceTimed their friend into the moment because she’s “his biggest fan!” “Maybe I’m like a brother to them,” he says of the girls who go gaga for him. “I never spent much time thinking about what other people wanted of me, so I asked myself what I would like to see from someone on the internet. Which is just, like, a real person.”
In 2018, Sivan will capitalise on different sides of his talent. First, in the spring, he has a new album, his second full-length after 2015’s well-received Blue Neighbourhood. The release finds him working with some of his production heroes, including Ariel Rechtshaid, who has helped turn Sky Ferreira, Haim and Vampire Weekend into indie stars. He has grown into a clean, aerodynamic sound that harks back to the synth-pop days of the 1980s, but with powerchoruses more in step with mega-producers of today like Max Martin (whose affiliates he collaborated with in Sweden on some songs). Then, in the autumn, Sivan has a role in a film by Joel Edgerton, Boy Erased, which tells the story of a boy forced into a gay conversion therapy programme, a theme that’s been in the news of late due to US vice president Mike Pence’s belief in praying the gay away. The film’s all-star cast includes Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe. “Troye is so talented,” says Kidman of her co-star. “It was great to watch him get so lost in the character. Keith (Urban) and I are big fans of his – I didn’t want to tell him that on set.”
Big things are happening in Sivan’s personal life, too. He has just bought his first home (in the hills) and his first car (a Tesla SUV in shiny black), and he’s wildly, madly in love. “We’re best friends first and foremost,” he says of his boyfriend, model Jacob Bixenman, who he met at a Saint Laurent show in LA. “I’d followed him on Instagram, and went up to him at the show. We have a really healthy, loving relationship.” The pair have been dating for almost two years now, and eagle-eyed fans may have spotted them in party photos with friends including actress Hari Nef, activist Adam Eli-Werner, and actor and comedian Freckle. Still, Sivan remains pretty low-key and well-behaved. “I’ve smoked weed and I fucking hated it – full-fledged panic attacks every time. I’m the kinda person who gets anxious when he takes an over-the-counter sleeping pill. I just feel a desire to be good.”
Even the threat of annihilation can’t bring Sivan down – a few days before we meet, Donald Trump had fired off a tweet comparing the size of his nuclear button to that of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, particularly worrisome for those who, like Sivan, live on the west coast of the US. “There’s some scary shit going down,” he says. “We’ve been through shit in the past and we’ll go through shit in the future, but I think we can make it through this. Now is a time to band together and help each other out.”
“Someone actually asked me once if I used coming out as a publicity stunt. It’s cool that we live in a time when being gay could be seen as helping your career” – Troye Sivan
Sivan’s life with Bixenman is simple in its pleasures and happily domestic, aside from a few parties here and there (New Year’s Eve was spent in Palm Springs, and, when in New York, they love Ladyfag’s infamous ragers). “The things that excite me are staying home and cooking. To have someone to come home to at the end of the day… I’ve never had that! I don’t see a difference between my relationship with Jacob and my sister’s relationship (with her partner). That makes me the happiest guy in the world, because she’s straight and my parents accept and love both our partners the exact same (way),” he says. “It’s just, like, a small slice of heaven.”
Sivan was born in South Africa to a model mother and plumber dad whose Jewish grandma had fled from eastern Europe. His parents moved the family out to Australia when he was two, after crime rates rose in Johannesburg. They settled in Perth, where Sivan enjoyed an upbringing he describes as upper-middle-class. “Suburban,” he says. “Very, very suburban.” Like most child stars, he was precocious, spending hours in his bedroom lip-syncing along to Madonna songs in the mirror. But Sivan was also grounded by Shabbat dinners (he still doesn’t eat pork) and a family (he has two brothers and a sister) who embraced him for who he was. He sang some of his first public performances at Yom Kippur services. “My parents created a nice environment for us,” he says. “They’ve always been so encouraging of everything.”
Around the time he started uploading the videos that would make him famous, Sivan began exploring his sexuality, and his growing celebrity made that a tricky proposition. “I used to Google ‘Troye Sivan gay’ because I was paranoid I was gonna get outed, and someone had actually guessed it and broken it down,” he says. “Without my parents knowing, I was on Grindr at an unfortunately young age. It was completely illegal. I never hooked up, because I was the sweet boy on Grindr trying to find love. I met a guy I was obsessed with. But I found out he was super into drugs, it got dicey, and my parents didn’t know.” He decided that, if he was going to live his life the way he wanted, he had to tell his parents – and then the world. He told his dad first, and then his dad told his mum. “He went quiet and started crying. I said, ‘Do you still love me?’ He said yes and hugged me.”
Sivan has a sense of duty about LGBTQ life born not just from the realisation that he has a huge platform (with 7.6 million followers on Instagram, he has more than Sky Ferreira, Charli XCX and Tyler, the Creator combined), but also a sense of the privilege he enjoys as a wealthy, accepted, white cis-bodied male. “I really just want to be able to help others. I’m so ludicrously lucky, it would be disgusting if I didn’t acknowledge it,” he says, adding that this awareness informed his role in Boy Erased. “In a shit-tonne of states, they’re still legal,” he says of the conversion camps portrayed in the film, which impose strict house rules on residents including no physical contact between boys “except for a brief handshake”. “I think the most terrifying thing was that on set they had the real reading material. Even just watching the actors kind of go through it was a lot. I was relieved when I finished shooting.” Sivan isn’t yet able to reveal much about his role, but director Joel Edgerton says he was the exact right fit. “As a person, Troye really draws you in. He has this mysterious and ethereal quality,” he says. “Troye’s own experience was wildly different, but he was devoted to the idea of Boy Erased. It is crazy to think that, in 2018, we’re still in a place where many artists feel there are reasons to not be open about their sexuality. I loved that Troye did not succumb to that fear. His confidence fills others with confidence.”
Sivan’s music is also profound on the subject of sexuality, albeit in a more subtle and close-to-the-bone way. By singing love songs to boys as any other pop star would more typically to the opposite sex, he offers a rejoinder to heterosexuality’s grip on music. “He’s an important figure,” says producer Rechtshaid. “Even if you worshipped George Michael, at the high-point of his career he was in the closet. Troye is one of the few using his platform for the good of mankind. Love as an emotion is so potent; there’s a reason people sing about it. But (Troye’s songs are sung) from a perspective that has been largely ignored – or covered up. I feel proud to be a part of it.”
Sivan says he was influenced by This Mortal Coil and The Replacements to create a romantic and nostalgic 1980s ambience. The first single, “My My My!”, is a self-described “explosion of joy” inspired by nights out at gay parties in New York. The video for the song, directed by Grant Singer and creatively directed by Patrik Sandberg, shows him in sleek blackand-white, dancing in a warehouse, with shots of shirtless boys laced throughout. Like a true sex symbol, his own shirt is blown dramatically open by wind machines. He also has a song called “Bloom”, on which he takes the role of what sounds like the receptive partner losing his virginity. “It’s true, babe… I’ve been saving this for you… Promise me you’ll hold my hand if I get scared now… Might tell you to take a second baby slow it down… You should know I bloom, I bloom just for you.” In other words, “Bloom” is a gay anthem for bottoms, and when I ask Sivan if that’s what the song is about, he plays coy but pretty much gives away the answer. “It’s 100 per cent about flowers! That’s all it is,” he says with a wink. “Call it whatever you wanna call it. I wanna play that song at every Pride.” In many ways, Sivan doesn’t need to say a thing: his very presence is the power. “There’s almost a radicalism in just truth, you know? The most radical thing that I can do is share how happy I am.”
Troye Sivan might well be this generation of pop’s first carefree gay boy. That’s not to say he isn’t conscious of the darker side of life, and it’s also not an erasure of the many gay artists who have come before Sivan. It’s just that, at 22 years old, he represents a new paradigm: out and outspoken since the start of his career, public about his relationships, alternatively obsessed and heartbroken but in the way that every human on the planet is, hyperaware of the world’s ills but also living his life, and still an object of affection and lust for teens across the globe. He could become a new kind of idol for a new kind of world. Think of him as a real-life version of Elio from this year’s Luca Guadagnino film, Call Me By Your Name, which centres on the rosy infatuation a teenage boy (played expertly by the beguiling Timothée Chalamet) feels for an older male student.
“I really just want to be able to help others. I’m so ludicrously lucky, it would be disgusting if I didn’t acknowledge it” – Troye Sivan
Sivan hadn’t seen the film when we spoke, but had recently read the novel that inspired it and says he related very closely to its feeling of freedom and first love. Its 1980s setting also mirrors Sivan’s retro new album, though he says that’s a coincidence. “I felt like I had to explain myself a lot before – if you’re gonna talk about being gay, you have to talk about coming out and the hardships,” he says. “Of course, being gay comes with struggles, but that’s not all there is with this community. I’ve met so many people who came out carefree on the other end, even in the face of adversity. My life is sexy and it’s fun and it’s queer and it’s unapologetic. This time I’m gonna go for it.”
By the end of our time together, over a pair of frothy green margaritas at a Mexican restaurant on Ventura, I feel a sense of hopefulness in Sivan’s presence. In all his instinctive joy, he seems to embody a world that still sometimes changes for the better. “I’m worried about making sure I slow down enough to enjoy it all,” he says, looking like a new-wave crooner in the LA neon glow. “The struggle with everything being as good as it is, is that sometimes I’m waiting for something to crack. Surely at some point something has to go wrong.” Or maybe it doesn’t.
Troye Sivan’s new album is out in the spring
Hair Ramona Eschbach at Total World using Oribe Hair Care, photography assistant Damien Gabriel, styling assistants Malcolm Mammone, Abi Arcinas , Zoe Zhou, hair assistant Kelly Peach, production Pandora Graessl, production assistant Kanin Guntzelman