The Australian artist is back with what may be the year’s hottest video, with references to Peter Hujar, Caravaggio and Wolfgang Tillmans. Strap in and strap on!
Well, we have our first poppers anthem of the summer. Yesterday, Troye Sivan debuted “Rush”, the lead single from Something To Give Each Other, the Australian popstar’s first record in five years. A Gordon von Steiner-directed music video dropped alongside the song, setting the internet ablaze for its heady depiction of a sticky, sexy, very gay summer. In a statement accompanying the track, Sivan said the song evoked “the feeling of kissing a sweaty stranger on a dancefloor, a two-hour date that turned into a weekend, a crush, a winter, a summer.”
The video – which we’re assuming broke the record for the most jockstraps seen in three minutes – also set off a game of pop cultural bingo, a chain reaction happening simultaneously across Twitter, TikTok and Instagram. Were those the Gaultier jeans? Was that the Galliano newspaper print? Exactly how many twinks is too many twinks? Well fear not, we’re here to unpack every visual reference worth knowing in the instant classic that is “Rush”.
PETER HUJAR’S CLIMAX
Before the music video had even dropped, we caught a glimpse of what the visual world of “Rush” might look like via the single’s cover art. The image, shot by Stuart Winecoff, sees a sweaty, sticky Sivan recline on a white linen sheet, arms framing his face, brow scrunched in ecstasy. His scarlet temples suggest he’s either taken a big ol’ huff of the poppers his song oh-so-cleverly references, or he’s in the throes of homosexual exultation (anal). The image reminds us of the work of Peter Hujar, specifically Orgasmic Man, 1969, a photo that was recently repurposed for the cover of another gay cultural artefact, the Hanya Yanagihara novel A Little Life. Here’s hoping Troye and his army of twinks don’t meet the same ends as those bohemian rascals.
I’M A SLAVE 4 TROYE
It of course wouldn’t be 2023 without some sort of Y2K reference, and our first watch of the video instantly recalled the early work of Britney Spears. “Rush” is a modern interpretation of “I’m Slave 4 U”, one with a lot less women and 100 per cent more glory holes. Like Britney in her video, “Rush” begins with the Australian sensation singing alone, before making his way into a room full of bendy, nubile dancers (heavy breathing ensues). Parts of the video even borrow Britney’s sunset environs, casting an orangey haze across a handful of the scenes. The leather chaps and white briefs combo that Sivan sports are also reminiscent of Britney’s panties-over-jeans look that spun the world off its axis back in ‘01.
DA YA THINK I’M XY?
The music video for “Rush” is a gay men’s mag come to life, as if Andy from Toy Story kept a stack of XY in the corner over Woody and Buzz. A reference to the XY chromosome found in biological males (a tad essentialist, but we move) XY magazine was a youth-focused gay magazine founded in West Hollywood in 1996, and featured chiselled lads in editorials full of brash, primary colours. Cut to today, and “Rush” is firmly in the tradition of that magazine, with its spunky men in coloured jockstraps and tight little baby tees.
At the track’s testosterone-fuelled chorus, Sivan’s featherweight falsetto breaks into a football chant – ”I feel the rush / Addicted to your touch” – while topless men link arms and do a novelty dance that is at once “YMCA” and “Come on Eileen”. It’s homoerotic and it’s goofball-coded, like sports fans who get drunk at the Euros and decide to moon and slap their friends’ bums until the blood vessels burst at the surface. Between the body-to-body choreography and adidas tracksuits, the whole thing rides on the same kind of masculinity hawked in Wolfgang Tillman’s portraiture, where sweat-drenched men in track jackets clutch at each other’s faces and shove rope-veined arms into three-stripe shorts. All with the golden hour idyll of Alasdair McLellan.
It’s also quite Broquette-coded, with angel-faced jocks wrestling in cycling tops and twunks deep-throating beer funnels. And in an era of queer pop, where styling is so often in service to identity politics, it’s refreshing to see LGBTQs looking hot and hedonistic. It’s aspirational. In fact, the music video reads like a fashion campaign – perhaps for DSquared2 (see the ‘Choke’ t-shirt from AW23) or Diesel – where sleaze is telegraphed in the flash of a jockstrap, a too-tight vest, and a cowboy boot. And then there are the skinhead trousers from Jean Paul Gaultier’s AW97 collection, a chain mail dress from Paco Rabanne’s SS23 proposal, and loads of archival Dior miniskirts and a saucy John Galliano newspaper-print bikini.
Although this probably won’t be counted as inspiration for the whole video, there’s a single shot about halfway through that evokes all the majesty of a 16th century Baroque masterpiece (kind of). As Sivan is hoisted in the air two by two men, another inserts a funnel into his mouth for a classic, fratboy keg stand. It’s got all the trappings of a Caravaggio painting – the drama, the dynamism, light and shade, pretty gay boys. Caravaggio was, of course, a gay man himself, so it’s not too far-fetched to suggest they’d slip the reference in. The levels!
OUR WILLOWY FOREFATHERS
Although “Rush” only premiered yesterday, the internet has already witnessed approximately 84 years of discourse concerning the suspiciously skimpy men cavorting through each frame. Is the video promoting an unrealistic body image? Was anyone over 10 per cent body fat immediately banned from set? Honestly, we couldn’t tell you, but ultimately we suspect Sivan just wanted to pay homage to the sylphlike creatures who came before him. If the video is anything to go by, Slenderman, Salad Fingers and the Creepy Thin Man from Charlie’s Angels were all on the moodboard, along with the Child Catcher and Jack Skellington from The Nightmare Before Christmas. Unafraid to reference or not reference!
Update (July 18): In a recent interview with Billboard magazine, Sivan addressed criticisms of the “Rush” music video, specifically the lack of body representation.
“I definitely hear the critique,” he said. “To be honest, it just wasn’t a thought we had – we obviously weren’t saying, ‘we want to have one specific type of person in the video.’ We just made the video, and there wasn’t a ton of thought put behind that.”
He also singled out an article from Vulture that instructed him and his dancers to “eat something, you stupid twinks”.
“That really bummed me out to read that”, the singer said, “because I’ve had my own insecurities with my body image. I think that everyone’s body is as beautiful as it is, including my own, and it just sucks to see people talking about other people’s bodies.”
Sivan’s new album Something To Give Each Other is out October 13. “Rush” is out now.