As Australian pop wunderkind Troye Sivan gets ready to play Dublin this week, he talks to Conor Behan about coming out, balancing his online presence with the demands of his world tour, and the stigma he tackles.
“It feels like a good time right now,” Troye Sivan cheerily tells me, and the 20 year-old antipodean has plenty of reasons to be feeling good.
A YouTube star with millions of fans, he’s also made a big impression on the pop charts, starting with the surprise success of debut EP TRXYE in 2014, which landed a No’11 single, ‘Happy Little Pill’, on the Irish singles chart. 2015 saw Sivan follow up with the ambitious EP WILD, ahead of a full-length album release Blue Neighborhood in early December last year.
With over 220 million views on his YouTube channel, Sivan has a large following who love that he was able to be honest about his sexuality. His coming out video in 2013 racked up over six million hits.
“It’s so good to be out,” he says. “I think that there’s real impact and power in living your truth and at the same time absolutely accomplishing all of your dreams. It’s just a really inspiring and cool thing to show LGBT teens, that you can be out and proud and still do everything that you wanted to do before.”
It wasn’t always this way. Like many a teen before him, Sivan had a journey to take before he came out to the world at large.
I’d seen so many coming out videos on YouTube and they’d helped me so much when I wanted to come out to my parents.
“It felt exactly the same as when I needed to come out to my family,” he says of his YouTube revelation. “It was like it got to the point where I couldn’t think about kind of anything else. I felt like I wasn’t being necessarily as open as I would like to be.
“I’d seen so many coming out videos on YouTube and they’d helped me so much when I wanted to come out to my parents. I had built this YouTube audience and I felt this real kind of duty and responsibility to do it. I think it’s the single most important thing that I’ve ever done.”
Coming out as gay might have been a key moment in Sivan’s life so far, but he doesn’t recommend the same for everyone questioning their sexuality.
“There’s no real reason to put a label on anything,” he says. “I think ultimately it’s a journey of self discovery so it’s just about spending a lot of time with yourself and trying to think what it is that you want, what it is that you are, and at the same time not stressing too hard about it. When you feel the time is right and you feel you’ve got it sort of figured out, if you feel it’s necessary, then tell people.”
Like the current crop of openly LGBT YouTubers, Sivan has garnered plenty of praise for his honesty, but he questions the casting of him as heroic for making the choice he did. “I think coming out is an important thing to do, but it’s not the be all and end all. If you’re in a situation where you feel like may lose your home or lose your family or something like that, maybe it’s not the right time for you, Doing it when you’re ready to do it, rather then when you’re still vulnerable makes it an easier experience.”
I’m lucky to have this really open line of communication between my fans and myself on a daily basis.
Sivan thrives on creating a dialogue with his audience. His channel has videos where he discusses topics like safe sex and HIV, and the comments section allows viewers share their experiences.
“That conversation is something that I feel like I’m lucky to have this really open line of communication between my fans and myself on a daily basis,” he says. “They’re smart and hilarious when they need to be, and super switched on to social issues.”
I listen to a lot of current artists I see in the same zone as what I’m making.
YouTube comments aside, Sivan is carving out an impressive niche with his music, which is hardly the kind of pop fare trotted out by contemporaries like Justin Bieber and Nick Jonas.
“The words that I normally use to describe it are ‘dark alternative pop’,” he says. “I am obsessed with Amy Winehouse. She has been my all time favourite songwriter. I listen to a lot of current artists I see in the same zone as what I’m making. I love people like Lorde, Frank Ocean and Oh Wonder.”
Blue Neighbourhood is a swirling mix of confessional lyrics and glacial pop production that includes a trilogy of music videos with an arthouse cinema feel, following a young gay couple in a small town. It’s both wistful and youth-centric, but artfully made and sophisticated.
“I’m really proud to say, the music I made is music that I want to listen to,” Sivan says of the album, but there’s a sense that he’s still got some hurdles to overcome.
“There’s definitely sort of a stigma against people from online,” he says of his YouTube stardom, but then he shakes it off, adding: “I’m not stressed about it. It’s just one of those things where there’s incredibly talented people online and they will make good shit and that will rise to the top.”
There are pressures too with balancing his commitments. Maintaining his YouTube presence is tricky Sivan admits as he tries to keep his online audience engaged while embarking on his first world tour.
“The videos take a lot of time and they take thought,” he says. “It’s one of those things where I just try my best to stay in contact with everyone on Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter, and if I can then I feel a lot better. YouTube is hard to keep up with.”
Still, at just 20 years of age and with a rapidly expanding fanbase, Sivan seems eager for the next challenge, enjoying his platform as an out entertainer but not daunted by his success so far.
“I’m constantly finding new little aspirations and projects that I’d really like to work on,” he says as our meeting comes to an end. “I want to do a bunch of stuff.”
Watch the deeply moving gay love story in the three videos, ‘Wild’, ‘Fools’ and ‘Talk Me Down’ for Troye Sivan’s ‘Blue Neighorhood’ series below.
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