Troye Sivan’s ‘Bloom’ Packs a Queer Pop Punch

Australian singer Troye Sivan is the most millenial of pop stars, representing the fruition of several era-defining trends with his catapult to fame as a child star, and his unabashed embrace of his sexuality. Having started singing at a tender age in his synagogue, the then round-faced little one made YouTube videos that inspired sufficient worldwide gushing to garner the attention of record executives. Fast forward to age eleven, he was singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on television to a swooning audience. Meanwhile, Sivan’s openness of his personal life is an example of the sea change, in recent years, regarding the widespread acceptability of LGBTQ culture. Sivan purportedly came out to his father at age fourteen, and even more impressively, found the news accepted with no qualms. Sivan saved his official coming out to the world for the recording of his debut album, claiming that the act, “allowed me from day one to write music that was completely honest.” This certainly seems to have been the case, as Sivan’s hugely successful first record, 2015’s “Blue Neighborhood,” is widely recognized for the gay anthemic quality of its singles, and the fitting depiction in its videos. Now, Sivan is a few years older, and his new album, “Bloom,” is correspondingly, considerably more risque than his relatively innocent debut.  

Opener “Seventeen” wastes no time in establishing Sivan’s new, more overtly sexual venturing. It’s a song about his lying about his age on gay dating app Grindr, featuring lyrics like, “And he said age is just a number, just like any other… Boy becomes a man now / Can’t tell a man to slow down.” This might strike some as a bit unsettling, and one can imagine folks of the newcome Trans enthusiast Alex Jones’ camp citing evidence of homosexuality leading to pedophilia. Such alarmists, however, should be reminded of past hits like The Sherman Brothers’ “You’re Sixteen” from 1960. So really, this is nothing new, aside from the gay component. Seemingly anticipating the fuss, Sivan has commented, “I was like ‘uh, that sounds a bit predatory,’ and maybe it was a little bit… I’m not looking back at those experiences in a negative or a positive light.” If nothing else, you have to admire a song like this for its candor. Things get even more graphically sexual on single “Bloom,” already being heralded by many as a gay anthem, with lyrics like, “Put gas into the motor… We’ll ride the rollercoaster.” Right.

Interspersed with all these steamy numbers are many sweet, reflective lovesongs. Some are simple outpourings of affection, for instance lead single, “My My My,” with the line, “I die every night with you” — “death” in the Shakespearean sense. The sentiment is echoed in, “What a Heavenly Way to Die,” a title lifted from The Smiths’ love-drunk classic, “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out.” Along with these declarations of amorous attachment, there are many songs that deal with the specific little details that color a relationship. “The Good Side” relates Sivan’s travels across the world in light of his success, and his struggle to fight the urge to share the exciting experiences with a previous love interest. “Postcard” expresses Sivan’s frustration at receiving no response to a postcard lovingly sent from Japan. Lyrics like, “I even wrote it in Japanese, baby / You didn’t give a fuck” are quite adorable in their direct specificity. “Dance to This” involves a couple who enjoy each other’s company so much that they choose to dance together alone at home rather than go out partying.      

Sonically, the album achieves a lot from its immaculate production. The songs can be loosely split into upbeat, dancy numbers, and slower reflective pieces. In the former category, there’s “My My My!” with tight, sharp, minimal electronic drums and rounded pitched-down backing vocals that make it one of the snappiest cuts on the record. There’s “Bloom,” which packs a real pop punch, with a reverb-soaked arrangement that builds to a dramatic pause and then explodes. “Dance to This,” is arguably the most trendy track of all, with an almost-dancehall beat, and featuring the illustrious Ariana Grande, whose voice seems like a perfect fit. Her aggressive but graceful R&B fluctuations are an apt counterpart to Sivan’s relatively simply phrased but angelically voiced utterances, and the two blend seamlessly. Along with all these propulsive bangers are the mellower ones. “The Good Side” is a reflective piece, sung over acoustic guitar and fanciful trills, with an arrangement that lets the character of Sivan’s voice stand out amid the sparse mix, and truly shine. “Postcard” is a spacious, piano-led track, with Sivan engaged in the percussive syllabic singing stylings that are beyond ubiquitous in 2018. The dreamy soundscape of “Animal” makes it an effective closer, elegantly drawing the curtains on all the flurry and interspersed contemplation that preceded.  

Overall, “Bloom” is a masterful end product. The unassuming, yet consummate production, as well as the strategic sequencing of tracks, gives Sivan a canvass to express himself to maximum effect. A charming quality of the record is its unblemished openness. The specific situations and sentiments that Sivan explores in many of his love songs are remarkably winsome. On the flip side, the same openness can make the more sexually blatant numbers quite cringeworthy, even revolting. Yet, this probably won’t be the case for Sivan’s target demographic. Millions are sure to find the lyrical licentiousness the most appealing quality of the album, which makes sense, as the very outrageousness of it flaunts an unapologetic embrace of homoseuality, sure to be welcomed by those of the same persuasion. Also, this is largely Sivan’s ostensible intention with this record, as it’s the most striking distinguishing factor from his previous work. And of course, the album provides long-term fans a glimpse into yet another state in the development of a heart throb child star, now all grown up.

Bloom” is available Aug. 31 on Apple Music.