There’s comes a moment on Troye Sivan’s “The Good Side” when you think it’s over. The gay, 23-year-old singer’s voice on the album’s sole break-up song fades away into silence, and then, out of nowhere: a new surge of sound swells. Behind a wall of invigorating sonic ticks, you hear crackles like celluloid running through a projector, replaying the memories of a love once had. After three-and-a-half bittersweet minutes, it’s a reminder that fond memories once existed, and that queer relationships – even in heartbreak – aren’t always hampered by sadness.
The songs Sivan has written for his second album, Bloom, are a refreshing antidote to the notion that LGBTQ+ art is only interesting when drenched in hardship. Querness seems palatable when we’re fighting for equality, the basic human rights of persecuted queer people, or forced to pander to basic gay stereotypes for cis-het women to giggle and paw at. But when things in our lives start to slot into place and positivity takes hold – say, when we meet someone we like and get along with just fine – that normality is often not interesting enough to take note of.
From heart-shattering films like 120 BPM, about AIDS in the 90s to the complex and defiant records from Perfume Genius and serpentwithfeet, the backbone of queer art seems fortified by anger and heartbreak. But Sivan’s Bloom is, by contrast, about the simplicities of being young, queer and in love (not unlike Luca Guadagnino's Call Me By Your Name), and the enlightening experience of exploring those parameters. Minus shitty break-up songs and sonic ‘fuck yous’, the album's a perfectly-formed collection of tracks about Sivan looking at the boy he cares about, and professing how much he means to him. In fact, it’s teeming with so much hope that it could, in essence, help closeted kids face the prospect of embracing their queer selves instead. To see there’s a wealth of ways in which they can embrace happiness, relationships and resolution beyond the fight.
When I met Sivan earlier in the year, he gushed about how content he was at this moment in his career. It was thanks, in part, to his two-year-long relationship with model Jacob Bixenman, who he's been with since the writing sessions for this record began. But he also spoke about how challenging life satisfaction was for an artist whose knee-jerk reaction is to dwell on the sombre and melancholy. Rising to fame as a charming YouTuber, the South African-born, Australia-raised pop star shies away from being labelled a “queer icon." That's because he came out to his family first – who all proudly accepted him – before doing the same to his fans at 18, via a heartfelt vlog. It’s a strangely harmonious story, and Sivan knows that. He’s not prepared to manipulate his own experience into one stuffed with struggle for the sake of tugging on heartstrings.
And so Bloom is a perfect album for both Gen Z more broadly and LGBTQ+ identifying kids. It proves to a younger queer generation that they can indeed find happiness. More than that, it shows that gay artists can make work that lets them vocalise their feelings. Sivan’s debut, 2015’s Blue Neighbourhood, shied away slightly from its creator’s sexuality, but he's not willing to sanitise that experience any longer. True to his word, Bloom walks us through Sivan’s experience step-by-step, from the moments shaped by naivety to the ones that paint a picture of a man – not a boy – who knows the complexities of what it's like to fall in love.
The album opens with “Seventeen,” where Sivan recounts his first sexual experience: a Grindr hookup as a teenager with a much older man. Over wistful, building synths, he adopts the voice of the man he met: “Age is just a number, just like any other / We can do whatever, do whatever you want”. It’s sweet to hear a song about those messy first teenage fucks painted as something that isn’t smutty: as formative learning curves; as queer kids making sense of their own bodies (and how they change when another, more experienced, lover enters the equation).
Troye Sivan is great at luring in a people unsuspectingly and letting them hear what he has to say. He turns the story of his experiences into something ever so slightly coded, so that a huge audience could unknowingly sing along to intimate stories of gay sexuality. “Bloom” – the “bop about bottoming” as he called it in a now-deleted tweet – is an energising, vintage pop song about how sex can still be used to express loyalty to someone. Subversively, it treats two men fucking as something sacred, not unlike homophobes do with hetero sex. Even the more sombre numbers, the kind Sivan struggles to distance himself from, are about learning to embrace the flaws of those you love. “Postcard,” a ballad written with Australian singer-songwriter Gordi, is about a message Troye sent his boyfriend while touring in Japan that he never got round to collecting from the postbox.
But these brief, bittersweet moments are always bookended by the kind of 80s-embalmed dance-pop designed to lift spirits, and feel more hopeful about how queer people today fall in love. “My! My! My!” is still the coy and invigorating sexy pop song it was when it kickstarted the Bloom album cycle back in January. Meanwhile “Plum,” the album’s other unequivocal banger, captures that suspended moment between youth and adulthood, and how our rashest decisions often reap the sweetest rewards. Lifted from the songbook of everybody’s favourite stone-fruit-fucker, Call Me By Your Name’s Elio Perlman, the song sees Troye compare nights with his lover to “the ripest peach or pear”, before admitting that “even the sweetest plum has only got so long”.
When it catches you off guard, love can be dangerously disarming. Bloom is a mature testament to that. Having spent much of my life trying to find myself somewhere between the promise of queer liberation and the work of resisting bigotry, hearing a buoyant record by a man like me is hugely encouraging. ‘Coming out’, after all, comes with baggage – questions you’re expected to know the answers to; battles you’re expected to fight. The straight caricature feels like a safety net we can uphold to avoid them. But when faced with a record like Troye’s, a stark realisation comes over you. You realise that after the animosity accumulates and shatters, all queer people are left with is something simple that most take for granted: the right to love someone just like everybody else does. Bloom embraces that base-level beauty, to be young, gay and proudly in love. And if it reaches the right people, permeating the charts in the right places and trickling down to those sheltered queer souls who need it, Troye’s reassuring words are bound to be a life-saving moment of clarity.
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This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.