You could be excused for not being able to tie Troye Sivan’s name to a song. For a YouTube personality and celebrity of his calibre, it’s surprising that his biggest hit to date (Youth, peaking at 23 on the Billboard Hot 100, and 96 on the UK Singles Chart) failed to emerge from the mass of electronic music in 2015. Sivan occupies an odd place in pop culture – his music is no different from his contemporaries (Halsey, Lorde, Melanie Martinez) and he has retreated from the public eye, yet still maintains a legion of devoted fans. He allows himself to be defined by his sexuality, and at the age of 23, has become one of the few queer artists that inhabit the mainstream.
While Bloom comes across as another pop album about love, it is at its heart a celebration of queerness. Like many young artists today, Sivan come across as far more mature than his age. It shows on opening track Seventeen, which neither romanticises nor criticises his sexual experiences with older men as a teenager, instead detailing it as a coming-of-age. And though the lyrics of Seventeen (‘Maybe a little too young, but it was real to me’) are applicable to all, Sivan contextualises the song through the struggles of a gay teenager. ‘Boy becomes a man now,’ he sings, highlighting the hyper-sexualisation and hyper-masculinity of society.
Bloom is at the forefront of a newfound confidence in sexuality, not just in Sivan’s life, but throughout pop music. Hayley Kiyoko’s debut album, along with King Princess’ 1950, are fresh breaths of air from the homophobia that still litters the mainstream, particularly in hip-hop culture. Troye Sivan appears to be the fulfilment of the prophecy dubbed ‘20gayteen’, claiming his stake as an icon. His collaborations with the two biggest pop stars in the world (as a special guest on Taylor Swift’s reputation tour and with Ariana Grande on Dance To This) are pushing him, and therefore queerness, to the forefront of pop culture. Three years ago, Sivan was still at odds with himself, asking, ‘without losing a piece of me, how do I get to heaven?’
The title track of Bloom is one of the only upbeat moments on the album. It’s unashamedly bubblegum-sounding, yet is overtly sexual and a defining queer anthem of the year. This is no accident; Sivan subverts the heterosexually-dominated mainstream to make his statement. No other song on Bloom is as accessible as it, bar lead single My My My!, despite many songs being built around a dance beat. My My My! happens to be the album’s most disappointing moment – it has the elements of a great song, but its lyrics are trite, impersonal and repetitive.
The album rotates between dance beats and ballads, and even though as a cohesive work it feels one-, maybe two-dimensional, it succeeds at building an atmosphere. Dance To This may prove to be the biggest single from Bloom between its muted groove and one of Grande’s best performances of the year. Though Sivan and Grande have had their biggest hits through exciting pop bangers, Dance To This once again subverts expectations, representing a celebration of domesticity. Like the best pop songs, its lyrics are simple but evocative, and Sivan and Grande revel in their unity. They’re not singing to each other, but singing together.
A couple of the most delightful moments on Bloom are its references – Plum feels like a play on the symbolic peach of Call Me By Your Name (Sivan even sings, ‘To all the nights we shared, the ripest peach or pear’), and What A Heavenly Way To Die is a clear homage to the iconic song by The Smiths, recontextualising (or maybe even solidifying!) it as a gay love song. Elsewhere, Sivan uses the played out metaphor of cigarettes for lovers on Lucky Strike, but his precise lyricism and its excellent production elevate it.
Troye Sivan saves the best for last, because closing track Animal should be a contender for best pop song of the year. Animal is the best use of space on the album; its sparseness lends itself to the song. Its combination of Ariel Rechtshaid’s production and elements from Frank Ocean and The Weeknd’s music has resulted in what may be Sivan’s masterpiece. As a slow-burner of a track, the first half of Animal uses atmospheric guitar lines that could be from House of Balloons, and the cassette click, reverb and Sivan’s flow in the song’s second half would not be out of place on Blonde. The last minute descends into synth bliss not unlike the electronic shoegaze of M83, and my only complaint is it ends too soon. Animal is not just a deconstruction of pop tropes, but an amalgamation of cornerstones of modern R&B.
Ultimately, Bloom transcends the ideals of a pop album, through Sivan’s subtle subversion of pop music and display of sexuality. It’s relatively concise, as colourful as last year’s masterpiece Melodrama, and shows Sivan finding his identity as an adult. However, the album suffers in that it feels as if a collection of songs thrown together for their similarities, rather than a musical journey. As a result, Bloom greatest strength remains in its holistic composition as a much-needed representation of a gay man’s experience.