Right now Troye Sivan is the ultimate 21st century pop entity and you're probably already trying to think of someone else who fits the bill but just stop right now because you will fail, and while it's sometimes important in life to put yourself in challenging positions this is not one of those times.
Popjustice met up with Troye last week, a couple of days before the Brits, at a recording studio in west London.
(Hedi Slimane did the picture at the top of the page by the way, it's very important you know that.)
When we spoke three years ago you talked about the question you asked yourself while making your first album: "Right, it’s 2015, what makes sense?" It's 2018 — what makes sense now?
I don’t know if I really know the answer to that, so I’m waiting to see if my own answer is that same as everyone else’s. Sonically, if you look at Spotify right now in the Top 20 songs there are two or three pop songs and the rest is hip-hop, so that’s probably an answer to the sound of 2018, but I just really wanted to make music that felt good. 2017 felt like a rough go for everyone; I grew up a lot, and became comfortable in my own life. I wanted to provide some relief for everyone. So rather than singing ‘the sad gay song’, I wanted it to be something that was like how I felt on a night out — a little more celebratory.
So that's My My My — does that spirit extend through the rest of your album?
There’s a lightness to it. My first album had a really intense, introspective, borderline melancholy to it. And there are moments of that on this album, but in general I think it's a lot lighter.
Can you give an example?
There's a song called Bloom on there which is, like, complete pop. Like: ‘Katy Perry Teenage Dream’ pop.
It’s that light, sonically. Lyrically it's a bit more cheeky. It’s just a really fun song. I wrote it with Leland and we were dying laughing and just having the best time writing it. Lyrically I think it's the most subversively queer song on the album. That's kind of what makes me like it so much — it's almost like a little inside joke. It's [sonically] very consumable pop music so I can imagine the masses understanding it a little bit more, and that’s funny to me. I don't even think it's necessarily the big single or anything like that, but I really hope the song ends up spreading its wings way further than the people who wouldn't normally listen to my music.
Who are the people who normally listen to your music?
It seems like it's mostly younger people — the people I meet on a day to day basis seem to be anywhere between 15 and 27, and a good mix of guys and girls.
Let’s talk about a lyric from The Good Side, a song that’s already out there. 1 "The people danced to the sound of your heart, the world sang along to it falling apart." WHAT A LYRIC!
Seriously though. Amazing, right? I mean surely when you write that sort of lyric, it's kind of ‘right — pub’.
Well, yeah… I mean, you're the first person who's brought it up, so thank you. I knew that I loved The Good Side and the lyrics in that song, though. It was, I think, the first time in my life that I feel like I've told an entire story within a song. Normally I feel like I'll get little bits in there, or certain kinds of textures or details in there, but not the entire picture. With this song I feel like you can listen to it from beginning to end and understand exactly what I'm talking about.
Sometimes albums can feel quite boxed off — The Good Side is like the pop equivalent of movies existing in a shared universe.
These albums definitely exist in the same universe. Thoughout my career my single goal is that I get to keep doing this for as long as I possibly can, so if all goes to plan I hope that in 10 or 15 years when I’m a couple more albums down the line you’ll be able to hear my life story and my growth through those different periods. Lorde did such a great job on her second album: it felt like a catch-up with an old, more developed, more grown up and more experienced version of the person we all fell in love with in the first place. I’d love if that happened to me. I’d love if I’m 50 and I’m making albums about having kids and people can go, ‘Wow, what a journey.'
Some artists you can easily imagine as a 50-year-old artist. Like Ed Sheeran: that's just a straight line from here to there. But then there's an artist like Charli XCX, for instance, where the next three decades is mainly question marks, which is quite exciting. How do you see your next 28 years panning out?
I kind of hope it won't be a straight line. I really want to ping-pong around a little bit. I think the happiest moments for me were when I was almost done with writing the album, and then I found out that I got this movie role, and cool stuff started to fall into place and I was having so much fun making all of it. I hope people keep funding my crazy creative pursuits. The real dream come true is when people said to me, ‘it's time to make an album, who do you want to work with?’, and I said: ‘I would love to work with the Max Martin camp, Ariel Rechtshaid, my best friend Leland and Allie X.' And everyone said yes. That, to me, is true success. That's the thing that keeps me going: I want this to be a big commercial success so that I can keep on having wishlists.
I know you understand pop better than most of your peers but I wonder if you look at your own career the same way you look at another artist's. Like, do you see what it is about you that makes everyone from Max Martin to Ariel Rechtshaid say yes?
I have no idea. That's a good question. I hope they see themselves in me a little bit. You know what I mean? Like, my favourite kind of artist, and I feel like it's maybe the same with you, is someone like a Charli, or a Tove Lo, or a Taylor Swift, where you feel like they’re the mastermind, controlling the ship. And they’re the songwriter almost before they're the artist. Like if Taylor Swift had never had a hit song, I still think she would've written humungous, humungous songs for other people. Same with Charli obviously. That's always seemed really cool to me. So I hope people see me and they’re like, ‘Yeah, he gets it. He loves pop music and he wants to, like, really wants to be a part of it.’
Many of the artists we’ve mentioned so far have been female — why has it been so rare for men to do the ‘big pop’ thing in the Katy or Taylor vein?
I think historically girls have been able to have more fun with pop music, and I think fun is a really important part of pop music. They get to wear the wigs and do the big pop videos and really dance. You know what I mean? And maybe guys felt… Well, I definitely felt like I had to kind of keep it in a certain lane for a long time.
Really? Until when?
Fairly recently, actually. With this album I sort of was like, ‘Okay, I'm going for it, I want to be whoever I want to be, and I'm just going to let myself try, and I’ll see if people are into it or not.’ But [before] I was always scared of showing the same kind of confidence that maybe a girl could comfortably show in a video. Or to pull the theatrics, and the looks, and all the stuff that I think we all love about pop music. I mean, what does a guy wear to an award show that's cool and fun and exciting and makes everyone go ‘wow’? I still haven't figured that out.
What are you wearing to the Brits?
It’s a leather Saint Laurent jacket, a little shirt underneath, some pants and some kind of combat boots.
That’ll do, right?
Yeah, maybe? I don't know though. It’s one of the reasons I dyed my hair blonde — I just wanted to have fun and make fun music.
It's interesting you just said that about how you kept yourself in a certain lane, because you’ve obviously moved things forward this time round, but at the same time I didn’t get the impression you were holding yourself back the first time round. Or were you being kept back?
Only by myself — I’ve been really lucky with the people around me. I think my entire life I've kind of censored myself to an extent.
Because you anticipated something bad happening, or because something bad already happened?
I think it was just growing up in the closet. I think that’s what did it to me. I always felt like I kind of had to censor myself a little bit and keep things chill, and not draw too much attention to myself. The first album was important to me because I was explaining myself a little bit: ‘I'm gay, this is what that means, and this is the kind of music that I want to make.’
Were you explaining that to other people or yourself?
Probably to other people. And now it's a little bit less of that, and a little bit more of: ‘Right, I'm here, and I'm going for it and I really, really hope you guys like it.’ And just hoping for the best. I feel a lot more fully realised as a person.
SPEAKING OF WHICH: can we talk about the best bit of your Saturday Night Live Performance, ie when you kept going to the back of the set purely so that you had enough room to do amazing catwalk struts to the front? I saw Duran Duran live a few years ago for reasons I can't now recall and Simon Le Bon seemed to spend half the show walking to the back of the stage so that he too could do amazing struts to the front. It seems strange that more popstars haven't cottoned on to this.
It’s the best feeling in the world. The stage is so small, and I feel best when I'm moving around, but side to side doesn't look as strong as back and forth. Literally, nothing feels better. It feels like you're on top of the world.
Now then: TS2.
Is that actually the title of your album?
No. It’s just a working title.
OH COME ON. It’s a great title for the album.
Nobody’s done it yet! 2 You’re as much of a fan as you are a popstar, you know what the fandoms are like. Like, imagine if after years of people yelling ‘WHERE IS #R8’ on social media Rihanna had actually called her album R8?
Now that is a good album title.
I accept that it’s possibly a bit late in the game for this suggestion…
Everything is saved in my computer as TS2… Maybe you’re right. Hm… I’ll think on this, for sure. 3
When in recent memory have you been happiest?
Probably the day after My My My came out. I woke up and was so excited to check my phone, and I saw so much good stuff. Lovely YouTube comments, tweets from peers, and — while I try and avoid this stuff — some really nice critical acclaim. Pitchfork made it Best New Music, which has not happened to me before. It felt really, really nice.
It’s interesting when artists are ambivalent about critical approval until it appears.
You know, it's nice for the ego I guess. But it does feel good when it’s from people you admire.
When there are massive billboards in Times Square counting down to the release of a comeback single, is there ever a point where you think ‘hm, have I definitely picked the best possible song?’ or is it just ‘these billboards are totally justified, it's all amazing, here we go’?
There's definitely moments of both. I sort of go back and forth, but it’s about trying to put out your very, very best all the time and in the same breath remembering that you can't rely on other people's opinions of you or your music for your happiness and sanity. Like, I believe wholeheartedly that I'm putting out the best thing I possibly can right now. So I can't control anything after that. So yeah, once the billboards are up and I've made that decision that My My My is the best first single, it's all systems go and I just have to enjoy the rest of the process.
I asked you when you were recently at your happiest but I was really just trying to get at the real question. Which is this: even at your most happy, do you not think you’d still swap that happiness for the lifestyle of a small fish? Bobbing around near a reef. No real knowledge of happiness or sadness. Just floating, being a fish.
I… would not personally.
Have you got something against fish, or their lifestyle?
Maybe. (Thinks) No. But I really love my life.
Do you not think a fish really loves life as well?
But a fish doesn’t get the creative fulfilment that I get to have.
BUT they wouldn’t be frustrated not having it—
—because they don’t know it exists. I get it. I think I’d be frustrated: having had it, I can’t imagine not having it. That's my real driving force — being able to make stuff and getting to make it with people I admire and love. That's the funnest part for me.
When you’re a 35-year-old artist and you're doing promo for the album you've just released, what do you think you will say this about: ‘Well, I couldn’t really write about this in my music when I was in my early twenties, but I feel like I can talk about it now.’
I mean, does anyone ever like songs about an artist's kids? I feel like maybe there's a way to do that in a nice way…
Madonna did it pretty well but the usual ‘I’m the first person ever to bring children into the world and here are my important thoughts on the matter’ thing is boring. Also ‘I’m on the road and I miss my family and loved ones’—
Boring. Yeah. God, I don’t know what I’m going to write about at that point. Actually: Isn’t She Lovely by Stevie Wonder, is that about a kid? Did he have kids? 4 That’s a beautiful song about a kid. Maybe something like that.
I suppose it will make more sense when you literally have kids.
Yes. I definitely want to have a family, so I’m going to have to take a break at some point.
Is having kids on your mind a lot at the moment?
Not at this particular moment, but when I think about the future that’s all I really think about. I don’t know what it looks like to be a 35-year-old artist, or a 50-year-old artist, for myself… But I can imagine myself making albums on a farm somewhere, more for my own satisfaction than anything else.
Are you threatening some sort of man-of-the-woods organic album?
I’m into guitars at the moment, like acoustic guitars, but I don't know if I'll ever do the full, like, ‘organic album’ thing.
Have you ever touched an owl?
Have I ever touched a what?
Like the bird?
No. Wait. I’m trying to think. (Impressive pause during which it appears Troye actually is trying to recall any instances of owl-touching, which you'd think would be hard to forget, but whatever) There was one in the Happy Little Pill music video. I don't remember if I touched it or not. I don't think I did. I saw it. It seemed scary.
So you wouldn’t touch an owl now?
I… don’t… think so?
When did you last say to somebody: ‘There's something you need to tell you.’
I don't know if I've ever said it like that. That sounds really ominous. I would probably try to soften the blow and not say that — I might say: ‘We need to talk about something.’ The last time was probably a work thing a week or two ago.
Anyway, you came up with the idea for My My My while pissing.
What other events inspired songs on your album — or are they all piss-related?
It only happened once. But what else have I been doing while coming up with songs… Buying soup?
What’s the most you'd ever spend on soup?
Uh, in pounds? Probably £12.
Is that a lot? A really nice soup, though? If you’re in a really nice fancy restaurant?
Potentially. What song did you come up with while you were being over-charged for soup?
Wait, that might also be My My My. There was one day when we got lots of soup. Actually, I think the song might have been Bloom.
Where do you get your confidence?
Probably from the fact that I think the coolest people in the world are the people who just do whatever they want, and they like whatever inspires them. So if that's the case, and you’re doing exactly that, then you kind of can't go wrong. So I feel confident when I'm doing what feels right and fun to me.
Have you felt that way for a long time?
No. I think it's a fairly new realisation. When I was growing up doing music and stuff, it never scored me cool points at all. So I didn't feel very cool. I mean, if I'd wanted to feel cool, I should have gone to play footy or something like that.
How would that have panned out, do you think?
Terribly. But I never had any interest in anything like that. I did music instead, or I did acting or whatever. Then when I started to travel, and realised I was onto something, I started to realise that it made me cool in a different way. Then I looked at it all again, and realised you can carve out your own path, and I looked at people I admire and saw how they were just doing that exact same thing for themselves. And then I was like: ‘Okay, cool. Maybe I am kind of like doing the right thing — I'm on the right path and I'm just going to keep going.’
Given how much the digital landscape’s changed in the last decade, if you were twelve in 2018 how would you make yourself stand out?
I would go back to YouTube, actually. I’d start on YouTube again. It felt so personal and genuine — like people can get a real taste of who you actually are. I'd have no idea how to get signed and stuff like that without doing what I did. I don’t even know how or where I would start. Like, what do you do? Send demo tapes to labels or something? I really don’t get it!
Who would play the person playing you in a film about the making of a film about your life?
Er… Well, Timothée Chalamet would, I hope, play me. So then who would play Timothée Chalamet? There’s not many of us — pale and skinny…
I suppose the reason that was a shit question, particularly to someone who's also an actor, is that the obvious answer would be: you. You would play the person playing you.
That would be fun, actually. That would be really cool.
I don’t think I’m ever going to ask that question again. I panicked last week and accidentally asked a popstar if they ever bought food in bulk.
Also, though: Troye Sivan, do you ever buy food in bulk?
Unintentionally, yeah. I do a lot of my grocery shopping online, don't look in the cupboard before I order, and I’ll just order more. It’s alright if it’s pasta, but not if it’s spinach.
Well this has been a terrible end to an enjoyable interview. Thanks Troye!
Thank you so much. Goodbye!
My My My and The Good Side are streaming now; TS2's due sooner rather than later.
The song's about the aftermath of the relationship Troye was in when he recorded his debut album.↩
Note to pensioners: in the last few years fans and now artists have taken to referring to as-yet-untitled future albums based on the popstar's initials.↩
Narrator: He wouldn't think on that.↩
Stevie wrote it about his daughter Aisha. Do you ever wonder how different Stevie Wonder's career might have been if he'd just been called Steve?↩