Movie star; YouTube sensation; chart-topping pop star — South African-born, Australian Troye Sivan accomplished a hell of a lot as a teenager.
Now, having just hit 20, Sivan has released a debut album that details the trials and tribulations of growing up and getting to know who you really are.
Raised in Perth, Sivan has a Hollywood blockbuster credit from appearing in one of the Wolverine X-Men spin-offs, a resume containing the lead role in a trilogy of South African coming of age films with John Cleese, as well as a series of musical theatre and stage roles.
But it’s really his presence on YouTube which shot Sivan to greater prominence — he has over 3 million subscribers and hundreds of millions of views for his YouTube channel.
It’s through this channel which Sivan has detailed his experiences and thoughts growing up as a young gay man with charisma, sass and humour. He’s also used it to promote safe sex and raise support for his local children’s hospital in Perth.
His musical career has also been slowly blossoming over the past couple of years. Last year his debut EP TRXYE broke into the top five of the charts in America and spawned the Australian top 10 single Happy Little Pill.
But it’s not just the hordes of online teenagers who have fallen head over heels for the wistful tunes of Sivan. Pop music heavyweights of the likes of Adele, Sam Smith and Taylor Swift are all signed up public fans of the young singer songwriter.
The first slate of songs on Blue Neighbourhood are lifted off his recent Wild EP (though for some unexplained reason the standard version and deluxe edition have completely different track listings) and represent some of the finest examples of Sivan’s nous for pop music.
It’s in this run that some of the album’s most memorable tunes emerge.
Album opener WILD features a kids choir shouting “Hey!” and builds to a ecstatic chorus. BITE has a skittering dub influenced beat, off-kilter production and a dark underlying sexuality that recalls FKA twigs. While the piano led, ballad-like opening strains of FOOLS develops into a shuddering, synth heavy chorus.
Sometimes the easiest path for a precocious budding pop star signed to a major label is to pass them along to a team of wizened pros to mould them into a generic figurine of pristine pop music.
His brand of EDM pop tunes are very much of the now — if you were going to craft a sound of ‘now’, then the processed drum beats, pulsating synths and haunted bruised tones of Sivan on Blue Neighbourhood wouldn’t be too far off.
But thankfully Sivan’s voice, sexuality and personality (though not much of the trademark humour of his videos) are clearly articulated and prominent. Blue Neighbourhood has the same kind of wise-beyond-his -years approach to detailing the intricacies of growing up that resonated so clearly through Lorde’s debut a couple of years back.
“It’s all autobiographical,” Sivan told The Guardian. “It takes place in both the suburbs of Perth where I’ve grown up, which I consider to be my blue neighbourhood, but then also in this fast-paced, crazy, whirlwind life that I’m now living in hotel rooms and planes. And it takes place inside the mind of a 20-year-old kid.”
And you can hear that painful honesty and truth clearly throughout the record. Sivan’s lyrics rarely betray any lack of maturity, but his youth comes across on tracks such as YOUTH and LOST BOY where he sings “I’m just some dumb kid trying to kid myself that I’ve got my shit together”.
Meanwhile, the album closer SUBURBIA is the best example of the autobiographical and observational nature of Sivan’s lyrics (“The boys fix their cars and girls eat it up/ Loving’s so good when love is young”).
Blue Neighbourhood drags slightly in its later stages, mainly because of the similarity of the production techniques and song compositions rather than a drop in quality. Regardless, it remains a very impressive and fresh effort from a young, budding singer songwriter.