Troye Sivan and the modern teenage liberation
Massive lines outside The Pageant awaited Troye Sivan on Halloween. As it was a special night, people were dressed up in their costumes. I saw a couple of colorful fairies and butterflies, one Tina and one Louise from “Bob’s Burgers,” a group of men as Hooters waitresses and a few Britney Spears from “Baby One More Time.” Despite the cold, the energy in line was warm and welcoming.
As I inspected this crowd of faces, I noticed a dominant demographic: early teenage boys and girls, some of them even accompanied by their parents. It wasn’t that I was surprised at this observation, but it did make me think about the possible effect that an openly queer, former YouTuber and now global artist like Troye Sivan would have on such a young audience currently living its prime years of self-discovery.
Inside the venue, fans chanted Troye’s name in effervescent unison. Once he came onstage, there was not a single unheard voice cheering, screaming, clapping. Wearing face paint, a large black sweater, leather pants and shiny black platform shoes, Troye delivered a performance that exemplified his appeal that has given him essentially an overnight success. What is it about Troye Sivan that makes fans go crazy?
For one, he started out in YouTube making simple videos about his life. He sang to a camera in his bedroom, uploaded these videos to his channel, and soon enough, amassed a large following that made him one of the most subscribed personalities on the site. This fame isn’t an unusual narrative in today’s digital age where makeup artists on YouTube make as much money as a Hollywood actor. But, Troye is doing something different: He’s transcending that digital barrier which very few YouTubers have been able to. At one point, Troye must have realized that his adolescent carefree persona is one that many teenagers identify with in ways that previous generations of teens would have been restricted from.
Troye Sivan defies the pre-imposed, societal gender lines: he wears nail polish, sometimes lipstick and flaunts out jewelry with outfits that further show his apathy for stereotypes. And although he is openly gay, he does not like to be categorized as one thing. During an interview with OUT magazine, he described his sexuality as: “Fun. Is that weird? Fun is how I feel. Fun is kissing boys and kissing girls sometimes. I can do whatever I want, and no one will bat an eyelid.”
“Blue Neighbourhood,” Sivan’s first full-length album, arrives at a timely moment. While it is true we have many examples of queer pop stars, very few of them put sexuality at the forefront of their music. Not that they should. However, in a time in which kids in middle school and high school struggle to embrace their identity out of fear of bullying or rejection, it is comforting to see an artist like Troye Sivan put his own experiences as a gay man into such a visible arena through his music and his visuals.
Sivan represents a new era of teenage liberation in which the younger generation feels accepted and proud of their identity as a result of the visibility and celebration of being queer that his music has personified. He sings about boy crushes, about coming at odds against his religion and sexuality, about heartbreaks, about the ecstasy of youth. His sound is moody, almost experimental, synth-pop with hints of soft punk—a sound unique enough to know you are listening to his music. Admirably, he bridges the experience of being gay with the experience of being young in ways that unifies all identities.
Throughout the concert, close-up shots of a shirtless young man loomed in the background almost to invoke an image of the guy that inspired Sivan to write his songs. As I watched the crowd from the balcony of the venue, I saw multiple group of teens holding up the rainbow flag while others held up signs that read phrases such as “Gay as hell” or simply just “GAY” in big letters. Sivan commented on the signs even grabbing one from the audience to say “This one’s my favorite.” Later on, he danced around the stage with a rainbow flag wrapped around him while singing emotionally about old beaus and difficult goodbyes in songs like “FOOLS” or “for him.”
At the end of the day, Troye Sivan is “relatable.” He grew up quite literally in front of his YouTube audience, came out to his followers in a video back in 2013 and announced his music contract with a record label to those who had been following him since day one. This journey created an inexplicable bond between Sivan and his fans that doesn’t canonize him in the way other teen pop stars like Justin Bieber and the Jonas Brothers did at the beginning of their careers. Instead, Sivan feels like their best friend who would hang out with them because they have so many things in common. He tweets using millennial slang and popular memes; he Instagrams dreamy pastel-colored snapshots of his life; and he has a Tumblr where he “reblogs” aesthetically pleasing images that have had a clear influence on his own artistic material.
Troye Sivan is the modern, liberated, trendsetter teenager that his fans realized they could be. He is also 21 years old, far from a teenager anymore. Yet, his music and his own self have preserved in time what it means to be young in our world today and tomorrow. And, to Troye Sivan, the meaning of youth is simple: Be yourself.