Troye Sivan’s highly anticipated EP Wild is only hours away from its U.S. release when I meet with him on a balmy Thursday afternoon at a West Hollywood coffee shop. With more than 3.5 million followers on YouTube, the singer’s latest effort had no trouble claiming the top spot on iTunes moments after it became available for preorder, but the success of his previous album, 2014’s TRXYE, set a high standard for the artist to surpass. Upon its debut, it was the number 1 album in 66 countries on iTunes and debuted at number 5 on the Billboard 200, and the music video for album’s lead single, “Happy Little Pill,” went on to rack up more than 17.5 million views.
These are statistics that might make any emerging artist antsy on the eve of a follow-up release, but the 20-year-old Australian-raised singer is quite at ease as he saunters into the shop, dressed in a plain maroon T-shirt and skinny jeans, with a satisfied smile splashed across his face. Moments after he joins me at a quiet corner table, he explains why competing with prior success is the furthest thing from his mind.
“Chart positions are very cool and awesome, but my biggest worry between the last EP and this one was that my music would change and grow, and I feel like that’s happened,” he says. “However, when I first set out to work on Wild, it was nerve-racking because I wasn’t sure what I was capable of — I’m still not sure — but as soon as I had that moment where I thought, That’s better than anything I’ve written before, the pressure got better and better because I felt at ease about writing something I was really proud of.”
He cocks his head thoughtfully to one side before adding, “I think the most important thing to me at this point in my career is being able to be honest in my songwriting — and these songs are about boys.”
It’s this kind of fearless honesty that has earned Sivan his legions of loyal followers and placed him on a short list of young out artists like Sam Smith, Shamir, and Years & Years front man Olly Alexander — LGBT trailblazers who refuse to believe the myth that a successful career can only be had by staying in the closet. In fact, Sivan says he feels it’s his responsibility to break new ground for the next generation.
For Sivan, living that truth means embracing subjects in his art that others have been afraid to tackle in the past. Writing love songs with male pronouns for his previous EP was the first step, but Sivan says he wanted to help move the needle for LGBT visibility even further this time around.
In his latest music video, for the title song “Wild,” he presents a story of first love between two very young boys.
“I feel like gay relationships are sexualized in the media and I just wanted to show a romantic, adorable, puppy love situation between two little boys because that’s something we never ever see,” he says. “We usually see stories when the teen is grown up, they’re 18, they’re going out, and maybe they’re promiscuous. That’s a part of gay culture — and it’s a fun part of gay culture — but there’s also those little baby crushes you have when you’re younger. I wanted to show that naïveté, that innocence, and that joy before someone tells you there’s something wrong with you.”
He stops and turns his gaze toward the steady stream of traffic rolling by on Melrose Avenue a few feet away and his voice softens before he continues.
“Unfortunately for me, I always felt in the back of my mind that there was something wrong with me. Even when I was a little kid, I remember suppressing any feelings I had towards other boys,” he says. “I was just aware I wasn’t supposed to be having those feelings from a very young age. And the boys in the music video, I only wish that I could’ve had that kind…”
He stops again, this time taking a deep breath before meeting my gaze with a warm smile. “Well, let’s just say I guess I’m a little jealous of the kids in the music video because they get to experience that — if only for a brief second, but they get to experience that relationship without any baggage.”
The subject is obviously one close to his heart, and Sivan says the video is the first installment of his “Blue Neighborhood Trilogy,” which will follow the story of these fictional boys as their relationship develops over years.
“To me the old ways of thinking about sexuality, these are all inevitable things that are going to change and my attitude is, let’s pretend as if they are changed,” he says. “Let’s pretend it’s not an issue to have two boys kissing in a music video or whatever it is. Let’s just do it and do it unapologetically because that is our honest experience. That is our truth.”
He adds, “Hopefully these videos will be the most viewed thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
With his latest music video garnering more than 2.5 million views in its first week and ringing endorsements of his new EP from famous fans like Taylor Swift, the singer appears to be well on his way to achieving that goal. Furthermore, his growing popularity is proof that young LGBT artists making music about their experiences can be power players in the same field as their straight counterparts.
Sivan teases that “a lot more music” from him will drop before the end of the year and he’ll be kicking off a tour “very soon” as well. Nevertheless, throughout it all he plans to stay focused on his primary mission: Creating a more inclusive music landscape for LGBT people.
“Over the years I’ve met a lot of fans who will whisper things in my ear like, ‘I’m bisexual and no one knows except for you now.’ Those are always awesome moments and I love that people feel like they can confide in me…but I’m fighting for a day when that won’t be necessary,” he says. “It’s my hope that somewhere, a young gay person who is struggling with who they are will see something like ‘Wild’ and say, ‘Maybe I do like boys, and that’s completely fine because there’s those kids in that music video — so I think I’m going to be just fine.’”