Music

Troye Sivan's 'Bloom' Is a Queer-Pop Fantasia

It may not be the queer masterpiece that some were expecting, but in this day and age, Troye Sivan's Bloom proves that gay people need not rely on metaphors or "hints" to get their stories across and be accepted by the masses.

Bloom
Troye Sivan

Capitol

31 August 2018

"To be gay requires watching for hints," wrote pop critic Alfred Soto for Billboard shortly after George Michael's passing in 2016. "When nearly 100 percent of pop songs aren't about or for the queer life, gay fans learn to study shifts in emphasis, to stay alert."

Throughout the history of pop music, there have been out-and-proud queer performers and strong, proud advocates of the cause, but, by and large, the topic of gay life itself is shied away from. Even George Michael, after he was forced out of the closet, made songs like "Freeek!" which were outspoken in how risqué it was trying to be, but the whole message still boiled down to general pro-kink sexuality that applied to the entire spectrum of orientations. So while pop divas frequently reference their "man" or their "boy" in their lyrics, the application of these phrases to the life of a gay male is immediate, which is why, in part, so many of these divas have utterly devout gay followings. No hints required because these songs are deliberately recontextualized.

LGBTQ representation in mainstream pop music, even in 2018, remains scant. The visibility is there and the allies are apparent, but queerness in pop music is so often treated as a novelty: think Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl" or Britney Spears' and Madonna's staged kiss at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards. Moments like are significant due to the large-scale cultural impact, but their intentions remain in question. There is shock value tied to how taboo the subject was even then, but the follow-through from these stars has been passive and, at best, supportive.

While people can point to albums like Lady Gaga's 2011 effort Born This Way, Melissa Etheridge's 1993 pseudo-declaration Yes I Am, and Frankie Goes to Hollywood's 1984 extravaganza Welcome to the Pleasuredome as albums that reference the gay experience (to say nothing of more indie-minded efforts by the likes of Antony & the Johnsons, the Scissor Sisters, and Peaches), so often these albums are dressed up in metaphor and analogies, characters and double entendres. It's almost as if being able to speak about the queer experience in the realm of pop music, you can only do so while keeping the audience at a certain distance. Being direct hasn't been an option because, frankly, it wouldn't be accepted in any broad commercial sphere.

Troye Sivan has himself been working on this very issue. While much has been made of his early film roles and his use of YouTube as a way to help launch his singing career, his 2015 full-length debut Blue Neighborhood spoke about his experience in growing up queer but, again, couldn't help but dress up his stories in an elaborate conceit. His album spoke to the pangs of unrequited love, and had moments of intense emotional honesty (like on "Lost Boy", where he admitted "I'm just some dumb kid / Trying to kid myself / That I got my shit together"), but Sivan ultimately let his artistry get in the way of anything definitive or direct. It was a lovely album, but one that, as Soto put, was built almost entirely on "hints".

On "Seventeen", the opening track of Sivan's sophomore effort Bloom, he wastes absolutely no time getting to the point:

"I went out looking for love when I was 17
Maybe a little too young, but it was real to me
And in the heat of the night, saw things I'd never seen."

While some might be shocked at the prospect of a 17-year-old young man having sex with someone much older, such discoveries are not exactly uncommon for modern gay culture. In 1999, Russel T. Davies' original UK show Queer As Folk dealt with that very topic in its opening episode, with a young 15-year-old named Nathan (Charlie Hunnam) hooking up with a 29-year-old man-of-the-scene named Stuart (Aidan Gillen). The fervor over the scene during its debut came at a time when Parliament was considering lowering the age of consent, so such a depiction of gay culture, to many, was nothing short of shocking.

Bloom isn't out to shock so much as it is to revel in what it means to grow up queer in the present age. It's as playful as it can be complicated, as bitter as it is sweet. The album's title track is an anthem for bottoming in the bedroom, and it's just as flirtatious as it is committed ("I've been saving this for you, baby"). Sivan continues to use metaphors in his writing but doesn't hide behind them in the way he did on Blue Neighborhood. On "Plum", he notes how he knows he and his partner aren't getting any younger, so are enjoying what they have for now ("Maybe our time has come / Maybe we're overgrown / Even the sweetest plum / Has only got so long").

Mixed with beats and drum patterns straight out of '80s synthpop (think Bronski Beat but far moodier), Sivan's melodies are so much stronger on Bloom, sometimes aiming for strobe light realness (as on his truly perfect lead single "My My My!"), and at times serving as a perfect soundtrack for bedroom dance parties (as on his Ariana Grande duet "Dance to This"). His verses are easily repeatable and not overly complicated, which, especially in comparison to Blue Neighborhood, shows how much better Sivan has gotten at editing himself melodically, aided by and large by the same team that helped put Blue together. Thematically, he finds himself addicted to a new relationship (the mid-tempo thumper "Lucky Strike"), recovering from the aftermath of his old one (the plaintive and effective acoustic ballad "The Good Side"), and can see through partners giving him false gestures and promises ("Postcard"). It's a spectrum of experiences he presents to us, but they are all very considered and very specific.

While tracks like "Animal" and "What a Heavenly Way to Die" are pleasing-if-passable -- largely due to the fact that they lack that air of specificity that gives so many other of Bloom's songs their strength -- Bloom remains a powerful, thoughtful, and engaging listen: an album about queer life that welcomes all listeners from all quadrants. It may not be the queer masterpiece that some were expecting, but in this day and age, Bloom proves that gay people need not rely on metaphors or "hints" to get their stories across and be accepted by the masses. It's heartening to know that a queer artist can write about the queer experience and end up being a true-blue, qualifier-free pop star because of it.

7
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Reading Pandemics

Pandemic, Hope, Defiance, and Protest in 'Romeo and Juliet'

Shakespeare's well known romantic tale Romeo and Juliet, written during a pandemic, has a surprisingly hopeful message about defiance and protest.

Film

A Family Visit Turns to Guerrilla Warfare in 'The Truth'

Catherine Deneuve plays an imperious but fading actress who can't stop being cruel to the people around her in Hirokazu Koreeda's secrets- and betrayal-packed melodrama, The Truth.

Music

The Top 20 Punk Protest Songs for July 4th

As punk music history verifies, American citizenry are not all shiny, happy people. These 20 songs reflect the other side of patriotism -- free speech brandished by the brave and uncouth.

Books

90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.

Music

Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

'The Avengers: Endgame' Faces the Other Side of Loss

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our pandemic grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.

Music

Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.

Music

Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.

Books

First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?

Reviews

HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.

Music

Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.