The opening track on Troye Sivan’s sophomore album, Bloom, starts a conversation that is badly needed, especially in music. The song, “Seventeen,” addresses the issue of consent at that age where you’re not totally experienced in the ways of the world, but think you know it all. It also hits on the curiosity about sexuality that arrives on the cusp of adulthood. It’s not a song about the music industry, specifically, but given the vast history of older, famous men in music having relationships (or coercing, or starting alleged sex cults) with underage groupies and fans, it feels incredibly timely. Singing from the point of view of the young person, seeking new experiences they might not be equipped to handle, Sivan’s voice is perfectly modulated and often emotionless. His opening shot is a message: He’s not afraid to grapple with tough topics.
On Bloom, Sivan offers up a heaping helping of the dance-pop music he’s known for, but even that becomes a rebuke when he takes on traditionally cis-feminine attributes in his songs of the sort that gay men have shied away from in mainstream music. On the title track, he croons, “I bloom just for you,” over a Euro-dance beat. In “What A Heavenly Way to Die,” (a title that is surely a nod to that famous Smiths track about young love, “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out”) he creates his own ode to youthful love with a ticking clock on it. And “Lucky Strike” finds him fancying an unreadable, ungettable man who smells of Lucky Strikes. The songs are made up of equal parts of emotional exuberance, momentary seductions, and broken hearts to any record by the groundbreaking gay ‘80s duo Erasure worth its salt; what they all have in common in an undeniable danceability.
The album’s biggest single, “Dance to This,” is a collaboration with Ariana Grande that sets the scene for a night of drunken kitchen sex, but Sivan and Grande sing it with enough innocence to render it nearly asexual. “Postcard” tells the story of a lover scorned by apathy, while “Plum” compares a souring relationship to a piece of overripe fruit. (Take that, Call Me By Your Name’s peach!) Sivan worked with Ariel Rechtshaid (HAIM, Usher, Kelela) and Oscar Holter for Wolf Cousins Productions (a Swede from Max Martin’s team who has collabed with Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, and Pink). Notably, the same crew of songwriters worked on most of the tracks and seven of the 10 here have a female co-writer in the mix. Experimental pop star Allie X returns from her stint on his debut album, Blue Neighborhood, and shows up the most in the core group who constructed the album, but Alex Hope and Gordi also pop up on tracks, making this one of the most representative albums for women in music released this year.
On Bloom, Sivan writes and sings about falling in love and being in a happy relationship; that comfort has allowed him to venture outside the traditional heteronormative gender roles thrust on gay male pop stars. Thanks to his YouTube stardom, Sivan came into his record deal with millions of built-in fans (including Sam Smith and Taylor Swift), he has leverage and proof that there’s audience for his songs and his modern, queer vision.