Sunday, September 2, 2018

Bloom | Troye Sivan

When pop singer-songwriter Troye Sivan released his debut album in the autumn of 2015, America had begun to come down from the excitement of the Supreme Court's marriage equality ruling just one season prior. Society and its direct mirror – pop culture – began to recognize gays and lesbians as neighbors and friends, not as cliched sidekicks on television shows. And Sivan’s Blue Neighbourhood reflects that, end-capping an era of online coming out videos from scared queer kids and ushering in an era of polite, discreet requests for equality: Rainbow flags on business windows and PG-rated takes on homosexual relationships in mainstream entertainment. 

As Sivan’s sophomore release hits shelves three years later, the sexual revolution has turned into just that for young adults in the community: Focus has shifted to position gays as conventionally sexual beings who deserve to be flashy provocateurs in media and the popular arts like their straight peers, not to have their sex appeal (or simply their musical appeal, for that matter) brushed off as counterculture or a novelty separate from straight pop culture. (You know, like when a fan found albums from synthpop group Years & Years and Sivan quarantined under a record store's "gay" section rather than the pop catalog.) And when it comes to sexual awakenings, some blossom – and others Bloom.

Whereas Blue Neighbourhood is a buzzing streetlamp on a quiet avenue, Bloom is a pulsating strobe against a disco ball. It shares a title with an all-out pop song that was prefaced with a cheeky tweet reading "#BopsBoutBottoming," and it opens with a sweeping track recounting Sivan’s underage hookup with an older man he met on gay dating app Grindr: "I got these beliefs that I think you wanna break, got something here to lose that I think you wanna take from me," he sings on "Seventeen." The singles' visuals have been sweaty, gender-bending, and full of skin and hip gyrating. To put it lightly, it’s a much more assertive and mature rendezvous than his debut’s gay teenage love story.

Although very clear in his sexual intentions and same-sex references, he isn’t outwardly explicit. Across the album, his references to sex are tied to the intense feelings of love, leaving his lyrics just titillating enough to arouse the senses. The title track is purposely filled with flowery (literally) metaphor, and the Ariana Grande collaboration, "Dance to This," is more of a gentle suggestion than it is blatantly suggestive: "Oh, we don't need no place to go, just put on the radio. You know what I wanna do. We can just dance to this," they sing together, with Grande reigning in her vocal prowess to match Sivan’s stamina.

Sivan's growth isn’t unlike Lorde's recent character development. (Lorde's Pure Heroine made Sivan’s very existence as a musician possible.) His Bloom rises in the shadow of her Melodrama, both busting the thematic and sonic barriers that their debut records created with dated (but then en vogue) production and age-specific lyrical concepts. Lorde now finds life-altering heartbreak and chaos in young adulthood, but Sivan finds a certain solace in unabashed love and lust. He yields a much more optimistic record – a record a gay man needed to make, and a record gay men need to hear, in an uneasy time of American culture.

Much like Melodrama, this record is a refreshing pop record without hesitations. Lead single "My My My!" snaps listeners into a trance as Sivan's distorted vocal lines murmur over a stuttering club beat; akin to it, "Lucky Strike" delivers an equally seductive and dance-inducing moment. And any pop titan's album wouldn't be complete without a swing into a ballad or two: Here, "Animal" is a towering ode to love itself, and "The Good Side" frolics to the cue of an acoustic guitar. Though the sensitivity of his ballads, namely "The Good Side" and the Gordi-assisted "Postcard," don't checkmate the ecstasy of his pure pop moments, they still feel necessary for a well-balanced record dedicated love and all it entails: The good, the bad, the sexy, and the ugly.

On his last album, he declared to his love interest, "My youth is yours." On Bloom, he upholds that commitment: "What a heavenly way to die, what a time to be alive. Because forever is in your eyes, but forever ain't half the time I wanna spend with you," he sings over a galloping drumbeat on the swaying mid-tempo track "What a Heavenly Way to Die." Much like youth, the record isn't long; Troye Sivan punctuates all he needs to say after just over half an hour. But it makes the most of that time, capturing the emotional complexities of young love between two men like no popular musician has done before. In short: Wig flew to Asia.

Bloom is available now via Capitol Records.

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