The unapologetic queerness of Troye Sivan’s ‘Bloom’

Troye Sivan’s sophomore album opens with a song about a 17-year-old boy lying about his age to hook up with older men. It’s a situation that’s deeply concerning, and it’s worth emphasizing that there are no gray areas when it comes to age of consent. At the same time, it isn’t uncommon to be young and queer and feel ready to act on romantic and sexual urges (even if you really, really shouldn’t).

Sivan taps into that very real feeling with tenderness, not condemning the feeling but being careful not to offer a green light for acting on it. On “Seventeen,” he sings, “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.”

This commitment to tethering emotional honesty to nuance is what characterizes “Bloom,” Sivan’s follow-up to his immense (if uneven) 2015 debut “Blue Neighbourhood.” The album makes for a more polished sequel, trading the first album’s emphasis on hooks for stronger storytelling. While “Blue Neighbourhood” spoke to a certain innocence, “Bloom” sees that innocence challenged, sometimes broken by the experience of desire.

 

The album makes for a more polished sequel, trading the first album’s emphasis on hooks for stronger storytelling. While “Blue Neighbourhood” spoke to a certain innocence, “Bloom” sees that innocence challenged, sometimes broken by the experience of desire.

 

On songs like My! My! My! and Lucky Strike, Sivan captures the trepidation of falling in love with some of his sharpest songwriting (“‘Cause you taste like Lucky Strikes / You drag, I light, boy.” Get this guy a cigarette endorsement). The irresistible danger, the push and pull towards an inevitable surrender to emotion — it’s all there.

The title track is a double entendre-fueled bop about bottoming (“Put gas into the motor / And, boy, I’ll meet you right there / we’ll ride the rollercoaster.”) and it makes for the record’s strongest pop moment.


The album presents as a range of emotional modes Sivan has grown comfortable switching through, but he does even better on the album’s more tender moments.

 

The album presents as a range of emotional modes Sivan has grown comfortable switching through, but he does even better on the album’s more tender moments. The Good Side is a singular account of a breakup and how afterwards, time can be kinder to one of you and crueler to the other. It’s the best apology for happiness you’ve ever heard. On Plum, he narrates a love he can feel outliving its natural lifespan, mourning it even before it’s ended. The Ariana Grande-assisted Dance To This is an ode to staying in with the person you love, dancing under fluorescent kitchen lights instead of glittering disco balls.

 

When it comes to songs about queer love, it isn’t just about the pronouns the singers use; it’s the way they illustrate queer love’s inherent tragedy.

 

The biggest issue is that while the songs are consistently impressive, the tracklisting is off-putting. The 10 tracks sound like they’ve been put on shuffle and it diminishes the listening experience, offering no narrative or thematic arc. Reordering the album to your liking is an exercise I think listeners should consider.

[READ: In “Dirty Computer,” Janelle Monae makes her declaration of independence]

There is something to be said about how the album is unabashedly queer in its portrayal of desire, considering also the landmark records by queer artists over the last two years. This year has seen both Janelle Monáe’s “Dirty Computer” and Hayley Kiyoko’s “Expectations” while last year saw Rostam’s “Half-Light” and Tyler, the Creator’s “Flower Boy.” It’s heartening to hear music whose queerness doesn’t need to be mined out in close reading. (Did you ever think we’d get a pop album whose centerpiece is a massive radio-ready pop song about bottoming? This is the future we want.)

[READ: If the albums of 2017 were people, who would be friends with who?]

Sivan’s album offers an intimate look into queer desire and shows just how potent work by LGBTQ+ artists can be. When it comes to songs about queer love, it isn’t just about the pronouns the singers use; it’s the way they illustrate queer love’s inherent tragedy. To be queer and in love is to feel your love constantly threatened, not only by a society that refuses to accept you, but by the ways the world broke you before you even began to love.

“Bloom” is a rare record, one that combines emotional nakedness with distanced insight, all painted in pop hooks. It’s a record that celebrates the myriad ways we break ourselves trying to love — that suggests that when we lose innocence, we gain something else, and come to see the world in ways we never imagined.

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