One of the best albums of 2015 was released last month to little fanfare. In a year where Adele made her long-awaited, triumphant return to the music industry, and Kendrick Lamar released one of the most innovative hip-hop albums in years, Troye Sivan, a 20 year-old Australian YouTuber, managed to craft one of the year’s boldest records in his exploration of what it means to be gay and coming of age.
“Blue Neighbourhood”(2015) is Sivan’s first full-length release after he made his major label debut last year with his extended play “TRXYE.” The record continues to explore the moody electropop niche that Sivan has carved out for himself and represents the culmination of his efforts to breakthrough as a pop star. While the fact that Sivan may have gotten his start as a YouTube personality may be a turnoff to some listeners, there is no mistaking Sivan for anything less than the real deal. With a strong sense of current sonic trends and poignant lyrics, Sivan remains unafraid to address complicated emotions and authentically assert his sexuality throughout the entire album.
The release of Sivan’s debut was preceded by the six track EP “Wild,” and the standard edition of “Blue Neighbourhood” includes three songs from this collection, which forms what Sivan calls the “Blue Neighbourhood Trilogy.” The three records tell a fictional story grounded in Sivan’s reality growing up gay in Perth, Australia. “Wild,” the album’s opening track and lead single, uses a child-led chorus and breathy vocals to tell the story of a secret romance as Sivan dreams of escaping suburbia. The other two tracks, however, deal with a romance gone sour, as “Fool” and “Talk Me Down” take the course of a Shakespearian tragedy, which is made woefully clear by the heartbreaking music videos for each song.
The rest of “Blue Neighbourhood” sees Sivan expand upon the aforementioned themes and sounds to an even greater degree of success. “Cool” tells the all too familiar story of the pressure to change oneself in order to impress a love interest. Despite the song’s cheery vibe and cheeky lyrics, there is a tragic quality to this narrative especially when Sivan croons “When I’ve got that cigarette smoke / And Saint Laurent coat, but nothing is feeling right / I drink but I choke / I love but I don’t.”
The emotional turmoil continues on the next track “Heaven,” Sivan’s collaboration with fellow Australian singer-songwriter Betty Who, which recounts his struggle to accept his sexuality out of fear of rejection. The inclusion of lyrics such as “So I’m counting to fifteen / Counting to fifteen, counting to fifteen” enhances the already deeply personal nature of the song, because fifteen was the age at which Sivan came out, and the repetition reflects how he used to countdown when experiencing anxiety.
The album’s absolute highlights come in form of the one-two punch “Youth” and “Lost Boy.” “Youth” is a bombastic ode to being in love without any regrets or fears and contains a highly addictive chorus built around booming instrumentation and the repetition of the phrase “My youth.” In other words, this is a surefire radio smash in the making and expect to hear it everywhere in 2016. “Lost Boy” is just as uptempo as the previous track, but the song’s subject matter is considerably more serious. Built around a Peter Pan-esque extended metaphor, the synthpop anthem sees Sivan telling another boy they are not meant to last forever as he wistfully sings “I’m just a lost boy / Not ready to be found.”
In a time when pop culture is supposed to be all about diversity, Sivan is a much-needed talent due to a lack of mainstream LGBTQ stars. While it is too early to tell whether or not a gay icon has indeed been born, Sivan has succeeded in pursuing an immaculate sonic direction over the course of an entire album, which is more than what most pop stars can say about their entire career. But for now, it is best to just let the music to speak for itself, and that alone is quite a treat.