To quote Ayo Edebri, Olivia Craighead, and their infamous podcast, ICONOGRAPHY: there is a question about endurance. The question itself is posed at Australian pop sensation Troye Sivan, and whether he can endure. Sivan released his latest EP, IN A DREAM, nearly two years to the day after BLOOM, his sophomore album that quickly became commercially and critically his most successful album to date. At its core, it felt nuclear—and not in a good way; while some found BLOOM’s neurons to be nuanced and tightly layered, it now feels easier to say they were too small to see. Scientific metaphors aside, with exciting recent singles like “Rager Teenager!,” I’m left wondering if Sivan even can bounce back from BLOOM’s slump.
In 2018, Troye Sivan was at the height of his celebrity. After posing the slightly self-aggrandized question “Is the world ready for a gay pop star?,” Sivan seemed to be making his dreams a reality. A feature alongside Ariana Grande, strutting a catwalk with Taylor Swift, and countless eye shadow-clad photoshoots proved that Sivan was one of the pop girls! Therefore the seminal work, the one that earned Sivan so much praise, surely must parallel the optics, but a passing, snide judgment is not necessarily fair or conducive, so let’s instead look holistically at BLOOM.
Sivan’s first album, BLUE NEIGHBORHOOD, released in 2015, was a free appetizer for the table. It was decadent, honest, and genuinely touching. The man writes a gorgeous album about the complexities and nuance of growing up with more celebrity than the average bear, and the turmoil of fame, all with an undercurrent of queerness; in a word, it was brilliant. “Lost Boy” in particular lingers as a transparent and haunting ballad about boundaries. BLUE NEIGHBORHOOD left a powerful impact that would have the vast populace of pop enthusiasts ravenous for new content.
But cue the advent of “My, My, My” and “Bloom,” two singles off Sivan’s follow up. “My, My, My” gives abrasive intimacy coupled with an indignant attitude, while “Bloom” is a song about bottoming with Sivan’s asshole being likened to a lush, private garden. Audiences were well aware that the “I Fuck!” album was imminent. I’m a man who fucks men, and you’re gonna hear about every detail. I’m not a 16-year-old on YouTube anymore. These were the sentiments on the tip of Sivan’s tongue. He was owning his sexual agency and his fanbase was foaming at the mouth.
BLOOM was released in September 2018. The album itself immediately felt completely evasive of what was being implied—or maybe it was just underwhelming. The singles stood out as the most solid tracks, but furthermore were the only ones with any substance. The metaphors illustrated seemed to use its titular track as a safety net, never going beneath the already surface-level analogy. This was supposed to be the album where we got to experience Sivan as a full-blown adult who was promiscuous, messy, and undeniably himself. What we received was a tepid album too scared to pack a punch.
No track reflected the aforementioned hesitation like “Postcard,” which contains the line “And I’m about to burst at my seams picturing you inside me.” The line on a first listen is cheeky, sultry, and deliciously nonchalant. So you can of course imagine the disappointment after learning that the line was actually “And I’m about to burst at my seams picturing you beside me.” Beside me? Out of the frying pan and into the Disney Channel Original Movie apparently. How could this be the man who wrote “Bite?” Of course, it feels important to say that the urge is not for Sivan to perpetuate the harmful stereotype that queer art should only be based in pervasive sexuality, but rather that a queer man can hone his sexuality and sensuality with little concern for a queerphobic, cissexist society, whose imparied judgment on queernes is moot anyway.
Rather than harp on past grievances, it feels more warranted to consider Sivan’s art as it stands now, specifically in relation to his new EP, IN A DREAM. As a whole, and specifically the last two tracks, “Rager Teenager!” and “IN A DREAM,” the EP is a road to redemption. On “Rager Teenager,” Sivan has somehow bottled the placation of youth, the fun of humanity, and the lessons of hardship into a refreshing and hardy dance track. He urges us to simmer in our current state, maybe not quarantine, but where we are currently in our lives. “In A Dream” is the companion piece to “Lost Boy,” in which Sivan has no problem putting up the boundary his subconscious disobeys. The EP as a whole, in its composition, tone and lyricism, is an invigorating amalgamation of BLOOM and BLUE NEIGHBORHOOD. Although it may not sound genuine, BLOOM had positives, and Sivan successfully combined all the teachings from his body of work and made the music we all knew he could make here on IN A DREAM (not to mention notably avoiding subversion, and instead being lighthearted about his sexual prowess—see “STUD”).
The question of endurance, however, is not an easy one, especially with only a five-track EP to go off of. BLOOM in retrospect now feels more like a hiccup, and with BLUE NEIGHBORHOOD long in the past, IN A DREAM is a heartfelt reminder of the valiance of art and its creator. The tracks are rhythmic, vulnerable, and altogether indicative of Sivan’s personality. That said, neither Troye Sivan or I know if the future will breed more mistakes, more success, or a complete palate cleanse. Perhaps, then, it’s better to borrow another page from ICONOGRAPHY and say we’ll check back in in five years.