“These songs are about love, and I love boys,” Troye Sivan, 20, says matter-of-factly to a crowd of shrieking fans at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. The final chapter of his music video trilogy has just premiered, and with an overarching boy-next-door motif, it chronicles Sivan’s character falling in love with a guy with whom he grew up. All of the classic love-story tropes are there: the passionate make-out sessions, the montage of nostalgic memories. But what viewers (more than 16 million on Vevo) also experience is the shaming, hate and cloud of self-doubt that plague Sivan’s male partner. “I am tired of this place, I hope people change,” Sivan poignantly croons during the first line of “Fools,” the second song of the trilogy.
In a love-wins era of openly gay artists, Sivan’s honesty in the videos and on his first full-length album, Blue Neighbourhood (out Dec. 4 on Capitol), has helped establish him as the voice of a new, more tolerant generation. Sivan grew up online, coming out publicly in a 2013 YouTube video that has been viewed nearly 6 million times. “I don’t want to discount what anyone in the LGBTQ movement has been through,” he says. “But for me, owning up to who I am has made [my sexuality] a nonissue.”
Born in South Africa, the son of a real estate agent and former model, Troye Sivan Mellet moved with his family to Perth, Australia, at age 2. He grew up listening to pop and effortlessly channeling Michael Jackson and Madonna before finding his niche — classical and power ballads by Andrea Bocelli and Celine Dion. “When I was younger, the goal was to make people cry when I sang,” he says with a laugh. “But it wasn’t getting me any cool points with the kids in school.”
As a tween, Sivan’s waifish beauty and self-described “boy soprano” voice won him TV singing appearances and the lead role in a stage production of the musical Oliver! That, combined with his early YouTube singing videos, helped him land the role of the young superhero in 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
But early adolescence was a challenge: After Sivan’s bar mitzvah his voice broke, and he stopped singing for a couple of years. “I liked to lie in bed listening to sad music by Sade, Eva Cassidy, Amy Winehouse and Billie Holiday,” he says of a time when he felt hyper-aware that his sexuality made him different.
At 15, when he had memorized every word to Nicki Minaj‘s Pink Friday, Sivan also found an anthem of sorts in Miley Cyrus‘ “My Heart Beats for Love,” which, he recalls, “she wrote for her gay best friend.” Around that time he came out to family and friends, who were accepting, and dove back into a variety of music — from Adele to Lady Gaga to Kanye West — then signed with EMI Australia on his 18th birthday.
With a fan army of 3.7 million Twitter followers and the third-most-subscribed YouTube channel in Australia — besting countrymen 5 Seconds of Summer and Iggy Azalea — it’s clear young fans both gay and straight “identify with Troye’s coming-of-age process and his fearless vulnerability and idealism,” says Arjun Pulijal, senior director of marketing at Capitol Music Group.
His YouTube channel showcases a variety of videos, from a charmingly educational “How to Have Sex. Safely!” segment to Sivan candidly answering fan questions. Collaborator Jack Antonoff (Fun, Bleachers) is quick to note, however, that “with or without his presence online, Troye is a one-in-a-million artist” — a sentiment echoed through glowing Instagram and Twitter shout-outs from stars like Sam Smith, Adele and Taylor Swift.
Sivan’s first major-label EP, TRXYE, released in 2014, and this September’s Wild, both debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard 200. Their songs plant Sivan firmly in the moody, yet melodic dark-pop genre alongside contemporaries like Lorde, Frank Ocean, Broods and musician Alex Hope, who co-wrote and produced several tracks on Blue Neighbourhood.
Among his many admirers is Saint Laurent creative director Hedi Slimane, who photographed Sivan — a fan of oversize sweaters, denim shirts, rolled jeans and colored socks — and put the 5-foot-8-inch whippet-thin singer in his Paris runway show. “I used to watch Australia’s Next Top Model in secret,” says Sivan, glancing down at the stark white polish he painted onto his fingernails. “I was scared that fashion was a gay thing. But once you come out, every day you have to push the boundaries a little bit. You have to live unapologetically.”
Listen to Troye Sivan and other artists featured in this week’s issue of Billboard.