This story is taken from V103, on newsstands September 1, available for pre-order here.
It is pretty crazy to consider that “YouTube stars” and the “Instafamous” have all but reformatted our traditional understanding of the term “celebrity,” or, at least, our traditional understanding of the route toward celebrity. And there’s no stopping the onslaught; these social media darlings are transitioning their followings into new fields, like acting, singing, and designing. Whatever the next chapter, these people are ostensibly the weathervanes of millennial enterprise, and they’re getting rich in ways that would’ve been hard to imagine until recently. Some are proving to have real chops beyond their exceptional abilities at selfie-taking and on-camera candor. See (and hear) Troye Sivan, the 21-year-old Western Australian in the midst of launching a pyrotechnic pop music career from the mortar of YouTube. At press time, he had 4.9 million subscribers on the video platform (and counting; he joined in 2007). This fall, he’ll be touring the U.S. to perform songs from his first album, Blue Neighborhood, which came out in December 2015. (Begging the question: will making it big online be a prerequisite for fame in the future? Justin Bieber could, arguably, be the founding father of this sort. Remember, he was discovered on YouTube, too.)
Sivan is lissome and attractive, with big, blue eyes and a face that bluntly carves downward to a narrow chin, nose ring and messy hair artfully accenting the slightly elfin effect. There’s good reason he walked in Hedi Slimane’s Fall 2015 Saint Laurent menswear show last year: the designer—no longer at the label—loves a cute, ultra-skinny musician-as-model on his catwalks, and Sivan fits the part to a T. He was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, but grew up in Perth, the remote metropolis located on the Indian Ocean side of Australia (Sydney, for those wondering, faces the Tasman Sea nearly 2,500 miles to the east.) “The closest big city is a three hour flight away,” he says with a laugh, via telephone from a bus as he’s riding to Nashville, Tennessee, where he’ll be performing at radio stations and putting his feet up for a few days. “There’s nothing, nothing around us.” However, Sivan attributes Perth’s isolation as a major impetus in his motivation to succeed: “I think it is super-conducive to people breaking out and forming their full identities elsewhere, because it really is so removed.” He still technically lives there, though, as he says, “I’ve spent, like, four days in Perth since the beginning of the year.”
Another noteworthy thing about Perth, and something that resonates strongly in Sivan’s character today, was and is its open-mindedness. Sivan is publicly gay; he revealed his sexuality to his parents at age 15, and then to the world at age 18 with, you guessed it, a coming out video on YouTube (there are now many of these reels—a lovely phenomenon, if you ask this writer, who is 28 and had not a single admittedly gay person at his high school). “I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily easy to be different there, but at the same time, I never got bashed up, I never got harassed. I could literally drop everything and go home and have a community waiting for me—the really important things in life are waiting for me there.” Then, adorably, he adds, “Of course, I did have a little schoolyard trouble once in a while, but in general I had the best upbringing in the world.”
Gay experience informs much of what Sivan does, both on his social media channels and in his singing and songwriting, but it never feels too overt or too nail-on-the-head. He’s just a young person, having fun and exploring life, as young people, gay or straight, will forever do. Though, he is definitely brighter than your average early twenty-something. His vlogs run the gamut from discussing health (he has a clip titled “Is It Easier to Get AIDS If You’re Gay?”) to playing beer pong (oh, to be 21) with fellow social media star, Tyler Oakley, who is also gay. Sivan’s lyrics often address young love—with all the angst and excitement you’d expect from the phrase. On TRXYE, the EP that put him on the map in 2014, there’s a track called “Touch” with the verse, “Night is young and we’re living, hands move, moving steady, and the time is moving slower, I can feel we’re getting closer, closer.” And on “Wild,” which appears on the 2015 EP Wild, the artist croons, “You were trying to wear me down, down, kissing up on fences, and up on walls, on the way home.” (Taylor Swift famously tweeted that Wild is “stunning” and “awesome,” in all caps.) He released a remixed version of the song this past June, with the new edition featuring Alessia Cara. (Hailee Steinfeld tweeted that it almost made her cry.) Hetero or homo, anybody can relate to the early butterflies and quickened pulses of fledgling amorous feels. It’s the fundamental universality, the honesty of his material that gives him a wider ranging appeal. And his star is just beginning to ascend.
“The fact that everything is happening the way it is,” says Sivan, “it sends me into giggles. Like, the fact that I woke up last week and was like, Oh, I just need to quickly fly across the country to do a photo shoot with Mario Testino and then fly back to play a show—I don’t know how else to process it but to laugh. Sometimes it feels like I’m in Zoolander. I went to the Billboard Awards, I was backstage, and Rihanna just casually walked by. I was like, What the fuck? Hilarious.”
Such isn’t to say that he’s ungrateful; rather, it is to illustrate that he’s a kid at heart, still a bit green and thankfully not yet of the jaded hue. He’s actually extremely grateful, to the point where he wants to use his numbers and his voice to pay the love forward. On his fall tour, which kicks off in October in San Francisco, Sivan says he wants to “ask the crowd to bring a warm piece of clothing, which we can then donate to an LGBTQ homeless shelter in that city. I want a show where everyone can come and hang out and help each other out and know it’s a safe space.” (Necessary and poignant in a post-Orlando world.) And maybe he’ll enjoy an ice cold Carlton after one of those sets. As the cherry atop one hell of a sundae of a year thus far, Sivan turned 21 on June 5. “Well, 18 is the drinking age in Australia,” he says with a laugh. “I just want to be able to get a beer, you know? It’s nice to finally be able to do that.”