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“You should know I’m green, but I’ll find my way around,” Troye Sivan sings on the opening track of Bloom. Sivan is narrating a first hookup — the vulnerability it takes to put yourself out there, to open yourself up to experience, to be a person out in the world as it looks right now. A “Seventeen” goes on and climbs up-tempo, Sivan loses his nerves and grows more confident. The drums pound louder. The synths shimmer brighter. Toward the end of the song, he’s joined by an intermittent feminine shout of “hey!.” It’s an expression of joy and catharsis, and it sounds a little like the spirit of Carly Rae Jepsen is popping in to say hi. Give yourself up to happiness. Chase it. I dare you.
Bloom is such a great album that I can’t help but resent it a little. Sivan is infuriatingly articulate, cutting right down to the quick of complicated emotions. Sivan feels things more deeply than the rest of us repressed humanoids, and his skill in accessing his vulnerability and pumping it for bops is downright superhuman. Bloom is only Sivan’s second studio album, but it’s such a massive step up in songwriting and production from 2015’s Blue Neighbourhood that you have to wonder if he is some beautiful alien sent here to give us bangers and teach us how to be better.
That’s not to say that Blue Neighbourhood wasn’t impressive in its own right, or that Bloom as an album is Sivan’s first noteworthy accomplishment. “Youth,” off Sivan’s first album, was great, but it felt like a prelude. The Australian singer was gearing up to shake the earth. The first single off Bloom, “My, My, My!,” was the foretold earth-shaking. The song is incredible, from the bite of its sexy lyrics (“I’ve got my tongue between your teeth”) to the catharsis of the chorus. We didn’t call it one of the best pop songs of the year so far for nothing. And though Bloom doesn’t have that much new material — since “My, My, My!,” Sivan released four other tracks as promotional singles — the five new tracks, and the way they’re assembled on the record, are fantastic. From “Seventeen” to the dramatic fireworks of “Animal,” Sivan opens his heart and lets us watch.
This depth of honesty and vulnerability is expected from someone who gained fame as a vlogger on YouTube. The fans who have been with Sivan from the early days got to know him as he poured out his guts and shared his experiences on screen, sitting in front of a webcam, and looking right in their eyes. I watched Sivan’s coming out video in 2013, huddled in the desk hutch under my lofted dorm bed, one of a series of videos I had on a YouTube playlist for when I wanted to watch other kids being brave. In that coming out video, Sivan is visibly terrified. His big blue eyes look into the camera like a deer in headlights. By 2013, Sivan’s Youtube channel already had tens of thousands of subscribers, enough that he had fans and, potentially, something to lose by coming out. But the video was met with an outpouring of support, Sivan signed a record deal as an openly gay teen. The rest is history.
Troye Sivan is certainly not the first gay pop star — Sivan’s success comes after decades of other musicians who worked hard for visibility, and he is joined on the radio and Spotify playlists by Sam Smith, Hayley Kiyoko, and Kevin Abstract (among many, many others). But nonetheless, Bloom feels like history, or at least a culmination of it. Has there been another pop song about the singer’s first time bottoming? Has it been bookended by two ballads, one about a bittersweet breakup and the other about the uncertainty of whether another person matches the fire of your affection? Is there any song in the world that bops as much as “Lucky Strike”? Bloom takes inspiration from intense feelings, and inspires them in turn.
The album’s best moments come when Sivan leans into the melodrama. “The Good Side,” which starts as a standard acoustic-driven track, blossoms into Sufjan Stevens-esque strings and pounding drums as Sivan sings about the demise of a relationship. You think the song might be over, but Sivan (literally) gasps, and there’s another 40 seconds of synths and piano. Similar to Lorde’s “The Louvre,” the high drama of the synths capture how shattering it is to feel your heart break for the first time. It makes for a striking contrast with the lyrics. “You taught me the ropes, and you taught me to love,” Sivan sings, mature and grateful that he’s been able to learn so much. Troye speaksa as candidly as he did on Youtube, insightful beyond his years and inspiring his fans to keep their hearts open.
“Postcard,” featuring singer-songwriter (and fellow Aussie) Gordi, is haunting and beautiful. An unopened card at the post office becomes a metaphor for a love that has grown uneven. When you’re away from someone for long enough, the distance anthropomorphizes. It bares its teeth and claws and causes fights to keep you further apart. Sivan pines for his love halfway across the world and tries to sleep knowing how far away the person he loves is. Gordi’s voice, low and gorgeous, echoes Sivan and joins him in a chorus of longing.
In addition to Gordi, Bloom features writing credits and guest vocals from some of pop’s most impressive voices. Ariana Grande sings on “Dance To This,” a low-key bop about the joys of a chill night in. You don’t need a party and the bite of a drink to have fun. The person you love is just as beautiful under the kitchen lights. Noonie Bao, who worked on Camila Cabello’s “Never Be the Same” and Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Run Away with Me,” among other contemporary pop classics, is a credited writer on “Dance To This.” Allie X, another all-star songwriter and pop icon in her own right, co-wrote many of the songs. The songs all maintain a cohesive sound, though — Bloom sounds like a sequel to Blue Neighbourhood, sisters with synths and mellow baritone, but Bloom a little more confident and sure of itself.
Being green isn’t a bad thing. The shaggier parts of Bloom — the mellow and repetitive “A Heavenly Way to Die” and the ambitious “Animal,” which shoots for the moon and almost lands perfectly — are still full of potential. Sivan is at his most vulnerable on “Animal,” singing about wanting this man so much that the hunger overrides his humanity. It’s dramatic as hell, but he nails it. Giving yourself up to feeling, being vulnerable and honest and looking your listener right in the eye as you tell them who you are — we should all aspire to be that green.
Bloom is out now via Capitol Records. Get it here.