MEET THE POPSTAR CARVING OUT A NEW PATH TO THE TOP
MEET THE POPSTAR CARVING OUT A NEW PATH TO THE TOP
Text: Ian David Monroe
Minutes before our interview, Australian YouTube personality and singer Troye Sivan is getting stalked around street corners in Manhattan's Lower East Side by fans looking for a photo. Minutes after our interview, he is getting handed a business card by an eavesdropping yet oblivious man "in the music industry" who wants to "see what he can do." This is the current life of Troye Sivan, whose accumulated social media following, ignoring overlap, is close to 10 million.
"I feel like online fame, or YouTube fame, is a very personal fame," he dives right in. "As in, if you watch someone, then they're famous to you. But it's not like Lady Gaga where you love her or you hate her, but [either way] you know who she is." He has a point. You either know of him or you don't, and if you do, you've likely come across his YouTube channel by way of content recommendations, tailored to your specific searches and interests. That, or you saw him play a young Hugh Jackman in X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
Sivan is set to release his stellar six-track "introduction," WILD, on September 4 via Universal Music Australia. It's technically his sophomore major label release, but the first one, last year's TRXYE ("I usually spell it, but you can pronounce it however you like," he says), was something of a false start. Sivan clarifies, "We wrote good songs, but at the same time they all kind of went in different directions. It's really hard to guide a session in the way you want it to go, so I just sort of let it happen. I was so anxious throughout the whole creation of it." With his clout, though, "good songs" and an admittedly ill-fitting record still translated into a chart topper (#5 on the Billboard 200 list in the U.S., in fact) and WILD is already posed to surpass that.
As of yesterday, the EP, not even available for download or preview, just pre-order, has already hit #1 on iTunes Album charts in over 31 countries, top 5 in 24 more. Those numbers were earned by what he does best: social media. The idea of releasing a single as a means to promote, Sivan says, made him "a bit uncomfortable." Instead, he took advantage of the hype behind the whole album. "Coming from online, from this really engaged audience, and being able to upload whatever I want, whenever I want, it made much more sense to space it out. Not necessarily pick a single song to define a whole campaign that was then decided to be either a success or a failure by radio."
What his followers got in place of a new track were daily teasers, mostly lyrics, a 15-second snippet of a chorus, and interactive album art. "I took the artwork and dismantled it into different layers, saved them as transparent layer files, put them in a folder and password protected it, thinking that maybe they'd crack it in a few days, so they can make their own," he explains. So, how long did it take the fans to crack the code? "A couple of minutes," Sivan laughs. The password, by the way, was a lyric from the eponymous lead track, "Wild," which he tweeted almost a month earlier: "Blue Neighbourhood."
Strong pre-sales and user engagement is impressive, but WILD is more than just its hype. The six tracks are ripe for the radio, saturated with solid pop. Guest spots include rapper Tkay Maidza and Georgia Nott of electro duo Broods. "I'm very proud of the fact that all of the features are young Australian and New Zealand women," Sivan says. Some of the producers are compatriots, too, like duo Slums ("they're from Perth, my hometown"), and Alex Hope ("she's 20 years old, also from Australia").
Beyond all of that, the "body of work" hears Sivan at his most honest and introspective yet. Normally he keeps most of his personal life (family, friends, and romantic relationships) private, but the public is finally invited in here, most notably in "Ease," the track Sivan calls his favorite. "[Recording the album] started feeling like hanging out with friends because I was so much more comfortable," he says, comparing the process to his first try at music-making. "This time around, I found people that I really liked working with, and I felt like creatively we clicked. I could take risks I wouldn't have taken before."
For the most part, though, Sivan is making the executive decisions on this EP, down to design. "When I first signed my record deal I really didn't anticipate that it would include graphic design work and video editing," he says, "but I really enjoy that. I make mockups for the artwork. I make videos and teasers." He's even conceptualized, edited, and starred in a triplet of videos to later accompany his release. There isn't a single aspect we talk about that he's not thoroughly involved in, which shouldn't be all that surprising: he's is part of a renaissance, of sorts. Sivan and other hard working creatives like Shawn Mendes and Austin Mahone have independently built entire brands around themselves, garnered fandoms of millions that rival, if not in size, then dedication, to those of any boy band. Every element has passed through their filter from inception. Despite their celebrity though, most of the media still underestimates their influence, as evidenced by E!'s recent blunder of (maybe) throwing shade at YouTube personality Tyler Oakley after their sarcastic review of the Teen Choice Awards, and the subsequent backlash from #TeamInternet. While the event happened a week after our interview, Sivan can still relate, at least in terms of transitioning into music.
"Some people still don't take me seriously," he says, "but that's one of my biggest motivations. Musically, there are just not that many people who have come from where we've come from, but there will be. It's the future of the music industry. I just don't think there's been enough for people to go 'Oh, this is legit.'"