This YouTube star is about to conquer pop music
It’s just after 1pm on a Thursday afternoon, and fans are already lined up outside the Roxy Theatre on Los Angeles’s famed Sunset Strip. Some have camped out since 2am for the sold-out show, hoping the extra effort will bring them that much closer to the evening’s main attraction, YouTube star Troye Sivan.
There’s a trio of high school girls preparing for their first concert with their moms, fiddling with their cellphones but watching their batteries closely—they’ll need them to take photos and videos once inside.
“You want to enjoy it, but you also want to have a way to enjoy it again and again,” one of them tells me. Her friend says she’s been saving up her allowance for the merch booth. “He’s just amazing,” adds Billie, who’s 16. “His voice is natural and watching his videos, you feel so safe and secure.”
If you don’t know who Troye Sivan is now, you will soon. He’s gotten a shoutout from Taylor Swift on Instagram and been praised by Adele on Twitter. His first two EPs, 2014’s TRXYE and this year’s Wild, both cracked the top five on Billboard’s charts, and with his full-length debut out earlier this month, he’s poised for pop stardom. That’s thanks in no small part to his work on YouTube, where he’s steadily built a staggering fanbase that includes more than 3.7 million subscribers on his official page and another 870,000 on his official Vevo account.
Born Troye Sivan Mellet, the South Africa-born Australian actually started his career as a child actor—you might have seen him in X-Men Origins: Wolverine and the Spud film trilogy—but he’s been posting to YouTube since 2007. He got his start uploading covers of popular songs, slowly opening up to vlogging in 2012 and experimenting with more original material. A lot of his fans have been there from the beginning, or close to it, watching his transition from novice to star, up close and personal. That intimacy is one of Sivan’s strongest selling points as an modern artist.
If you don’t know who Troye Sivan is now, you will soon.
“I’ve been watching Troye since 2012,” says Angel Zayas, an amateur YouTuber and one of the first to arrive at the show. “He had less than 100,000 [subscribers] at that point. … He’s only five months and 19 days older than me. I discovered my sexuality and he discovered his. I feel like he was a big influence in my life.”
In 2010, at age 15, Sivan told his family he was gay, and three years later he posted a coming-out video to YouTube, joining the many YouTubers who’ve taken the step to live openly on the platform. That moment coincided with Sivan’s quest to sign with a major label for his music, and the possible consequences of being an out artist terrified him at the time.
“I hadn’t told my record label that I was going to come out; I hadn’t even told them that I was gay,” explains Sivan, now 20. “I just did it and was fully prepared for a letter saying, ‘Not for any reason, we don’t want to move on with the project.’ I woke up to a huge congratulations email and champagne from my label.”
That kind of acceptance comes on the heels of several standout musicians who are starting their careers completely out instead of waiting to do a belated reveal. The chart successes of Sam Smith, Adam Lambert, Years & Years, and other queer artists, combined with a generation of fans who either don’t care that an artist is gay, or love them even more for it, helped set Sivan up for success.
“It’s a new generation; we’re accepting people that for other generations was kind of taboo,” explains 19-year-old Zayas, who’s third in line thanks to his friendship with a duo of young women who arrived at 2am. “This is the generation that is like, ‘We need to legalize gay marriage.’ They’re very active, even if it’s on a social media platform. The weight of people who want it is higher because they’re sharing things and favoriting tweets.”
Sivan is very much a product of his era. He’s clued-in and knows how to play to his own fandom. He’s hidden tickets for his shows around town, sending his fans on scavenger hunts to find them, and buried clues in his music videos that reveal details about his new album.
“I know what is going to get my audience really excited,” explained Sivan. “I guess it’s just from following them on Twitter for so long. I just want this whole thing to be really fun for the fans. I want them to have a good time, whether it’s a good time on Twitter freaking out when something gets dropped on them, or it’s a good time at a show when they’re dancing with their mates.”
While he’s a product of his on-demand era, Sivan’s also aware of the value of leaving some things unsaid. When he’s asked a question about who he’s dating in a vlog, he’ll cut away abruptly as a joke.
“I know what is going to get my audience really excited.”
“There’s enough mystery around music that it can be about anything,” he said. “You can interpret it in millions of different ways. Ultimately I’m not that stressed if they’re trying to interpret it about my life because it’s kind of cryptic enough.”
Blue Neighbourhood, his new album, is an extension of his Wild EP, and it finds him stretching his boundaries as an artist. He’s paired with up-and-coming producers like Broods and brought in co-writers Allie X and Leland to add depth and maturity to his sound. He’s fond of layering electronic sounds, his voice the anchor, pulling you along. Blue Neighbourhood doesn’t fit the stereotype of the YouTube star breaking into the music industry with predictable pop music—think the anthemic youth of FUN, sometimes infused with a Lana Del Rey lyrical sensibility.
“I haven’t really listened to a lot of bubblegum pop or anything like that, I never really have,” Sivan said. “I really loved jazz music growing up. Maybe it just comes from that, and trying so hard to make really great music. Radio or having a hit, that’s never been the goal when in the studio. If it happens, awesome. In the studio the goal was just to make people feel things.”
Judging from the line outside the Roxy—and later, his reception inside, it’s clear just how much Sivan has succeeded at that goal. Zayas, the amateur YouTuber at the show, spent most of the week at Sivan’s events in the area: his music video release party, two shows, and a meet-and-greet opportunity, an event which resulted in him giving Sivan a piggyback ride.
“I just thanked him for how he affected my life, and everything he’d done to make me the person I am,” Zayas says. “Just watching his dreams come true is mind-blowing.”
Illustration by Tiffany Pai
A former YouTube reporter for the Daily Dot, Rae Votta has more than a decade of experience in the digital and entertainment industries. Her work has appeared on AOL, Huffington Post, Out Magazine, Logo, VH1, Current TV, Billboard, and NYMag. She joined Netflix in 2016.