Troye Sivan And The Tyranny Of Taste

Stuart Winecoff

Troye Sivan And The Tyranny Of Taste

Stuart Winecoff

Troye Sivan has good taste. Let’s start at home: In 2021, the Australian singer showcased his modest yet extremely interior-designed Melbourne abode via a meticulous Architectural Digest spread and accompanying YouTube walkthrough that has tallied nearly 9 million views. (To put those views into rough context, that’s about double RuPaul’s home and half the Barbie Dreamhouse.)

Sivan walked the Miu Miu runway at Paris Fashion Week – not his first runway-model stint. His videos drop homages to international arthouse directors Wong kar-Wai and Leos Carax. He has a celebrity fragrance line, as one does, and is quick to note that his scents aren’t the product of conglomerates like Coty or Parlux but an offering with independent Australian perfumer Craig Andrade, synthesizing the rare Tasmanian mountain pepper. (As someone who knows more about fragrance than any person really should, this is maybe 66% marketing bullshit.) Pretty impressive for a guy who launched his pop career as a YouTuber singing Il Divo and David Archuleta covers, hanging out at VidCon, and recording videos about his “EPIC RAINBOW CAKE 3 LAYER FAIL“!

All these extramusical endeavors have given Sivan’s third record, Something To Give Each Other, an event-album mystique, and the stylishness carries through to the music. Sivan told NME that his main influence was Janet Jackson; he didn’t specify which Janet era, but his record doesn’t sound anything like the “Nasty” Janet. It’s more like the smooth operator of The Velvet Rope. With the exception of “Rush,” a thrillingly unsubtle gay-bar roar-along, every track of the album is studiedly tasteful. “Tasteful” might not be an immediately obvious thing to say about a record whose cover is Troye’s head popping out between two beefcake thighs like a phallic nope.avi guy, on which he proudly if nonchalantly earns every one of the album’s Explicit track tags, but it’s true. Pitchfork, in a glowing review, called Something To Give Each Other a “masterclass in curation,” and that’s just it. This is an album that pulses not with desire, but with curatedness: that recurring internal ping you feel when you’re presented with a product that’s just your thing, a ping that’s no less real for being hyper-engineered. Basically, it’s a musical shoppy-shop.

I get a similar feel from a lot of recent pop albums: Jessie Ware comes to mind, plus some recent Beyoncé. Part of it could reflect a general shift in aesthetics to favor the austere-urbane. What separates the imperial-phase megastars from the less-vaunted radio occupants nowadays, it seems, is how much haute they broadcast. (In that is a truism: Good taste usually just means money.) Listening to Something To Give Each Other, though, there’s a bit of a disconnect between style and substance, ambition and actuality. The record’s more of an incremental step than a breakout; there’s a direct line to this from mutedly anthemic critical fave “My My My!” — and a short line at that.

Almost every track is cowritten with songwriter Leland and Max Martin acolyte Oscar Görres, both longtime collaborators: Lelan has worked with Sivan since his debut album Blue Neighbourhood, Görres since Bloom. They’ve worked with lots of others, too, and their resumes are full of both hits and misses: the C-list, the gaudy, the messy. But Something To Give Each Other is neither gaudy nor messy, no matter how much Sivan proclaims the joys of all that. “Silly” phases into a clave-beat breakdown that’s airy and quite nice, but the opposite of silly. “In My Room” shimmies from Spanish to English, from early-’90s R&B to “Electric Feel,” sounding like many things except the one it sings about: being messy-messy-messy.

Signifiers are everywhere. “Can’t Go Back, Baby” samples a heartbroken 2014 song by critical darling Jessica Pratt, the idea being that hers is the morose folk music Sivan is currently, diegetically moping to. The sample is a broadcast – ping – to everyone who recognizes the song (even if, deep down, they’d have to admit that Pratt’s is the more wrenching work). And for everyone who doesn’t know the original, the hook still works as a decontextualized vocal crinkle, like “Whatcha Say” via “Sorry.” “Got Me Started” also rides the popularity of its interpolation – in this case, the much-memed Bag Raiders song “Shooting Stars.” As big obvious samples go, this one’s fairly restrained, just another note in a Y2K melange alongside Craig David and Britney (that “oh baby baby”). “What’s The Time Where You Are” has little peeks of flute that recall Vendredi sur Mer, and joins Shawn Mendes’s “Lost In Japan” in the surprisingly non-empty microgenre of alienated booty-call pop songs set in the country. (I blame Lost In Translation.)

Something To Give Each Other comes draped in the kind of aspirational packaging that tells you “this life could be yours.” All that stylishness isn’t disguising a lack of substance, exactly, but more modest ambitions. And that’s totally fine! If Something To Give Each Other is a straight-down-the-middle 2023 pop record, then the floor for straight-down-the-middle 2023 pop records is pretty high. (Contrast: the sloggier stretches of The Number Ones.)

Sivan is a man of limited vocal pyrotechnics; he projects the vibe of the second-best singer in the boy band. But his voice is at least as good as your Charlie Puths, your Biebers, your various ex-One Directioners, and the album makes the most of it. Breathy falsetto and guttural vocal fry abound, often delightfully. “One Of Your Girls” has bedroom spoken word and a heavily vocoded chorus that give the track a louche Italians Do It Better feel. While Sivan’s lyrics have shed some of the precociousness of Blue Neighbourhood with age, even then Sivan wasn’t aiming for deep songwriting but relatable situations.

That’s what everyone got out of “My My My,” after all: communal joy that listeners can vicariously embrace. Or more than embrace: “I see sex in every city, every town,” Sivan sings on “Honey.” On record, that hypervisible sex takes the form not of globetrotting bacchanalia but hookups that happen discreetly in the back of a party bus or maybe-not-discreetly on a friend’s occupied couch. And those hookups don’t happen with celebrity Casanova conquests but casual crushes, flexibly straight buddies, semi-exes in emotionally complex situations. They’re normie horny. What the record’s actually saying might be a little different: “This life might already be yours. Come listen.”


Caroline Polachek - "Dang"

Deeply strange stuff (in the best way) from the bonus edition of Desire, I Want To Turn Into You: a minimal, hypnotic beat, a string freakout that recalls ABBA at their weirdest, an accompanying slide presentation of glorious Johari-window dada, and some of the gnarliest vocalizations in a minute. Let’s all take a moment to give a hearty “you tried” to the person who transcribed the chorus:

(Da-da-da-da) Dang
(Ah-da-da-da-da) Dang
(Ah-da-da-da-da) Dang

City Girls - "Flashy" (Feat. Kim Petras)

City Girls go Barbiecore with this glossy, immaculately produced pop-rap track about the glamorous life. Kim Petras shows up to deliver a perfectly blank hook.

Jungkook - "3D" (Feat. Jack Harlow)

Top-notch recreation of the Timberlake era of pop&B from the BTS star, powered by an insistent buzz of a hook, about those times when 2D sexting just isn’t doing it anymore. (Please note the careful wording of that sentence to say nothing about Harlow’s contributions. I guess unfortunate bro-y guest verses are also true to the era.)

Luísa Sonza - "Luísa Manequim”

Brazilian singer-songwriter, last heard on this dramatic Demi Lovato collaboration (cellos!), delivers a dervish of a track with serious wind-tunnel energy and more than a little self-mythologizing. More tracks should have some guy show up just to marvel at how great the lead singer is. And synchronized choreo, of course, always.

Kenya Grace - "Strangers"

Whispery-voiced, deeply sad pop with a light frisson of a drum-and-bass loop that inevitably brings to mind PinkPantheress. The ephemeral sound matches the ephemeral would-be lovers Grace sings about, in that both feel like they’re one second away from vanishing.

Davido - "Unavailable" (Feat. Musa Keys)

Nigerian Afrobeats megastar teams up with producer Musa Keys for a moody, pulsing dance track. The tension simmers subtly, an immersive slow build.

Gina De Bosschère - "Stranger Danger"

K-pop artist making huge-voiced, glossy, nothing-subtle-about it arena-rock pop of the kind I have an immense soft spot for. Also, I feel pretty confident that anyone who drops this list of influences is making exactly the kind of music she wants to:

Nirvana – “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
Skunk Anansie – “Weak”
Linkin Park – “Somewhere I Belong”
Prince – “Sometimes It Snows In April”
Shaka Ponk – “Killing Hallelujah” & “Pure 90”

Ice Spice - "Pretty Girl" (Feat. Rema)

Chill and cute – maybe just me, but I’m hearing kind of a lower-key “Super Bass” in this?

Maxine Ashley - "Somebody Else"

This month in random comebacks from Top 40 radio: a Xenomania artist turned Pharrell protégée of the 2010s welds together her two past lives, the sassy girl-group attitude and engineered-to-perfection pop melody of the former, and a funky, squelchy beat reminiscent of the latter. “You’re gonna make me fuck somebody else if you keep on treating me the way you do” is a bitchy hook for the ages.

Pitbull - "Freak 54" (Feat. Nile Rodgers)

“Le Freak” is a good song.


We rely on reader subscriptions to deliver articles like the one you’re reading. Become a member and help support independent media!

more from Chained To The Rhythm: The Month In Pop