Analysing Troye Sivan’s Music Videos As If They Were Short Films (Part 1)

Looking at Troye Sivan in 2021 and it could be easy to forget that he started out on YouTube. And not just uploading covers like Justin Bieber and Shawn Mendes ー Troye was a full-blown YouTuber: vlogs, challenges, ships, Streamys, the lot. Many Internet personalities have tried to make it big in the music industry (and many stay trying), but no one has ever done it quite like Troye.

I would recommend this video essay if you want to investigate the phenomenon further.

Perhaps thanks to days on YouTube, Troye’s music videos have been high concept and high budget since day one. As his artistry evolves, we see increasing use of common motifs and techniques, such as use of flashback as narrative form and singing over the shoulders of anonymous male torsos (this one comes up a lot). We also see a further lean towards the adoption of explicitly queer aethetics peek its way into these early music videos. This deliberate step becomes that much more obvious in part 2.*

In part 1, we’re tracking his music videography from 2014-18 as he turns from YouTuber who does music to pop star who used to be a YouTuber. As you’ll see, it’s quite the transformation.

*Follow Every Gay Movie on social media to keep up to date for when Part 2 drops next week!

Early Troye (2014-17)

Happy Little Pill

His first single after being signed by EMI Australia (part of the international Universal Music Group), Happy Little Pill is Troye Sivan’s first attempt at making a proper music video.

Early 2010s fashion on all fronts ー from quilted jumpers and quiffed hair ー, Troye stands in lights and smoke of pastel pinks and blues. The soft and bright colour scheme contrasts against dark lyrical content: the song narrates struggles around depression and antidepressants (or ‘Happy Little Pills’). With Troye as the omniscient narrator, scenes play by: a dysfunctional young couple, Troye staring out a hotel window looking sad and wistful and a barn owl, of all things ー perhaps referring to the darkness hidden in the song’s message.

A simple but clean concept with few scenes gives us a hint at the musical and artistic promise yet to be shown.

Blue Neighbourhood Trilogy

In Blue Neighbourhood Trilogy, Troye attempts a more ambitious narrative form: three music videos telling parallel stories of love and trauma. As with Happy Little Pill, it still feels adolescent (Troye was 20 when he made this); however, the concept and execution is markedly bolder.

The trilogy has a streamlined aesthetic. Muted romantic colour palettes of a semi-rural Australian town provide the setting for themes of memory, love, tragedy and self-acceptance.

Part 1, Wild, is told mostly in flashback, exploring the history of friendship (and hinted queer awakening) through fast-paced editing of home video-style footage. We see two young boys playing together on beaches, themes of water hinting at the inevitable flow of growing up and discovering yourself. Troye narrates over the shoulder of an anonymous male lover, clinging on desperately as if grasping at a memory. Though still faceless, this lover is soon revealed to be Matt, the same boy with him in the flashback: the bedroom where they sit and play appears in both past and present.

Matt embraces Troye but later rejects him due to pressure from his homophobic father.

The start of Part 2, Fools, reveals Matt’s face as they kiss. The first chorus pits two scenes in this same bedroom together: we flash between the couple making love, and then Matt being beaten up by his alcoholic father. The latter of these is a direct reaction to feelings expressed in the former, as we learn in the only bit of spoken dialogue, at the end of this song: “if he comes back here one more time, I’ll kill both of ya!” Matching the central lyric “only fools fall for you”, we soon learn that this song is the break-up. As Troye struggles to come to terms with this fast rupture during a desaturated sunset, shots of the two boys playing as kids and kissing as young adults interrupt the narrative like memories coming into focus.

Part 3, Talk Me Down, takes place at Matt’s father’s funeral. Playing with the complicated emotions around grief, the video is sombre as each boy mourns their own painful history. Flashbacks continue to punctuate a quick editing style as Troye shows up to the funeral and attempts a reconciliation. They reunite in a hug at the song’s melodic climax as yearning lyrics float past: “I wanna sleep next to you, and that’s all I wanna do right now.” Wave sounds re-enter as the trilogy brings in credits as the ending of film would do, giving the video a circular feel which matches both the oscillating motion of tidal water and the narrative’s open ending.

Troye is shown in more muted colours at Matt’s father’s funeral in Talk Me Down

Aesthetics match mood here: happier memories are brighter in colour, whereas moments of conflict and regret hold a darker, greyer hue. The trilogy is as sombre, reflective and sensitive as its title may suggest. The video as a whole sets up a slightly-cliched but still authentic approach to queerness on screen which Troye will soon challenge and disrupt.

Heaven

With his next single, Troye continues to explore the theme of memory, this time connecting to a wider queer history. The video is in a sombre black and white, mixing footage of Troye singing with footage of protests for gay liberation, tragic and melancholic lyrics ー “Without losing a piece of me, how do I get to heaven?” ー contrasting the defiantly hopeful footage. Melodramatic rain falls on Troye as the song’s drama grows. As in Wild, he sings while clinging onto a disembodied male (this time nude) torso, looking past his lover to the camera. Eventually, the confidence and self-acceptance of those who came before him, of the makers of queer history featured in the montage, seem to reach him. A final lyric and a turn away from camera towards his lover’s face finally break the desperation: “Maybe I don’t want heaven.”

Bloom Era (2018-19)

My My My!

Troye’s back in black and white for the first video from his then-upcoming second album Bloom. Light flashes evoke images of paparazzi as Troye confronts his own fame and the marker for his transition from “YouTuber who does music” into “mainstream musician who used to be a YouTuber”. The vibe is instantly sexier and more carefree, with wind machines, heavy bass and erratic dancing aplenty. Troye has said that Christina Aguilera’s video for Dirrty inspired him on My My My!, and here we have another explicit reclamation of sexuality. Black and white turns to colour as desire turns to lust: “I got my tongue between your teeth / Go slow, no, no, go fast / You like it just as much as me”.

In My My My!, passion is realised: from red lighting, to half-wet hair and half-nude male models (multiple this time, not just one per video). In one shot, a band of light sits across Troye’s eyes, almost begging us to see the desire therein.

Contrasting against the intensely passionate lyrics and performance is the sparse industrial setting. It is nighttime and the space is otherwise empty: we could be at a cruising spot, turning the public space private, even if only for three and a half minutes.

Sweaty bodies, flashes of male models in jeans and vests, sexier lyrics: in My My My!, Troye has chosen to adopt more explicitly queer aesthetics.

The production value is through the roof, and the message is clear: Troye is now a Main Pop Girl, and there’s no going back.

Bloom

We’ve established that Troye is now going for the mainstream. We’ve established that Troye is embracing unabashed queer aesthetics. In Bloom, he brings the two together again, and through these births a new motif: Camp. Susan Sontag, hold onto your wig.

Violin introductions with images of flowers introduce us to the main lyrical metaphor of Bloom: a blossoming flower as queer sexual exploration (specifically bottoming, according to one deleted tweet. Now that’s camp).

https://youtu.be/NOts0Qc-cDw?t=8
Troye on Rupaul’s Drag Race Down Under talking about writing songs about being “dicked hard in the asshole like a pig-bottomed, bareback bottom, raw-dog bottom bitch” (yes really)

Adding to the flowers a pair of Troye’s glossy red lips singing the first lines and his mission becomes clear: we are here to celebrate the feminine and blend gender expression. Zooming out to androgenous styling and make-up reinforces this. Throughout the video, Troye’s looks are presented as if in a photo shoot; we have 80s colour blocking, floral motifs, wind machines, luxuriously draped fabric: Troye is here, and he wants you to look.

By the first chorus, Troye himself has become the flower both visually (see above) and lyrically: “I bloom just for you”.

From the end of the first chorus, hyper masculine imagery appears ー a flexing bicep, an oiled, muscled back ー to act as a counterpoint to Troye’s fluid femininity. Once again, we see no face: continuing the trend set in Heaven and My My My!, the only love interest appears as a nude male torso, a disembodied object of desire. In the background of said figure we see a Roman pillar. Indeed, the figure is well-built, with carved muscles, appearing like a Greek statue and referencing the idealisation of the male form.

Read my review of Call Me By Your Name for a more in-depth analysis of classical references in gay male cinema.

This is soon toyed with, showing a Roman bust in dramatic 80s make-up, and blending the classical with the modern to an almost grotesque extent.

Taking the classical reference further, perhaps we are reminded here of the prevalence of gay male relationships in Greco-Roman times, specifically between the older and hyper-masculinised erastes (here the model) and the younger and more feminised eromenos (here Troye).  Indeed, Troye often has his bare chest and arms visible, showing off his ivory skin and elfin features of blond youthfulness.

Moving into the second verse and we explore further the idea of the gaze. The next look is shown through a window, either behind or against blinds. Soon he is also hiding behind flowers, continuing the floral motif. We are reminded of secrets, of hidden desire, forbidden fruit, playfulness. Mirrors also appear: Troye is challenging us to look.

With the bridge and final chorus, we see even more outfits. Troye references Madonna’s suit and slicked hair in the Vogue music video: a man dressed as a woman dressed as a man, Troye plays with gender to the level of Shakespearean farce.

Later, a black and red floral suit blends masculine and feminine styles, pairing an exaggerated shoulder with a flowing skirt. 

The final shot of the video shows Troye in the same floral suit, this time wearing a face covering which references the original camp club kid Leigh Bowery. Just in case the rest of the video hasn’t made it clear, Troye is making a statement: he is ready to embrace Camp. And he does it so beautifully.

Come back for part 2 (out now), when Troye takes his stardom to new places: holding his own bleeding heart on the beach, setting himself on fire, and kicking it in motel rooms with Ariana Grande and Kacey Musgraves.

Baby, he’s just getting started.

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