To watch him on a screen, trapped inside that little square of a video player, feels quite natural. With the red logo up above and comments down below. The natural confines of a YouTuber. Doing Q&As with the funky end screen music. Making an adorable fool of himself in challenges. Speaking wise words about aspirations in artsy vlogs. TROYE SIVAN, the YouTuber. The boy online with the Australian accent.
Meeting him in real life, or IRL as they say, breaks the boundaries between the digital and physical world. It reminds you that he is an actual person, his tiny frame and his young age more apparent than ever, wearing creme pinstriped pants, a tucked-in black t-shirt and cheeky curls framing his face. Though he seems to represent inherent youth, the professional video content with well-scripted words can easily fool you into forgetting that he only recently turned 21.
As does the sheer amount of his accomplishments, shared in his videos. One of those recent accomplishments being successfully branching out to the music industry, defining his voice as a singer and artist – becoming TROYE SIVAN, the musician. His ultimate goal of becoming a musician was already at the back of his mind when he started making videos at the age of 12. Creating all his video content himself, he quickly discovered how to market his own personality and his music temporarily took a backseat, making room for vlogs and collaborations. Attending his first VidCon in 2013 put him on the map of the international YouTube scene, gaining an even larger following. Social media engagement is at the centre of his own popularity and integral to the interaction with his fans. Coming out in a video at the age of 18 gave him an important role as an idol in the LGBTQ+ community, online and offline. Like SAM SMITH he has become a LGBTQ+ advocate in the pop music industry, for example making LGBTQ+ characters in music videos mainstream. His break-through album Blue Neighbourhood was released last year, with his singles such as Youth or Wild climbing the charts. It’s most astonishing and admirable how he started building his own fame from such a young age, jumping at opportunities and working hard. He deserves every single bit of success he has now. In between his touring the world, being a guest on famous American talk shows such as Jimmy Fallon or Ellen, he took the time to chat with NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION editor Nora before his second-to-last concert of his Europe tour in Berlin.
Playing the Billboard music awards, selling out shows all over the world and being on talk shows such as Ellen or Jimmy Fallon – you are doing really well for yourself. Recently you also got a shoutout from ADELE. How does that feel?
I’m such a huge fan of her, so to even just think that she has said my name, is very weird. Like the same mouth that sang Someone Like You said my name. That’s a cool thing.
Are you very much inspired by your musical contemporaries? Or do you prefer to go back and listen to the classics?
Mostly contemporary music, because it’s easier to find. The thing with classics is that I feel like there’s so much to discover. I found Joni Mitchell a couple of months ago. Obviously I had heard the name Joni Mitchell so many times, but I didn’t know her music. Then I listened to it and was like: Fuck, this is incredible! Then I think about all the names I’ve ever heard of people being like ‘Oh my god, this person is amazing or a legend!’ that I just haven’t gone back and to listened to. And I get so overwhelmed. I need to pick an album or artist a week, go back and discover them. It’s easier with new music, because it’s just there.
With social media and the habit of taking selfies, people are increasingly interested in the people behind the music, rather than the music itself. People such as Justin Bieber have spoken out on how they feel disregarded by fans who don’t treat them like actual people anymore. Do you think he’s right? Have you had any similar experiences?
How many people are as famous as Justin Bieber? Maybe 50? Only those 50 people know what that’s like. I don’t think anyone is in any place to judge him, a 20-however-year old kid going through that. I don’t judge him at all for it. At the same time I think that it’s good to be graceful and thankful and grateful to who makes it possible for you to live your dreams. If you want to keep doing this, I would suggest to really, really consider ways to make your audience feel appreciated. It’s tough, there’s no right or wrong answer.
Social Media is the core
I feel like you always find ways of showing your followers appreciation. However, it must be difficult to find a balance in between having privacy and satisfying your fans? Especially with the new habit of taking selfies. Many fans insist they are entitled to a selfie, because they bought the album. On the other hand it’s also a valid argument that an album is what they bought and that’s what they got. An album – nothing more, nothing less.
It’s a totally interesting debate. I see both sides completely. I think it’s completely valid what he says, people buy and album and they get an album. No one’s entitled to anything, I think that should be important to say upfront. My friend Tyler Oakley, he weighed in on it in a very interesting way. Think about how harmful the mindset is behind ‘You are nothing without your fans.’
Justin Bieber would still be Justin Bieber with or without his fans. He wouldn’t necessarily be the famous popstar, but he would still be the person and the talented musician.
Maybe he’d be making music in his bedroom, maybe he wouldn’t be super rich and flying in private jets, but he would still be that person. I think it would be interested to ask Justin Bieber: If you could, would you swap it out to just be Justin Bieber in your bedroom? I don’t know what he would say at this point. I’m not sure.
What would you do? Would it be an option for you, to go back and just be Troye in your bedroom again?
Not for me, I’m so happy with the level everything is at right now. I get to walk the street and be fine, I get to also play my shows. It’s an ideal mix right now. If things get crazier, then who knows how it’ll all feel.
When you started off, it was just you and your camera. Your fans weren’t in a room with you. How does that interaction feel different, from making videos in your bedroom to playing shows over here?
I feel it a lot more in everyday life here. Whereas back home in Perth when I was just online, it was just happening on my phone. At the core of everything is my social media. I’ve been on social media for so long. I’ve had periods where I hardly tweet at all, and then I’ve got periods where I tweet every single day, a million times a day. And it just naturally happens for me as I need it. Between social media and the shows and being spoken to in the street, it all feels fairly similar. It just feels like catching up with mates in a way.
Social media really is at the core of what you do. Apart from engaging on social media, did you ever stick by any other rules, which amount to success?
I’m trying my hardest to not really follow trends, because the second you do that you run the risk of that trend going out and once that trend’s out, you’re out. So you gotta just try and divorce yourself from everything and be like: What is it that I really want to do? And for me that was music. So I started really going for the music thing, even though the YouTube thing was blowing up and going so well. It was risky and I was scared my audience wouldn’t understand it. But I just went for it. And now I’m so happy that I did, because my audience is still around and they’re still excited, which means a lot to me.
You’ve created what so many desire – a loyal fan base. They’ve accepted the change from you promoting yourself as a person to promoting your music now. Do you prefer one or the other?
I have done everything to promote myself that I can, and will continue to do so. But I think it’s more comfortable to promote the music rather than just yourself as a person. It feels nice to actually have something to sell and to give people and to create, rather than just being like: ‘Hey, it’s me.’
Troye Sivan: ‘YouTube is an extension of who I am’
It seems like you still enjoy doing both, even though the focus is on your music at the moment, understandably. How do see the relation between your music and YouTube content?
I think YouTube is an extension of who I am and my music is an extension of who I am. So they’re linked in that way. YouTube is where I put out a lot of my personality and talk about things that are important to me, but then I do the exact same thing in the music. Except the music is often more personal, it’s about love and stuff like that. Music in general is a lot more emotional and has a direct tie to my emotions. But in the end of the day, they are both a part of me.
Another part of you seems to be your interest in fashion, which I would love to talk about. How much influence do you have on the way you dress yourself on stage or in public?
I dress myself, fashion is such an exciting thing. Just from what it means to me as a person, I don’t necessarily know a lot of designers or watch the shows. It’s the way that fashion or dressing a certain way makes me feel. I think it’s super powerful and important. When I put on something that I feel is risky, but I think is cool and I just do it! It’s the most liberating and exciting feeling.
It really is an expression of who you are as a person, isn’t it? What do you think is the most important aspect of dressing up?
I love the mind-set behind, why can’t I wear this? Who says, that I can’t wear this? Just own who you are and if you want to wear something, do it. And if you can pull something off, then do it. It’s just fun to me, to get dressed up every morning. Some morning I feel like dressing up in a vintage tee, black jeans and converse, and other days I feel like wearing hot pink pants with round Harry Potter glasses that have no prescription in them, just because I can.
It’s the idea of not caring what others think. At the end of the day, you should wear what makes you happy. Feeling happy will ultimately make you a better person as well. Wearing whatever you want plays an important part in that.
But it’s brave to do that! What I love is the process behind getting to that point. It’s brave to wear something, that doesn’t matter what anyone thinks as long as you feel cool in it. It’s one thing to say it, but to do it is actually really difficult sometimes. You feel very self-conscious at first. But then, you get over that self-consciousness and feel fucking awesome. That whole mental process for me is such an important one that I like going through on a daily basis. Like I said, it’s the first time I’m wearing these pants. A bit nervous about them, but I like them.
No need to worry, the pinstriped pants clearly look gorgeous on him. His style is confident and so is his attitude, when he takes the stage at a sold out Huxleys Neue Welt later that night, the venue full of screaming teenage girls and twinks on first dates. After the gig later that night less than 140 characters pop up on his Twitter account:
life tip: wear whatever the fuck u want, its so fun!!!
— troye sivan (@troyesivan) May 15, 2016
TROYE SIVAN is re-defining what is cool in the digital age. The skinny gay kid isn’t the odd one out any longer. Openly out they are the stars of the 21st century, adored by boys and girls alike. His message is clear, right there to take away from his music, online videos, social media and even his sense of style. To encourage teens and young people to do what he’s been doing for years – to be yourself unapologetically.