Album Review: Troye Sivan – Blue Neighbourhood

Drop everything now! Let’s talk about Troye Sivan for a minute.

I’ve mentioned Troye Sivan quite a few times lately, even including his singles “WILD” and “YOUTH” in my Best Pop Songs of 2015 and Hitlist 01/02/2016, but I feel his music is so powerful that it deserves closer scrutiny. If you have no idea who Troye Sivan is you must be one of these awful people who enjoys the outdoors instead of sitting in your parents’ basement trolling Lily Allen for fun like normal folk.

Quick Troye Sivan crash course: he was born in South Africa but moved to Australia when he was 2 years old, later starting his YouTube channel at the ripe old age of 12! The jammy git got his big acting break when he was 14 in the 2009 film X-Men Origins: Wolverine in which he played a younger (less-hairy) Hugh Jackman. I haven’t seen the film but I imagine the comparison is something like this:

Troye quicky capitalised on the exposure afforded by the film role by starring in 2010 South African comedy film Spud and it’s sequel Spud 2 in 2013, all the while nurturing his YouTube channel whose audience continued to grow steadily. He uploaded quite a few covers of popular songs on YouTube, including this unlikely cover of Outkast’s “Hey Ya!”. He made the transition into music quite naturally, releasing two major label EPs to date and featuring on Zedd’s 2015 single “Papercut”. Troye’s first EP TRXYE was released in August 2014 and produced the Australian top ten single “Happy Little Pill“. His most recent EP Wild came out in September 2015 and served as a precursor to his first full length LP Blue Neighbourhood with all six tracks included on the deluxe edition of the album.

Wild EP is the perfect introduction to Troye’s present sound and something you should really pick up if you don’t have time to listen to a full album’s worth of material. He introduced the EP with a trilogy of music videos, the so-called Blue Neighbourhood Trilogy which tells the tale of two childhood friends who fall in love but are forced apart by society. I won’t ruin the ending but it’s a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. Powerful stuff.

Another important tidbit about Troye is that he is openly gay and very bravely came out in the creatively entitled 2013 vlog “Coming Out”. I wouldn’t mention it but his sexuality does feature quite prominently in his music. Blue Neighbourhood listens like compendium for LGBT Youth, touching on subjects such as gay clubs and religion vs. sexuality. LGBT-focused think pieces are too often very laborious, preachy and heavy handed which ends up alienating non-gay members of their audience. Blue Neighbourhood is extremely successful in straddling the line between serious introspection and accessibility in a way which people of all sexual-orientations can relate to. Indeed, some songs on the album have universal messages which apply to all young people. It’s no coincidence that “WILD” and “YOUTH” have been selected as the two official singles so far. Aside from being two of the best pop moments on the record, the former is about forbidden love and burning desire, which could just as easily apply to Romeo and Juliet, and the latter is a quiet storm of drum machines celebrating the highs and lows of being young and foolish. (FYI Troye put in an awesome performance of “YOUTH” on The Ellen Show a few days ago which you can see here).

A scene from “Wild” music video

If you were wondering where on earth the album title Blue Neighbourhood came from, I have it from the horse’s mouth that it signifies a “state of depression” with the lyric being directly taken from “WILD”. Here’s what Troye himself has to say about the inspiration behind the album in an interview with the Guardian:

“It’s all autobiographical. It takes place in both the suburbs of Perth where I’ve grown up, which I consider to be my blue neighbourhood, but then also in this fast-paced, crazy, whirlwind life that I’m now living in hotel rooms and planes. And it takes place inside the mind of a 20-year-old kid.”

Troye’s voice does naturally lend itself to the melancholic but the extraordinarily polished and creative production saves Blue Neighbourhood from being bleak Radiohead-esque listen. Troye Sivan doesn’t have the best vocal range but, in a similar way to Selena Gomez, he capitalises on his strengths which lie in tone and charisma. Having said that, he does sound exactly like he does on the record when he’s performing live, which is extremely refreshing in the post-autotune world. But, for the most part, modernist production covers up his vocal shortcomings with child choirs and high-pitched voices doing most of the vocal heavywork on the choruses. This is by no means a criticism. In fact, more power to Troye for recognising his own strengths and weaknesses.

Looking at his Spotify playlist Troye has definitely internalised his influences to craft his desired sound. His lazy, drawling delivery has brings to mind a less-dissident Lorde, whilst the drum machines and “heys” are similar to those found on Taylor Swift’s 1989. In fact, what Troye has successfully done is to merge several genres to effectively distilling and producing the sound of “right now” in pop. In this way, Blue Neighbourhood is as much a triumph for producer and collaborator Alex Hope (she pops up on “BLUE”) as for Troye, which is something I’m sure the man himself would readily accept.

However, the real key to Blue Neighbourhood‘s success is the way that Troye Sivan fully commits to and nails his chosen emotions and concepts. His lyrics are extraordinarily self-confessional in a way that is still uncommon among today’s popstars and he’s daring enough to use male pronouns unlike many of his “out and proud” contemporaries. There is a lot of smart writing on Blue Neighbourhood with like “HEAVEN” and “”TALK ME DOWN” packing the biggest emotional punches. On the former Troye enlists fellow Aussie singer Betty Who to create an earnest and heartfelt synth ballad about a young gay person dealing with religion’s condemnation of their sexuality. “Without losing a piece of me / How do I get to heaven? / Without changing a part of me / How do I get to Heaven?” This track has serious potential to become an LGBT anthem.

Troye also heavily draws on his relatable personality and pop star charisma developed over years of YouTubing to pull together Blue Neighbourhood. The 2010s have ushered in a new brand of celebrity. Twitter has made it possible to follow and even directly communicate with our popstars which has rendered the old fashioned aloof diva outmoded. Elusive chanteuse Mariah Carey is on the out and Vloggers like Troye in demand right now. They create a personal connection with their viewers and this translates to other mediums like music. They’re essentially everybody’s best friend.

Blue Neighbourhood was released 4th December and charted strongly in the US and Australia, peaking at No.7 and at No.6 in those territories respectively. It didn’t chart as well throughout Europe but I have hope that we could see a resurgence soon. “YOUTH” is certainly getting a lot of radio support in the UK. Blue Neighbourhood is certainly deserving of a lot more commercial attention and, judging by the amount of love Troye gets (20 ways Troye Sivan changed the world in his 20 years alive), his star is only on the rise.

If you like this, you’ll love: Lorde, Sky Ferreira, Lana Del Rey, Tove Lo

Thank you for reading and please feel free to comment, like and share. Hope you enjoyed it!