Feeling Somewhat Sivan — Troye Sivan and Queer Intimacy

by Bryce Duzan (August 13, 2016)

There’s still too long to the weekend
Too long till I drown in your hands
Too long since I’ve been a fool

In the summer of 2007, I was driving home from a rehearsal at my junior college, lamenting a long-distance relationship that had gone south, when the song “Hey There Delilah” by Plain White T’s came on the radio. It was my first time hearing it, and it took all my willpower not to break down sobbing while driving down the freeway. It was a song that was just right. A song that spoke to the pain of relationships, long-distance relationships at that, but also of hope, of things coming out alright, a hope I no longer had. It was at that point that I really understood that things were over and that I had to move on, and it was this little song, this small handful of minutes that connected with me and helped me come to terms with this fact.

Listening to Troye Sivan, I feel that feeling of the song being just right again, but it isn’t a feeling that fades. Song after song, I hear a young queer man singing about living a queer life and it resonates with me in a way that music rarely has. He sings about relationships, but in a way that’s easier to understand than with other singers. He sings about intimacy, but in a way that sounds familiar to me. The words, the sound, the feelings it evokes are things I deeply recognize and understand as a queer man.

Sivan’s distinct compositional sound is the first thing that drew me in. His songs are marked with synths and percussion, giving an air of artificiality that lends them an unearthly quality. It’s easy to get lost in that sound. All of it is punctuated by his voice, a tone that belies his boyish appearance. It’s a voice marked with a tinge of melancholy, even when he sings about love and comfort. His songs, especially the dynamically softer ones, are haunting.

Sivan sings about affection and intimacy in a way that I haven’t heard before. In ‘WILD,’ Sivan sings about drowning in his lover’s hands. In ‘DKLA’ he sings, “Wrapped my thoughts around your mind/Wrapped your body around mine/Play it back then press rewind/To when you traced your fingers drew my spine.” Tender kisses, talk of hands and lips, of warmth and being set free; there’s a tenderness and vulnerability there that is rarely explored in music, especially modern music created by men that tend to favor how their partner looks over any emotional connection there might be. That vulnerability is something I often feel as a gay man. Even in an age where intimacy often comes from an app, that moment of meeting, of words exchanged, a first kiss, I will always feel nervous and strange. Sex is, in a way, the ultimate vulnerability, even (sometimes especially) when it’s casual.

Sivan also sings about the damage that relationships can cause. ‘TALK ME DOWN’ is a twisting dance where Sivan as narrator is conflicted between the love he feels for the other person in the song, and the damage that his immaturity causes. Immaturity — being “too young” or “too inexperienced” — is a constant theme in Sivan’s music and much of where the blame on why his relationships fail falls on. ‘LOST BOY’ is a song all about this, about a fear of commitment, about being too young and too afraid to give yourself to someone else, and it’s the last song since ‘Hey There Delilah’ to make me burst into tears because of how strongly its message had affected me.

Late winter in 2012. I’m crying on the street, my now-ex boyfriend trying to comfort me. “I’m just not ready,” he says. “I’m just not ready” is the mantra I hold close to me from then on. I’m busy with school, I say. I’m busy with work. I have too many things going on. My life is too unstable. It’s easier finding a hookup than a relationship. Those excuses repeat over and over in my head until I’ve made it my own truth. ‘LOST BOY’ makes me cry because I realize, at the moment when the lyrics become crystal clear, just what I’m doing.

I say I wanna settle down
Build your hopes up like a tower
I’m giving you the run around
I’m just a lost boy
Not ready to be found…

Maybe it’s a curious thing that I feel this resonance with Sivan’s music and not Sam Smith’s, another queer musician who came onto the scene just a couple of years hence. Digging into Smith’s music and how it differs from Sivan’s makes it easy to realize the disparity between the two. Smith’s music is built to be universal, to be heavily generalized, allowing to identify with it. But therein lies the problem. As a song continues to be generalized to the point that no gendered pronouns are ever uttered, it’s hard to feel any connection to it at all. I begin to wonder who this song is for and even who this song is from.

What does Smith’s music say about himself? Well, ‘Stay With Me’ says that he wants intimacy more than sex and ‘I Know I’m Not the Only One’ says that cheating in a relationship is a damaging thing, and while those are concrete ideas, they’re certainly not original. Furthermore, there is nothing I find in these songs that is inherently queer. Which isn’t to say that I dislike Sam Smith or that he’s a bad singer, but there’s a connection with Troye Sivan’s music I feel that just isn’t there for Smith’s. So why Sivan? Why not Elton John or Queen or the Village People or Tegan and Sara or Janis Joplin or any of the many, many other queer musicians past and present? Maybe it’s his youth that I’m drawn to. He’s closer to my age than I am to any of these other artists. He represents a different era, a different generation that values different things than the generation before. I don’t have that knowledge of what being queer in that age was about. I know the facts, but I don’t have the experience of being there.

Maybe, however, it was just coincidence that Sivan stuck when the others didn’t. Maybe there could have been another queer artist I’d have connected with instead. Maybe it’s the point in my life i’ve reached now, feeling lost and kind of desperate. Maybe it’s a confluence of all these things that brought me to Sivan’s music and connects me to it. Whatever the reasons or circumstances, I’m glad that I’ve found Troye Sivan and finally have music to put my life to.

We’re speeding through red lights into paradise
’Cause we’ve got no time for getting old
Mortal bodies, timeless souls
Cross your fingers, here we go…

Bryce can also be found on Twitter and at his website.

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An archive of contributions made to the short-lived writing collective/blog/website The Ink Well, originally published in 2016.

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The Ink Well

An archive of contributions made to the short-lived writing collective/blog/website The Ink Well, originally published in 2016.