On his 2015 debut, Blue Neighbourhood, Troye Sivan pitched himself as a dreamy outsider torn from the pages of a YA novel, taking in the world with a wide-eyed gaze that saw far beyond small-town limits. But rather than settling for Lorde imitation or soundtracking John Green adaptations for the rest of his life, Sivan gradually shed his youthful preciousness and adopted a more adult perspective. 2018’s Bloom graduated out of the suburbs and into other peoples’ bedrooms, with anthemic pop songs about bottoming and hooking up with older men for the first time. The music was still booming and melodramatic, but its writing was distinctly more funny and lived-in, dispatches from an artist who’d matched observation to experience by actually fucking around and finding out.
Enter “Rush,” the electrifying, sex-addled lead single to his third album Something to Give Each Other. The song hit like a jolt of poppers and cut through any prior notion of who the singer might be. It immediately reintroduced Sivan as a libertine pop hero, combining hazy, impressionistic lyrics with a breakneck house beat and roaring, homoerotic football chants. Encouraged by his best friend and collaborator, Leland, to “go make a fucking hot video… [and come] out with your dick swinging,” Sivan decamped to Berlin with the filmmaker Gordon von Steiner for a week’s worth of shooting and partying. The final music video is a tableau of lockstep choreography, polymorphous perversity, and nightlife mischief in all of its dank glory. The placid, angel-faced expression that fronted the cover of his debut record had been wiped off and replaced with a lusty pout, with any trace of preciousness long since sweated off on the dancefloor.
Something to Give Each Other was conceived after a break-up during a period of extended singleness. Bloom’s starry-eyed expressions of love are replaced with a much more open conception of romance and sexuality, where intimate connection forms spontaneously. Long-distance yearning bleeds into last-call horniness on “What’s the Time Where You Are?” when Sivan rounds out the chorus by crooning “I’m right on top of this groove/but God, I wish it was you.” On “One of Your Girls” he serenades a straight guy into hooking up, riding a boy-band hook straight out of *NSYNC with a lascivious hot girl wink. And no amount of repeat listens will ever diminish the off-the-charts boldness of the heartfelt plea in “How to Stay with You” to: “Turn my bussy out.”
Something to Give Each Other is a showcase for some dazzling eclecticism. Ideas that couldn’t possibly work on paper are executed skillfully and to often gorgeous effect. Want to hear Jessica Pratt’s heartbreaking warble over a dance beat? Behold the achingly downcast “Can’t Go Back, Baby.” ¿Quieres Troye en español? See the sultry “In My Room.” “Got Me Started” bookends its propulsive two-step beat with a sample snatched from Bag Raiders’ “Shooting Stars,” aka from that years-old meme. Although initially grating, its wiggling synths build upon the song’s romantic pining in a way that feels funnily reminiscent of Overmono’s sample-heavy take on UK garage.
In recent interviews, Sivan has given off the impression of having settled gracefully into his celebrity, the kind of artist who’ll plainly state that since all their dreams of stardom came true early they now have little left to prove. It’s the kind of unburdened attitude that scans as glamorous rather than unambitious, an opportunity to leverage his secure footing at the heart of the mainstream to take on outré projects, flex his good taste, and otherwise let his freak flag fly. The whole project of Something to Give Each Other feels like a masterclass in curation, a melange of niche humor, arthouse references, and inspired experiments bound up in the freedom to be any kind of pop star he wants to be. From the samples to its reference-laden music videos—“Got Me Started” crams Wong Kar-wai allusions, Denis Lavant’s cathartic sprint from Mauvais Sang, and getting yeet’d into the space of three minutes! “One of Your Girls” is ’90s Calvin Klein by way of “Video Phone” and Xtina at her most nasty. Something to Give Each Other turns a buffet of references into easily digestible ear candy.
The record’s vibe is so cohesive that when the album dips, it’s noticeable. “Still Got It” tracks the smoldering longing after a hook-up with an ex but feels like an aesthetic hold-over from Bloom, with its mournful organ-drenched instrumental and extended outro sapping the pent-up energy and momentum from the brilliant four-song run that precedes it. By contrast “Can’t Go Back, Baby” covers similar emotional ground but wields its muted, minimal thump and brilliantly bizarre sample to telegraph permanently broken trust and the loss of a shared dream to much greater effect. Sivan matches its haunted ambiance with hushed vocals that pine and twist over a relationship, not belting but fully inhabiting every sensitive spot of the song’s bruised feeling.
Much of Something to Give Each Other scans as less of a reinvention than a gradual honing of Sivan’s craft. He’s slightly scaled down the soaring, anthemic volume for a sound that he can more fully command. Whether he’s falling in or out of love, going out, or reflecting on the night before, Sivan sounds more credible than ever, pairing a newfound swagger with a heady rush of emotion. He’s his own drug, and it’s such a hit.
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