Capitol Records · August 31, 2018
Sivan’s enviable comfort in his own skin makes his intimate sophomore album feel like something only he could create.
As an openly gay, undeniably sexual, proudly receptive, and most importantly popular artist, Sivan’s persona is a culmination of the work artists before him have done to allow for flamboyant and extravagant creators to exist in the mainstream. Although he’s one of many popular queer artists at the moment—think Hayley Kiyoko, Janelle Monáe, Sam Smith, Kehlani or Kim Petras—Sivan reads as an artist inextricable from his queerness in a way the others cannot claim. He subverts masculinity by wearing lipstick and flamboyant feathery gowns in the title track’s music video, and he asserts his sexuality strutting among half-naked men in the album’s debut single, “My My My!”. Sivan’s enviable comfort in his own skin makes his intimate sophomore album feel like something only he could create.
Bloom is at its best when Sivan dances in the tension between desire and its reciprocity, whether it’s best for him or not. Album opener “Seventeen” recounts lying about his age and hooking up with older men on Grindr, neither espousing it as his best decision nor ignoring its impact on his personal and sexual development: “Maybe a little too young / but it was real to me.” He makes “dying every night” for a boy sound like rebirth on “My My My!”, its heart-pounding synths evoking the euphoria of catching the eye of a total dream on the dance floor. These simple scenes, complemented by the minimal soundscapes of post-Lorde pop that accompany them, demonstrate the transformative powers of infatuation when a young queer man finally gets to experience it.
Once Sivan settles into these love interests, though, the high starts to wear off. “Dance To This,” a track celebrating staying in with a partner featuring Ariana Grande, is disappointingly undanceable, its skittering beat impossible to track and simple vocals hardly employing Grande’s unmistakable pipes. Although Sivan wrote album closer “Animal” to be a “80s stadium love song,” it’s unclear what part of it is meant to resemble one other than its plainspoken, if nonsensical, lyrics: “I want you all to myself / Don’t leave none for nobody else / I am an animal with you.” After how vividly Sivan painted desire in the album’s more sexual tracks, it’s disappointing how bland he’s made commitment sound.
Unfortunately, it’s in this staid sound and mood that most of the album sits. It’s undeniable that Troye’s existence in mainstream pop matters, but to consistently embody some of the most sexual queer aesthetics in mainstream pop is a big responsibility that Sivan either has yet to commit to or has no interest in. Although he’s named his album Bloom, Sivan as an artist seems more like proof of a bud: something that could flourish in time, or die come winter.