The album artwork dictates a double take: Troye Sivan is elated, his head pressed up against a muscular man’s chest, between legs that could crack a walnut. But the image for the Australian artist’s third album Something To Give Each Other isn’t about inner thighs. (I know, we all stared, but it’s not). It’s about Sivan feeling his best, exuding pure confidence, comfort and euphoria.
It seems easy. But any LGBTQ+ person knows it’s far from it as legislators continue to target queer people for simply existing.
When Sivan came to Ohio on Nov. 5, 2016, a 21-year-old YouTuber emerged at Express LIVE (now KEMBA Live!) in Columbus, wearing an oversized T-shirt with choreography that consisted mostly of hopping and bopping on stage. My friends and I watched as an openly gay international up-and-comer brought his “Suburbia Tour” to his Midwest fan base, a group that was growing quickly and confidently, just like the artist himself. Before performing the song “Heaven,” Sivan held up a rainbow flag — moments before draping the flag over his shoulders, singing the words, “If I’m losing a piece of me, maybe I don’t want heaven.”
I remember leaving the venue with a sense of pride, going home to my new apartment in the Short North, one of the most gay-friendly neighborhoods in the state. But growing up, I attended parochial school in suburban Cincinnati and went to a college where cornfields felt more populous than the city. Sivan’s show in Ohio’s capital city came at a time of almost a gay renaissance for me. I was so hopeful and excited about myself, my community and my future as a gay man in Ohio, our country and — I know it sounds over the top, but — our world.
We didn’t know it yet, but we were about to undergo a tectonic shift in the Buckeye State and beyond. Three days later, Ohio would be a major part of soon-to-be President Donald Trump’s election and the collective heart of the LGBTQ+ community would drop in fear and uncertainty.
I was a young broadcast news producer that 2016 election night, trying to make sense of those baffling results: 51% of Ohio voters supported the Trump/Pence ticket, while 43% of Ohio voters supported the Clinton/Kaine ticket. Of course, as journalists, we worked to stay unbiased. But I stayed up almost all night, stomach churning, watching the network analysts try to reconcile the polling that seemingly misled us and what it said about our country, a nation that one-and-a-half years earlier had legalized gay marriage. It was no secret the Republican party would use this victory to take aim at human rights like gay marriage, abortion and immigration. If our state and country could send the political pendulum so far backwards, what did it mean to be an American? “If I’m losing a piece of me,” maybe I don’t want any of this, I thought.
Ok, so you might be wondering why I’m revisiting all of this. What does Sivan, an Australian/South African citizen, have to do with horrendous U.S. presidential politics?
One word: visibility.
Whether Sivan realizes it or not (and I think he does), there is power in his aura. His newfound image — which has surely clutched some pearls — is proof that the LGBTQ+ community is here to stay.
This is a more mature Sivan than I saw in 2016. Seven years later, this gay icon is ‘Bloom’-ing into beautiful queer nuance. Being gay is not just holding a rainbow flag. It’s experiencing one another. Connection. It’s the butt slap and jolt of espresso in “Rush.” The betrayal in “Can’t Go Back, Baby.” The long-distance love in “What’s The Time Where You Are?”
Sivan’s favorite is “One Of Your Girls,” which starts as a self-esteem boost. In the music video, Sivan, Malcolm in the Middle style, breaks the fourth wall and says: “Everybody loves you baby // You should trademark your face.” But he also explores the erotic yet painful moment a straight man takes an interest, almost always fleeting. Sivan certainly has the last laugh, though, after a wink and a drag lap dance with Ross Lynch, just a part of his first try at choreography. The moves and booty shake in “Got Me Started” have spawned countless dances on gay TikTok.
Musically, the album is an intentional and international journey. It’s just 33 minutes long, and Sivan doesn’t waste a second. His collaboration with gay Spanish artist Guitarricadelafuente is gorgeously bilingual. We also hear sonic nods to Janet Jackson throughout, including in “Honey,” with a guitar chord reminiscent of “Someone to Call My Lover.”
It’s comfortable yet risky, serious but not self-important and simply Sivan at his queer best.
As we go through contentious elections like what Ohio will face on Nov. 7 and yet another cluster presidential election a little over a year away, it’s important to remember politicians will squabble, elections will be won and lost. But no matter what, we — the LGBTQ+ community — will remain.
And so will those thighs.
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