Now he’s releasing his second album, Bloom, an unabashedly sexual journal of experimentation, coming-of-age and discovering one’s sense of self. There’s the sultry dancefloor hit My, My, My, which oozes raw intimacy in its refrain, “I die every night with you”. There’s the youthful but jaded hedonism of Dance To This, which features American superstar Ariana Grande, whom Sivan counts as a close friend.
And there’s the album’s opening salvo, Seventeen, that tells of Sivan meeting older men on the gay hook-up app Grindr (“I went out looking for love when I was 17, maybe a little too young but it was real to me”). It is a story of overcoming virginal naivety – “taking in the sights and measuring the sounds” – and boy becoming man.
In his songs and videos, the subjects of Sivan’s affection are explicitly male. It’s easy to forget how difficult – perhaps impossible – this would have been not long ago. But Sivan determined he would not pursue a career in entertainment while staying in the closet, coming out at the age of 18 in a YouTube video that has been watched 8 million times.
He is part of a growing group of high-profile singers, such as Sam Smith and Frank Ocean, who insist on being open about their sexuality and making it part of their artistry – in an industry that has not historically encouraged such honesty.
“I just had this unbelievable hunger and necessity to live my life openly,” Sivan says. He feared coming out would “change things” professionally. “But in that moment I had to do myself the favour of getting that out of the way.”
If casting himself as a gay artist has had any consequences, Sivan hasn’t seen them. Rather, it has opened doors and connected him to a legion of fans more intimately than he could have imagined.
“I think I came into the industry at the perfect time when homophobia was really not cool and everybody knew it,” he says.
But that doesn’t make Sivan entirely comfortable with assuming the role of “gay icon”.
“I try and politely step away from that,” he says. “Not because I don’t want to be that, but because … I feel like the community is so diverse, there are so many different people and so many different stories. People have tried to cling on and make [me into] some sort of poster child for the LGBTQI community and I just don’t think that’s a realistic thing.”
Troye Sivan Mellet was born in South Africa but raised in Perth alongside his brothers, Tyde and Steele, and sister Sage. He attended a small Jewish school, but isn’t religious. The Mellets are a go-getting family – Tyde is a DJ and signed recording artist who recently released his first single, Steele is a lawyer and Sage studies communications – but they still manage to sit down to Shabbat dinner on a Friday night when in the same city.
Sivan’s journey from YouTube to Tinseltown might seem the stuff of fantasy, and he concedes he couldn’t have imagined this life back when he was clipping together videos in his Perth bedroom. But the transition has been hard. He says he never considered himself an introvert until he was thrust into a foreign city and forced to meet new people.
“Let’s use this article as like a classified for friends. I need some more friends,” Sivan says, with no hint of a joke. “I have one friend that I write with all the time, [American singer and producer] LeLand. And he is like my best friend. And then my team, my managers and stuff and then my boyfriend [model Jacob Bixenman].”
So is Troye Sivan lonely? Life can be difficult, he says: the music industry does not lend itself to forming functional friendships. “God knows where anyone is at any given time. If you are there, you’re there for like two days, [and] maybe you’re working or whatever. So yeah, it’s a bit weird.”
The road to fame has also brought Sivan into contact with the dark underbelly of Hollywood that was exposed by the #MeToo movement. Until now, he hasn’t spoken publicly of his own experience of sexual exploitation. But as a child making YouTube videos, Sivan says he was targeted by men for online sex. One man identified himself as a manager in the music business.
“I was so naive about everything and about the industry,” Sivan says. “I had no idea how to check if someone was legit or not. [He] promised the world to me and then as we got closer just completely inappropriately, you know, started … everything changed all of a sudden. It was super weird.”
Sivan says the man took advantage of him over Skype, an online video-chatting platform. Eventually he told his parents and ceased contact – until one day when, incredibly, he ran into the man on the streets of Los Angeles. He says people have made inquiries about the man and heard similar stories.
When Good Weekend profiled Sivan in early 2015, ahead of his debut album, the magazine dubbed him “the most famous teenager you’ve never heard of“. Back then, he was considered something of a curiosity: a petite, pretty and pale YouTube sensation with a legion of young female and gay male fans, but unknown to older audiences.
These days, he describes his critically-acclaimed record Blue Neighbourhood as “quite palatable and PG” – testing the waters, almost. Sivan says he has grown into himself since then – but the world has caught up with him, too. “I have got enough confidence now to make an album for myself, for people like me, who are going to hear this and understand,” he says.
Not everyone will listen to the album’s title track, Bloom, and instinctively understand it to be about receiving anal sex for the first time. Sivan is reluctant to do a lyrical analysis of his songs, making for an awkward encounter on The Project last month when its hosts were intent on interrogating him on sexual innuendo. Sivan’s attitude is: “They can figure it out.”
It’s here that Sivan identifies a double-standard. In 2018, same-sex marriage might be legal and queer musicians might be more visible, but in mainstream culture there is still a fascination with gay life and gay sex, as though they are in some way peculiar.
“We’ve just got to keep on going until we get to the point where we really feel like it’s a non-issue and we can sing about all the same things that everybody else sings about,” Sivan says.
“People write crazy-dirty songs. Like, much dirtier than anything I’ve ever written. And I just want to be able to make music like everybody else. I guess that’s what I am trying to do now.”
These are politically-charged statements, but Sivan maintains he is not political. He wasn’t in the country during last year’s same-sex marriage campaign, and he is unfussed about the prospect of matrimony for himself. Nor does he feel qualified to have a view on what’s next for the queer rights movement.
In the Bloom video, Sivan flirts with feminity, his lips caked in a bright shade of red. He accentuates his small, vulnerable figure with an eclectic wardrobe that spans leather jackets and floral dresses. Sivan says he enjoys experimenting with fashion and makeup, but there’s no deeper message about his own identity.
“I feel very much like a boy,” he says. “I am playing with makeup and I’m playing with styling and stuff … to a lot of people that means I’m messing with gender [or] maybe gender roles.”
Sivan has had to put his acting ambitions on the backburner while focusing on his music career. But come November he will appear in Boy Erased, a Hollywood film about gay conversion “therapy” by Australian director Joel Edgerton, starring Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman.
The discredited practice still occurs in the US – usually through churches – at the hands of alleged counsellors who try to turn young men and women straight. For Sivan, who has seen close friends experience or narrowly avoid such trauma, this is personal.
“I know that it is extremely damaging and so many people end up with severe mental health issues,” he says. “I don’t remember the last time I wanted anything that badly as bad as I wanted that role.”
For someone so lucky and privileged, Sivan remains remarkably grounded. He admits to sometimes feeling out of his depth. Live performances still scare him – especially dancing. He shows signs of the imposter syndrome that seems to affect so many young people despite their formidable talents. Yet he’s philosophical about that, too.
“The opportunities that I get given I think would be enough to make anyone doubt themselves,” he says. “But I think it’s a good thing. I think it pushes you to try to be better. You just play the part and assume the role and fake it ’til you make it, I guess.”
Back in the therapist’s chair, Sivan has some more advice about break-ups. A song on the album, The Good Side, is a letter to an ex-boyfriend; an attempt at closure. “I’m sure we’ll meet in the spring and catch up on everything,” he sings.
Did that ever actually happen? “No,” Sivan says. But then: “Maybe it’ll still happen. Maybe I’ll see him around at a party or something.”
This kind of zen optimism typifies Sivan, for which he credits his family and friends.
“They haven’t changed a bit and treat me exactly the same as they always have,” he says. “I know that if all of this was to go away today, I could fly back to Melbourne and have a perfectly normal and healthy life.”
There seems to be little risk of that, however.