Troye Sivan: “Am I ever gonna quit music to be a full-time actor? No.”
Troye Sivan may be about to star in the most debauched new show on television, but in real life he likes to keep his nose clean. ‘I don’t do drugs, and I’m not a huge drinker either,’ the singer-turned-actor-turned-singer-again tells me over coffee and banana bread on an overcast morning in West Hollywood. The silver platters of cocaine racked up on-screen in HBO’s hotly anticipated The Idol just aren’t his style. In fact, until fairly recently Sivan thought he was too strait-laced even to go raving. ‘I realised kind of late at 25 — I’m 27 now — that I love going out,’ he says. ‘I assumed I wasn’t much of a partier because I don’t do drugs, but I am! I love partying. The right groove will make me go feral. I lose my mind.’
We’re sitting on the terrace at Great White, an Australian cafeÌ where Sivan, who grew up in Perth and has a house in Melbourne, comes for a taste of home. He’s dressed down in a faded black Acne hoodie and beige cargo pants, but something about his tousled blonde hair and electric blue eyes can’t help but mark him out as an off-duty pop star. Right now he’s in the midst of a whirlwind schedule: after his ES Magazine photo shoot, he’s off to New York to shoot the cover for his as-yet-untitled third album, then he’s straight on to Berlin to make a music video and then to Cannes for the premiere of The Idol. ‘I have a very fun life,’ he says, idly using his fork to smear whipped butter over his banana bread. ‘It’s everything I could ever want.’
Good things have a habit of coming Sivan’s way. He landed that coveted role in The Idol, for example, without even having to audition. Co-creators Abel ‘The Weeknd’ Tesfaye and Euphoria showrunner Sam Levinson spotted him in Joel Edgerton’s 2018 gay conversion drama Boy Erased. ‘I’d heard they were making a show and had asked about my availbility,’ recalls Sivan. ‘I was as intrigued as everyone else. Then it was bizarre. I was having lunch next door and my agent texted me: “They want you to come in and film. You’ve got the part!” I was like: “What part?”’
As it turns out, Tesfaye and Levinson had tapped Sivan to play Xander, best friend to Lily-Rose Depp’s aspiring pop idol Jocelyn. Sivan had never met Depp before, but two weeks later they began a year’s worth of filming that seems to have bonded them together for life. ‘She’s one of my best friends,’ says Sivan. ‘I feel like we sort of went through high school together because we were seeing each other every day. We just became inseparable, basically.’
While Sivan has been sworn to secrecy over details surrounding the series, which sees Jocelyn form a relationship with a cult leader named Tedros, played by Tesfaye, he will say that spending so much time on set made him question whether he’s cut out for the actor’s life. ‘Lily is obsessed with acting,’ he says. ‘It’s all she thinks about. It’s all she talks about. She lives and breathes it, sort of the way that I feel about music. That made me think: “Oh shit, should I be working harder at this?” Maybe there’s a little bit of guilt because I don’t feel I can give acting everything. I’m not gonna say no if something comes around that I’m excited about, but am I ever gonna quit music to be a full-time actor? No.’
Sivan has been oscillating between music and acting his whole life. Born in Johannesburg in 1995, he relocated to Perth with his family while he was still young. ‘If I was raised in South Africa I would have been a nepo baby,’ he says. ‘My mum was a model there and then became a casting director, but when we moved to Australia there was nothing. She didn’t go back into the entertainment industry.’ Still, she clearly had no qualms about encouraging her son to pursue showbiz. At the age of 11, Sivan performed on television for the first time as part of a local telethon. The following year he self-released an EP of covers called Dare to Dream, with his mum playing distributor. ‘My sweet mum!’ smiles Sivan. ‘I remember we went to the CD printing shop and they explained there was a minimum order of 2,000, so we had this big box. I posted about it on YouTube. While I was going to school my mum was doing trips to the post office, shipping out CDs.’
Then, disaster struck: Sivan’s voice broke. ‘My whole identity was being this boy soprano, so I was really insecure about it, he remembers. ‘I actually “retired” from singing when I was 13.’ Like many a washed up musician before him, Sivan turned to acting. He played the younger version of Hugh Jackman’s title character in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, then at 14 landed the lead role in Spud, a South African schoolboy comedy co-starring John Cleese.
For millions, YouTube was where Sivan first became truly famous. He’d started uploading music there in 2007 but five years later, while being home-schooled because of the acting work, he decided to join the vlogging revolution. ‘It looked fun,’ he remembers, ‘and I thought if I did it maybe more people would hear my music.’ They did: he had 27,000 followers when he posted his first vlog. These days he has about 7.9 million. ‘That was an awesome chapter,’ he says. ‘We were maybe the second generation of YouTubers. There was a first generation where people used to get upset if you even upgraded your camera because they were like: “This doesn’t feel as personal anymore!” Then there was the second wave, which I was a part of. It was wild. We were sort of the first internet celebrities.’
I love partying. The right groove will make me go feral. I lose my mind
Sivan’s channel became so popular that when he flew to Anaheim for the YouTuber gathering VidCon in 2014, he was mobbed by so many fans his meet-and-greet lasted four hours. He took the opportunity to announce, now ‘unretired’ from music, that he’d be releasing TRXYE, his first EP on a major label. ‘That was a really magical time,’ he says. ‘There were a lot of young people, and none of us had any idea what was going on. We just rode the wave.’ He remains grateful to YouTube for opening up his world. ‘I didn’t know any queer people, so there was a sense of community online for me at that time,’ he says. ‘I spent almost all of my early teen years in my bedroom on my laptop — and I was weird! It wasn’t this ubiquitous experience yet that everyone’s on their phones or their laptops all day.’ These days, he worries about his screen- time. ‘One of my biggest fears is that I’m going to be 80 and turn around like: “Damn, I spent the majority of my life looking at my phone,”’ he says.
After working with the likes of Taylor Swift producer Jack Antonoff on debut album Blue Neighbourhood in 2015, it was 2018 follow-up Bloom, featuring a duet with Ariana Grande, that saw Sivan graduate from internet celebrity to bonafide mainstream star. He attended the Met Gala that year shaking with nerves, but by the second time he went, dressed in a floor-grazing black slip dress, platform boots and a diamond Cartier necklace in 2021, he looked around the room at Rihanna, Lil Nas X and TimotheÌe Chalamet and felt he was exactly where he was meant to be. ‘You’re not allowed to bring any representatives or friends,’ he explains. ‘You go by yourself. I walked in and weirdly it felt not that different from a high school house party. I felt, for the first time, comfortable within this community of people that I’d grown up watching and listening to. For that brief moment I had a lack of imposter syndrome, and maybe that means something.’
The inspiration for his new album came to him around the same time, back at home in Melbourne, as he and his friends embraced nights out between Covid lockdowns. ‘There were lots and lots of moments in nightclubs and out with people that we had this unbelievable appreciation for,’ he remembers. ‘We knew that at any moment it was going to be taken away again.’ He set out to capture that feeling on a record he recently finished here in LA at the studio owned by Max Martin, the legendary Swedish superproducer best known for his work with Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys. ‘For me, as a gay pop boy, I was in heaven,’ says Sivan. He’s been working with Martin’s proteÌgeÌ Oscar GoÌrres, both in LA and London. ‘We went to this studio in London that had a massive live room full of instruments,’ he says. ‘At first we were like: “Oh my God, all we need is a desk, a laptop and a couple of synths.” After 10 days of just the two of us in that studio, suddenly there’s timpani [kettle drums] and real organs on the record! It really made the album.’
Sivan says he is proud to be releasing music in an era when openly gay male pop stars are enjoying more mainstream success than ever before. ‘It feels, honestly, like we’ve arrived,’ he says. ‘Maybe not politically or socially, but in pop music it feels as though we’ve arrived at the end goal, which is that I honestly don’t even know who’s queer and who’s not any more — which is exactly how it should be.’ Does that mean he’s unconcerned by the idea of straight artists ‘queerbaiting’ — obscuring their sexuality in an attempt to broaden their appeal? ‘I more just mean I forget: “Oh, are they bi? I had no idea”,’ he replies. ‘We’ve had Sam Smith and Kim Petras go to No1, and Lil Nas X. These are big, big barriers that have been absolutely obliterated even just in the past year. I love that.’
For a brief moment at the Met Gala I had a lack of imposter syndrome
He hopes these huge strides forward for gay representation can have an impact on a wider American culture recently marked by attacks on LGBTQ+ rights and attempts to ban drag shows. ‘Pop music has an incredible potential and power to reach so many people,’ he says. ‘I think it’s super important that art represents how we’re feeling and that you see people that look like you. I take that quite seriously. That’s why I’m so inspired by someone like Lil Nas X and how unapologetic he is. I hope he realises how unbelievably infuential he’s been.’
Sivan, though, takes an outsider’s view on US politics. He’s quick to point out that he has no desire to stay here long enough to become a citizen. He already has his plans to settle down back in Melbourne all worked out. ‘I’m gonna go raise a family there,’ he says. ‘This is a very temporary thing for me. Hopefully one day my kids will come here with me, depending on what I’m doing, but I don’t want to send them to school here. I’m too scared of the guns.’
If his time in Hollywood making shows like The Idol is to be fleeting, though, it’s mostly because Sivan is happiest when playing the pop idol for real. He used to worry if music was the right choice. ‘It’s so clear in hindsight to me that it was all just insecurity,’ he says. ‘Now I know for a fact that even if there’s only 10 people listening to it, I’m going to be making music and singing for the rest of my life.’ With that, Troye Sivan is off to keep living the high life. No additional stimulation required.
‘The Idol’ is on Sky Atlantic and Now from 5 Jun