Los Angeles based singer songwriter Troye Sivan shows why he is one of Australia’s biggest pop exports in recent years, as an intimate but intense Adelaide audience does its best to match the stadium-filling scale of his music.
Sivan takes to the stage in front of a plush red curtain, a shoulder-heavy off-white suit and microphone stand giving him the look of an early 90s stand up comedian as he begins to deliver Seventeen, the opener from his 2018 album Bloom. A song of youthful attraction and discovery, Sivan lifts his arm outwards as he delivers the line “maybe a little too young, but it was real to me” to a crowd that is, overwhelmingly, of an age where that sentiment is still pretty close to home.
The curtain falls to reveal Sivan’s four-piece band spread across a raised platform, with a central pedestal that Sivan mounts to deliver Bloom’s title track, a pulsating ode to romantic surrender and intimacy. Having neatly managed the perilous transition from child actor to YouTube vlogger to pop star, Sivan is a consummate performer, confidently strutting across the stage hips cocked, with one hand on the microphone and the other reaching out to the crowd or artfully tousling his hair back into shape.
From Bloom to Wild, a key cut from his 2015 debut Blue Neighbourhood, Sivan’s songwriting often explores themes of vulnerability and empowerment, along with that youthful tension between a need to escape the stifling and familiar, and apprehension of the unknown. All of which comes set to club-ready beats and decorated with on-trend electronic flourishes, with choruses often built around a catchy vocal sample or a big drop.
Early in the set Sivan revisits Heaven, an affecting Blue Neighbourhood single about his own coming out, and attempting to reconcile his feelings and desires, his very self, in the face of a moral and religious orthodoxy that condemns those very feelings (“Without changing a part of me, how do I get to heaven?” he sings). A deeply personal song when he wrote it, Sivan says the track has taken on new significance as his fans now sing along to each and every impassioned word. Tonight is no different, and in a country where young gay and trans people continue to be used as abstract playthings in culture wars prosecuted by people with too much power and not enough empathy, it’s perhaps not a surprise to see young people finding solace in this kind of pop song. On a school night, no less.
Things take a quiet turn as a lounge room scene is set up on the stage, where Sivan delivers a handful of songs while reclined on a leather sofa. “Are you ready to feel sad?” he asks, to a rush of enthusiastic yesses from the audience. The emotional centrepiece of Bloom, The Good Side starts off in Elliott Smith territory with a sadly strummed guitar and closely sung vocal line, before taking a left turn towards Imogen Heap-like swells of digitally layered vocals.
Purple strobes pulsate later in the set as Sivan jumps into his Charli XCX feature 1999, a tribute to a year that has rarely been the subject of nostalgia before – even nostalgia as irony-soaked as this. Soon afterwards, Sivan performs his Ariana Grande collaboration Dance To This, with bandmember Kaela Sinclair stepping in for Grande on a lovely little dance floor filler built around the kind of kitsch drum machine beat you might find as a preset on an old Casio keyboard.
Both tracks, and the fingerprints of ubiquitous Taylor Swift and Lorde producer Jack Antonoff on a track like Heaven, serve as a reminder that in the US Sivan is writing and working firmly in the orbit of some of modern pop’s biggest names. And while this Adelaide Festival Centre theatre crowd feels relatively small when set against the stadium aspirations of his music, suggesting that perhaps audiences back home have yet to embrace Sivan in quite the same way, the intensity and sincerity of their fandom suggests he is on the right track.
Closing with a two-song encore of early hit Youth and euphoric Bloom single My My My, Sivan leaves his crowd with two appropriate sentiments: “my youth is yours” and “I die every night with you”. Whether or not this Adelaide crowd is truly, as he claims, his favourite of the tour is a mystery best left answered, but there’s no doubting the intensity of the connection between Sivan and his fans, or the truth of those words.
Troye Sivan performed at Adelaide Festival Centre on Wednesday 18 September