Culture / People

Troye Sivan on the challenges of music and acting, and the safety of love

There are certain things about Troye Sivan that make you feel as though you’re speaking with someone you met in a mutual friends living room at 3am, instead of someone who is an international pop-star and a budding actor. “Oh, it’s you!” Sivan says 15 seconds into our call for this interview. He is referring to a brief interaction we had at a slightly more glamorous party some months prior, where we spoke at surprising length about my bleached eyebrows. Perhaps it is his still fully intact Australian twang that can make even foreigners feel at home, or that he speaks to people with the intention of listening to their answers (a quality that can be hard to come by these days). On a professional level, he is personable and open. On a parasocial one, he doesn’t seem to be afraid of the internet in the same way that anyone who is famous would likely be, which makes his aloof captions and TikTok videos all the more endearing.

We speak on a Wednesday morning. Sivan is in LA after spending two months in Australia with his family. A summer at home is enough to renew anyone’s sense of peace, even if he has returned to the torrential rain California is experiencing at the time of writing. “This year I’m really excited about everything coming out that we’ve been working so hard on, which is a nice switch of pace.” His life over the past year has been cyclical and inward, focussing on making music, and on his role in forthcoming HBO series The Idol. The year ahead? Seeing all of the hard work come to fruition.


CALVIN KLEIN top, jeans and briefs.


One of those things, is his new Feel Pride campaign with Calvin Klein in honour of Sydney World Pride 2023. Shot alongside Nathan McGuire and Manahou Mackay by Joe Brennan in Sydney, the campaign debuts the This is Love collection, which Sivan wears in the photographs for this piece, lensed by Tim Ashton. “I was a little bit scared because it was my first time shooting just in undies, you know what I mean?” Sivan says of the experience. “There was no hiding. But everyone was so nice, and Joe Brennan who shot the stills is a good mate of mine, so I felt completely safe and comfortable. It really felt like a celebration of queer bodies and queer joy.”

The collection spans underwear, jeans, performance, swimwear, footwear and accessories, and has been updated with the addition of a capsule of apparel featuring designs by First Nations artist Jake Simon. The collection consists of a carefully considered colour palette and graphic treatment featuring shapes, dots and linework representing the First Nations people of Australia and the hundreds of different Tribes, skin and language groups that make up the land.


Left: CALVIN KLEIN top, jeans and briefs. Right: CALVIN KLEIN top and hat.


Left: CALVIN KLEIN top, pants, briefs and hat. Right: CALVIN KLEIN top, jeans and briefs.


“It’s such a nice opportunity to get to really celebrate queerness which is something that, because we’ve had such a long hard road as a community, and because we still have so much to go it’s, rare that we get to kind of just like sit in our progress and our joy and actually enjoy it for a second.”

It is the kind of campaign that promises a new generation of queer idols in the eyes of our youth. For a lot of queer folks across the globe, the concept of an idol is an integral part of having proof of your own identity. It spans beyond the conversation of who we want to “be” when we grow up. It affirms who we already are. They create space in the world for entire communities to exist in a safer environment than they were found. For Sivan, becoming a queer idol (which he undoubtably already is) was never part of the plan, but certainly isn’t something he rejects given, the weight of the notion.

“I’ve always been really, really aware of the fact that I came out at a time where so much groundwork had already been laid for me,” he says when I ask if it was an expected arc for him. “I had this kind-of easy coming out by comparison to many, so that support and love really gave me the confidence to be like, ‘Well, why wouldn’t I be proud of this, and why wouldn’t I sing about it and write about it?’ Then the fact that other people look to that is just such a nice feeling. It really makes me so proud. Of all the things that I’m really stoked about in my life, I think it’s the thing that makes me like the proudest.”

Where his own idols are concerned, the meaning has shifted over the course of his life. The initial infatuations with pop-legend Michael Jackson, and Amy Winehouse for her transgressive song writing moved into the idolisation of his year six English teacher (the childhood English teacher obsession to queer coming out pipeline lore is omnipresent). Now that Sivan is all grown up, the idea of a personal idol has taken on a new meaning. “As I’ve matured a little bit, my ambitions have changed slightly, and I’m just so unbelievably grateful that I get to do what I love, and that is really the only goal and priority. I love making music and I love making stuff. So, the people that I look up to are the people who feel like they’re really doing it for the right reasons, in my opinion, which is just creating for the sake of creating, rather than for any commercial or material gain.”


Left: CALVIN KLEIN top. Right: CALVIN KLEIN jacket and jeans.


Such sentiments resonate with his recent lead role in Jared Frieder’s Three Months, a coming of-age film that follows a queer teenager who has to wait three months for his HIV test results to come back after being exposed. The film is witty and comedic and offers a certain lightness that is not always on the table when dealing with such heavy subject matter. It’s one that Sivan wears well, even gracefully – exploring the topic of HIV in the modern world with a certain looseness that affords perspective to an issue that is so highly stigmatised.

“I think in general, humour is like a queer survival trait. I think that through laughing and telling our stories as they are, really frankly, I think that’s really important. And I think that oftentimes, when our stories are told by other people, they really feel the weight of the situation because they’re not quite sure how to speak about an issue in an appropriate way.”

For Sivan, when queer folks have the space to create their own stories, and rewrite them in ways that feel most relevant to them, this is when it feels the most authentic. “I really liked the idea that we were tackling this big topic in a way that felt just really genuine and honest to a 17-year-old gay boy’s experience, with his queer best friend.”


CALVIN KLEIN top and jeans.


For so long, our stories have been told as cautionary tales filled with tragedy and trauma and secrecy and subversion. Finally, with a new contingent of LGBTQIA+ directors, writers, and talent, Hollywood is making room for queer joy on screen, for nuance to exist within our tomes. “I think a lot of that comes from the people with the lived experience telling the story, because immediately there’s so much more light and shade,” he adds.

Sivan is part of this contingent. Shifting between music and acting and offering a renewed perspective for each medium he exercises. The biggest challenge in moving between the two? Oscillating between expressing his own truth through his music – a concept that he is not only comfortable in, but trusting of – and embodying someone else’s when he takes on a role.

“It’s something that I really, really struggle with and I’m quite self-conscious about. No matter how much I do it, I still feel really new to acting,” he reflects. “I hope that one day I find my feet and my confidence in it, but that’s probably the biggest struggle, is that it just really, really pushes me. Music pushes me too, but just in a way that feels much more natural.”


Left: CALVIN KLEIN top and hat. Right: CALVIN KLEIN top.


It makes sense, given music has felt intrinsic to him since childhood, or so I’ve gathered from our conversation. While Sivan has been dabbling in acting since almost as long as he’s been professionally making music, the latter has always been his main schtick, and the perfect combination of practice, time, and trust in his ability to communicate his experiences through his music, has made things feel slightly more natural.

“I do remember when I was making my first album, literally thinking I was depressed. I was like, ‘Why did I get signed? This is going to be so bad now, what did I do?’” He notes, upon thinking about if he felt the same insecurity when he started with music. “And then over time, I just learned, first of all, how to deal with my own brain, and you begin to understand the process, and part of the process of making something, is that you love it when you first start, and you have a moment of thinking oh, this is actually terrible. Then you love it again. And then when it’s done, it’s like the best feeling in the world. I think maybe I just understand that process better with music now, because I’ve been through it a lot. So, maybe it will go away.”


CALVIN KLEIN top, jeans and briefs.


It was 2013 when Sivan publicly came out. He was amongst a throng of other YouTubers who disclosed their sexualities to their millions of viewers through this format. Fast forward to now, and it feels hardly necessary to preface the groups in which we are sexually and romantically attracted to, let alone badger others for this kind of information, which we know to be inappropriate at best and harmful at worst. But back then, it was one of the most impactful ways for LGBTQIA+ people not to feel alone, by seeing their social media heroes take steps towards being fully realised in their identities. For Sivan, that sense of loneliness was what he was experiencing, too. “I think one of the reasons why coming to terms with my sexuality was so difficult for me was because I am really, really close to my family,” he reflects. “There was nothing that I would like hide from them. But when I eventually did come out, my internal monologue about my sexuality was literally constant. It was like from the moment I woke up in the morning to the moment I went to sleep and then it would also kind of have dreams about it and stuff. And I think a lot of the pressure was coming from the fact that I was alone in this, and it felt like it was the first time that I was actually alone in something in my life because my family didn’t know.” 

It was one of his experiences with resilience that he wanted to touch on, especially given the context of our conversation, and a moment of relief for him when he did tell his family. Naturally, not all of these stories have the same happy endings, and even though we talk about visibility a lot, its moments with people like Troye that show how impactful it can be to live authentically within the public eye. For Calvin Klein, who have been active in the Pride space for years, this is exactly the kind of message the brand is hoping to promote. It’s about evolution. Evolution of acceptance, evolution of community, and evolution of visibility. Calvin Klein’s ongoing Feel Pride campaign highlights the power of the chosen family, and the myriad identities that span the LGBTQIA+ community, casting the net wider on traditional or obvious definitions of love during Pride month. It addresses the many different forms of love we’re capable of, the bonds we form, and the families we create through this love and through a sense of safety. For Sivan, love is not full without safety.

“Obviously there’s excitement and, sometimes that excitement comes from someone keeping you on your toes a little bit here and there, but ultimately, you know, my parents have been married for 30-something years, and that’s who I look to. I think that the reliability and solidity of a relationship like that, is something that that I am striving for in love.” 

PHOTOGRAPHY Tim Ashton @ After Winter Agency
STYLIST ON SET Kirsten Humphreys
TALENT Troye Sivan @ Universal Music wears CARTIER jewellery (worn throughout).
HAIR Sophie Roberts @ The Artist Group
MAKEUP Gillian Campbell @ The Artist Group
PHOTOGRAPHER’S ASSISTANTS Bananas Clarke and Georgia Tillman


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