Troye Sivan's visionary Suburbia tour stops Oct. 27 at The Criterion 

click to enlarge Troye Sivan performs Oct. 27 at The Criterion. | Photo Laura Lewis / provided
  • Troye Sivan performs Oct. 27 at The Criterion. | Photo Laura Lewis / provided

In some respects, singer, actor and YouTube celebrity Troye Sivan has a lot in common with internationally known rapper Kendrick Lamar.

The South Africa-born, 21-year-old Australian who first grabbed a wide-scale audience as a 14-year-old version of Hugh Jackman in 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine comes from a starkly different background than the 29-year-old Compton, California native.

There might not be much overlap between their respective electronic pop and hardcore hip-hop audiences, but maybe there should be.

Sivan performs Oct. 27 at The Criterion, 500 E. Sheridan Ave. The young star spoke with Oklahoma Gazette after a recent rehearsal for his latest United States tour Suburbia, which he promised would be his most engaging yet.

“I really tried hard to make this show something really special and something bigger and better than I’ve ever done before,” he said. “Based on rehearsals and how everything’s looking, I’m really, really excited about it.”

Both Sivan and Lamar turned introspective, layered, enlightening music from their early careers into commercial and critical success.

Sivan’s 2015 debut studio album Blue Neighbourhood peaked at No. 7 nationally on the Billboard 200 chart. It was universally lauded by critics and named the Associated Press album of the year, coincidentally beating out Lamar’s powerhouse To Pimp a Butterfly.

Visual aid

More than creating pleasant-sounding songs, both artists demonstrate a masterful understanding of visual storytelling. Lamar released a series of expensively produced and cinematically styled videos in 2015, including “Alright,” which was nominated for a 2016 Best Music Video Grammy.

Before Sivan began touring the U.S. as a musician, he made a name for himself in the video realm.

His vlog, which he began in earnest in 2012, is the fourth most popular YouTube channel in Australia.

However, his conceptually driven trilogy of music videos for Blue Neighbourhood is in a league separate from YouTube confessionals. The videos for “Wild,” “Fools” and “Talk Me Down” follow the evolving and ultimately tragic relationship between two childhood friends turned same-sex lovers. The projects are beautifully shot and dramatically told.

“I think very visually a lot of the time, and the visual is so important to me,” Sivan said.

He said he enjoys developing a video concept in his head as much as creating the music.

“A lot of the time, when I’m writing songs, I’ll have a clear picture in my head of where the song is taking place and what world it lives in,” he said.

Sivan and Lamar are far from the only musicians to value visual concepts. They both represent of a wave of performers who realize the importance of fully engaging fans with visual storytelling.

Making change

Just as Lamar has valued insight about the inner-city Compton experience, Sivan has emerged as a strong voice in global LGBTQ youth culture.

The third video in Sivan’s Blue Neighbourhood trilogy ambiguously ends with an apparent suicide and the bone-chilling fade of an ocean rolling into silence. It is an impactful moment for anyone to take in, but it likely especially resonates with gay and queer youth who feel bombarded by sometimes negative, outside opinions on their identity or love interests.

“I have those albums for myself, you know? You hear a song later in life and it takes you back to a time or a specific experience in your life,” he said. “That’s what music is to me. It’s like a companion through life. To hear my music is that to someone else is really awesome.”

Sivan publicly came out as gay in 2013, a decision he recently told was “the best thing [he had] ever done.”

He told Gazette that part of his U.S. tour planning included making sure almost every venue he stopped at has gender-neutral bathrooms. (The Criterion has family restrooms open to all genders.)

A portion of the tour’s ticket sales benefit The Ally Coalition, a coalition formed by the band fun. and designer Rachel Antonoff to encourage and equip artists and all supporters of equal rights to help end discrimination against LGBTQ community members.

“I really, really value having this platform to share my music and to share what I’m passionate about creating, but on top of that, I just feel so lucky to have this platform to do things like help out wherever I can,” he said. “I think it’s the most important work that I get to do.”

One area Sivan and Lamar still differ in is fame.

Sivan is known more in Australia than in the U.S., despite great praise here for his music.

He said he still doesn’t feel famous — at least not in mixed company.

“I feel like life is crazy,” he said, “but I can still go out and get a coffee and everything without it being a crazy mess.”

If Sivan’s career continues at this trajectory, he would be wise to enjoy his quiet coffee while he still can.

Print headline: Seen and heard, Australian pop singer Troye Sivan proves himself among a wave of new visionary artists.

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