There’s no mistaking that in recent years, there’s been an increase in LGBTQ representation in pop music, with a plethora of new and exciting artists explicitly addressing queer relationships and sexuality.
Take MNEK, who released the joyous, romantic tune ‘Colour’ around pride season this year, or Sam Smith, whose chart-topping sophomore album ‘The Thrill Of It All’ was packed with songs about the ups and downs of his personal relationships.
Elsewhere, Years & Years released ‘Sanctify’ earlier this year, a song detailing singer Olly Alexander’s sexual experiences with straight men, in a similar fashion to Hayley Kiyoko’s ‘Curious’. Meanwhile, at the height of their popularity, my personal favourite group Scissor Sisters released countless tracks about the joys of queer sex (even essentially dedicating an entire album to it).
It’s heartening to see these themes becoming increasingly prominent within mainstream music, because representation matters, and the more people hear about these topics, the less alien and “other” they become.
But with queer sex and love in music, it’s usually an either/or situation.
Songs explicitly referencing LGBTQ sex tend to paint it as something enticing, taboo and often even forbidden. Frequently, these songs will celebrate more experimental or debauched aspects of sex, defiantly pushing back against the sterile and neutered way we often hear about sex within the mainstream media.
Queer love songs, on the other hand, usually focus on the more purely romantic side of a relationship, with few to no sexual references. This could be to make them more palatable to a mainstream audience, or just symptomatic of love songs in general.
Either way, this disparity makes what Troye Sivan has been able to do on his upcoming second album ‘Bloom’ particularly special, managing to merge these themes of love and sex on the release’s title track, as well as subsequent teaser single, ‘Animal’.
When ‘Bloom’ was released in May, fans went mad for it, as did critics, with headlines quick to declare it as a “power bottoming anthem”. But while the song is about sex, for sure, specifically anal sex between two men, it’s also about more than that.
During the pre-chorus, Troye sings that he “needs you to tell me right before it goes down” and “hold his hand if he gets scared, now”, having previously declared he’s “been saving this for you”. The chorus itself consists of the line: “I bloom, I bloom just for you, I bloom just for you.”
This isn’t a song Troye wrote about a random hook-up (not that there’d be anything wrong with that if it was what he chose to write about). Rather, ‘Bloom’ is a song about the trepidation of trying something new with someone you know and trust, and the relief and euphoria that can come afterwards.
Yes, there are graphic elements to the song’s lyrics, but beyond that, it describes a very specific queer experience that I don’t feel has ever been covered by a mainstream pop star.
Perhaps even more so than ‘Bloom’, the lyrics of ‘Animal’ - which Troye teased prior to its release with a compilation video featuring himself and his boyfriend, model Jacob Bixenman - combine sexual imagery with declarations of love, such as the ballad’s opening verse, on which he sings: “I can’t keep my hands off you, while you’re lying awake, covered all in the night before.”
These sexual references pepper the song, which is, in Troye’s words, “an ode to the boy I love”, and while the title might initially lead the listener to believe the track is exclusively about sex, the singer has said himself that ‘Animal’ is a double-meaning, as the track is actually his attempt at “an epic, timeless love song about how whipped I am”.
“I want your all to myself,” he sings on the chorus, “Don’t leave me for nobody else, I am an animal with you.”
Later, he declares: “As the days fly by, we’ll be more than getting through, yeah. And in time… we’ll build a home for two.”
In a lot of cases, the way young people are learning about queer culture is through film, TV and music, so it’s important to know that there are a plethora of options available to you, rather than one set “correct” way to experience life as a queer person.
That’s why it’s encouraging to me that, when love and sex are so often painted as being two separate entities, especially in the LGBTQ world, Troye Sivan has been able to merge them so effortlessly in his new material. It’s no longer a case of choosing, with ‘Bloom’ and ‘Animal’, the star overlaps the two ideas and presents this idea as a tangible possibility to his young fans.
Hopefully, the result of this will be even more LGBTQ artists and musicians writing about other overshadowed areas in queer culture, once again validating the lived experiences and feelings of queer people, and widening listeners’ perspectives of what’s out there even further.