Of Sound Mind | Troye Sivan’s “In A Dream”

Of Sound Mind is a biweekly blog about new albums, old albums, forgotten albums, overrated albums and any other type of listening experience from staff writer Lucas DiBlasi.

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Shruti Talekar | Senior Staff Illustrator

By Lucas DiBlasi, Staff Writer

Pop music is supposed to be blasted from cars on the way to parties where it forms the backdrop to long nights. It’s supposed to be sung along to, and danced to, and shared. So what happens to pop music when singing and dancing together transmits disease, not joy, and you can only blast it in the car on the way to pick up groceries once a week?

Troye Sivan has been an ambassador of Lorde-esque electronic pop for years, releasing hit songs that are consistently danceable (or slow-danceable). To be a pop star, though, revolves around staying on top of current trends, and in his new EP, “In A Dream,” released Aug. 21, he does a strangely good job reflecting the isolated world in which we’re all now living.

The EP was originally written about Sivan’s recent breakup, but it sounds as if the pandemic had an effect on the production, if not the lyrics themselves. Of course, lyrics can be interpreted differently by every person, and Sivan himself has said that the songs have taken on a different meaning since the lockdown left him at home with his mother. “Take Yourself Home,” originally seeming to be about a failing relationship, now sounds hauntingly like a description of a lockdown.

The songs feel like they could fill a stadium full of dancing fans, but at the same time they hold an incredible intimacy. “Easy” features ‘80s synths rushing around a fast-paced chorus where the subject can’t even bear to look at his partner. “Could Cry Just Thinkin About You” takes this theme to its logical conclusion in a tearful 52 seconds.

Sivan has clearly always had the ability to cater to an audience in both form and content. His albums “Blue Neighbourhood” and “Bloom” were both smash hits, garnering critical acclaim due to his beautiful baritone and their up-to-date electronic production style. Sivan, an openly gay artist, is an adept lyricist and melody writer, singing about the specifics of his love life in a refreshingly open and often heartbreaking style.

The most successful artists, or at least the ones with the most dedicated fanbases, build a world of their own for fans to inhabit. It’s certainly a tricky balance, because they must put in the work of constructing their world on social media, through their art and through their songs, but it must be authentic as well. Fans can sniff out people being fake from a mile away.

Sivan has been curating his world — though not consciously at first, of course, meaning it was by default authentic — since he joined YouTube in 2007. He began singing and sharing video blogs, gaining subscribers year by year until he signed to a label and began releasing music. His curation of a fantastical — but not over the top — colorful, moody, queer-pop world continues with this EP, as evidenced by his music videos and recent Instagram posts.

The song on the EP that exemplifies Sivan’s brilliant lyricism best is “STUD.” The song is about finding a love interest who has the body you want, but possibly only that, and seeking validation from such a person. “How much of me would you take?/And how much of me would you change?/On second thought, don’t say a thing,” he sings, and once again the appropriate reaction appears to be to start crying on the dancefloor, which in 2020 is your room.

I grew up listening to pop songs, as most Americans do. They are by definition “popular,” and whether we like them or not, we hear them, and they bleed into our consciousness. At some point in high school, I began to purposefully diversify my listening, not because I was tired of pop, but because I was searching for some definition of myself as “cool” (in vain, I might add). I wanted to know the new music that was coming out, but not the Taylor Swift songs, instead the alt-J ones, the Milky Chance deep-cuts, Sufjan Stevens’ instrumental albums, Justin Vernon’s side projects.

But these ventures into “alternative” music, as deeply satisfying as they became, were always compared to the sort of pop music that Sivan makes. When a song is much longer than four minutes, that’s interesting because almost all of Sivan’s songs are four minutes long or less. When a song has no repeating form, that’s interesting because all of pop music has a verse-chorus structure. When a song focuses on instrumental virtuosity, when it is angry or abrasive, when it uses interesting production techniques, I can only define it as different in contrast to the normal that Sivan and his counterparts in the world of pop create.

It’s always interesting for me to come back to artists like Sivan after delving into the strange and rewarding world of alternative American music, because almost everything fits expectations. There is one moment, with 46 seconds left in the song “Easy,” when every instrument and filter but Sivan’s vocals drop out, leaving him naked at center stage, which surprised me a bit, but that was it. “In A Dream” does just enough experimentation into electronic and house music that reviewers like Pitchfork write that Sivan may have sacrificed some of his universal appeal, but in truth it is a pop EP that takes no risks.

To me, the unabashed poppiness of “In A Dream” is understandable, and it makes the EP easy to listen to. Sivan’s melody writing is very good, and his lyrical specificity makes the EP emotionally resonant, but none of the musicality is new or exciting. To me, it is slick, incredibly well-produced and written and just a little bit boring.

But maybe a little bit of comforting pop is exactly what some of us need right now. Turn off your Zoom camera, mute your audio (or don’t), blast “In A Dream,” dance a little bit, cry a little bit, and hell, take a video of yourself doing so and post it somewhere. Maybe that’s what counts as dancing together in 2020.

I give “In A Dream” a tearfully danceable 7.2/10.

 

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