On a rainy Thursday evening in Auckland, Troye Sivan sits down in an intimate bar and asks for the auxiliary cord. As his own voice begins to roll out of the speakers, the crowd – roughly 100 lucky fans – sit in silence. They're being let in on a secret: Sivan's new album, Bloom.
Sivan has only one request for the crowd: don't watch him. "I'm embarrassed to be playing my music in front of everyone," he tells me later. "I don't want anyone to feel any pressure to have to like, do anything."
I meet Sivan first thing the next morning. Despite the early start, the 23-year-old pop star is lively and personable, and, it seems, overwhelmingly humbled by the reactions generated by his work last night. One young man told Sivan his famous coming out video helped him out of the closet; before that, one girl had told the entire room how Sivan's music gave meaning to a devastating break-up she went through.
"I think I see my relationship with my fans as very similar to the relationship that I had with my girlfriends growing up," he says. "I didn't have a lot of straight guy friends and that relationship, where it's almost like a sister, and there's no sexual tension or anything like that there, so it's just really pure – it feels like love to me."
That might be down to the fact that his fans are mostly – "women and gays, yeah," he says with a smile. "That's pretty much my demo."
Bloom, Sivan's sophomore record, ushers in a new era for the star; he's more mature, more feminine, and entirely unapologetic. First single My My My is a triumphant declaration of queer love, while the follow-up title track unflinchingly celebrates gay sex (Sivan, in a since-deleted tweet, shared Bloom with the hashtag "#bopsaboutbottoming").
"With my first album, I felt a pressure to water things down, or really explain everything," he says. "This time, I wanted to be a bit more like, 'This is it, and you either get it or you don't'.
"As a young gay person, I would have really appreciated hearing a song that was not just a beautiful song about coming out and coming to terms with your sexuality, but a song about" – he claps – "sex. Not even a necessarily explicit one, but it's about my kind of sex, you know what I mean? Sex that people like me have. That would have blown my mind."
Sometimes, that liberation changes tone in other contexts – as shown in an interview on The Project Australia, in which host Rove McManus read back some of Sivan's innuendo-laden lyrics live on air, to Sivan's obvious discomfort. It reminded me painfully of encounters growing up gay, when parents of straight female friends would struggle to understand your queerness. "That's exactly what it felt like," says Sivan. "It was a bit awkward."
He continues: "I live in a very queer world in LA. I would have to rack my brain to think of who was straight in my friend group. That is obviously liberating, (but) you can easily forget that the whole world's not like that."
The Bloom music video finds Sivan living out a feminine fantasy, dressed in extravagant drag. It's the kind of unleashed dream that only exists in the mind for many queer people – a feeling Sivan remembers all too well.
"When I think about the music that I listened to, and the way that I moved listening to that music in the privacy of my own bedroom with the door locked, it was completely that. It was allowing that out," he says.
"I just decided to go for it [in the video]. Doesn't mean that it wasn't scary, because I think I still totally have a lot of residual issues from growing up in the closet, but ultimately I'm so happy that I did it.'"
That unabashed femininity marks both a release and a reckoning, as Sivan prepares to release his most authentic work to date. "I was really tempted to self-title the album," he says. "I got cold feet, because I'm sure I'm going to want to grow and change, but the album really really feels like me.
"This sound is something that I would have done last time, had I known how to. This is the album I've always wanted to make."
On top of his pop star duties, Sivan also acts. He'll be seen next in the upcoming gay conversion therapy drama, Boy Erased, alongside Nicole Kidman, an idol of his; Moulin Rouge is one of his favourite films. He's only in one scene with her – one he wormed his way into.
"I was actually supposed to have the day off that day, and I saw that Nicole was shooting, and I knew that I could kind of finagle myself into the scene," he says. "I'm standing up against a pole while she pulls up her car, and that was my on-screen moment with her that I basically forced the movie people to make.
"I made the mistake of watching Big Little Lies right before I shot, and so I was much more starstruck than I think I would have been otherwise."
Who: Troye Sivan
What: New album Bloom