Just in time for the long weekend, Troye Sivan dropped his stellar sophomore effort, Bloom. It's a breezy, synth-laden, and brisk ten tracks cataloging the rush of coming out, as well as the pleasure and heartaches of falling love. It's undeniably gay right from the start, beginning with the opener (no pun intended) about losing his virginity to an older man, "Seventeen." Sivan is at his best when expressing the exuberance and exasperation of romance ("My, My, My," "Bloom," "Plum," and "Lucky Strike"), and what is so wonderful about this record is that it's smart, sweet lyrics carefully describe the feeling of being a queer man in love. It's a remarkable achievement, and one of the best records of 2018. Sivan is well on his way to being a gay pop icon.
Though I love Bloom, it's important to recognize that it falls in a long tradition of queer men writing love songs and creating excellent albums in the process. Not enough of the recent press is acknowledging Bloom's lineage, so I want to pay tribute to important albums that preceded Sivan's.
Below is not a comprehensive list of gay pop records, but I am recommending four albums I adore and return to often.
Patrick Wolf's Lupercalia (2011)
By far Wolf's sunniest album, Lupercalia starts with a flood of optimism on opener, "The City." What follows is a tribute to Wolf's partner, including an ode to domesticity ("House"), the lovely interlude, "William," and the heartbroken olive branch, "Together." It's an album about the pleasures and worries of two men in love, and it still plays well. Wolf's knack for mixing chamber pop, dance music, and New Wave make Lupercalia a timeless tribute to romance.
Jay Brannan's Goddamned (2008)
It would be impossible to talk about gay music and not talk about Jay Brannan. His first full length album, Goddamned, surfaced in the wake of his appearance in the cult film, Shortbus. In contrast to Sivan, Brannan is interested in mixing folk and pop music, but the album still has a hooky sensibility and it meant a lot me in my early 20s. Songs like "Half-Boyfriend," "Housewife," "On All Fours," and "Ever After Happily" captured what it felt like to be young, gay, and trying to figure out dating and happiness. Brannan has an impressive catalog of records (including the especially stellar Rob Me Blind), but this is the album I return to most often.
Rufus Wainwright's Release the Stars (2007)
Another formative record from my early 20s, Release Stars plays with camp and melancholy. From the power-pop meets Phantom of the Opera love song, "Between My Legs," to the lusty "Tulsa," there is so much to love here. Wainwright's slurring delivery lends a sadness to many of his tunes, but his music highlights how extreme feelings like attraction have a bitter-sweet undercurrent.
Bronski Beat's Age of Consent (1984)
If you want to study up on gay pop, the place you need to start is Bronski Beat's Age of Consent. This is much darker record than Bloom, but without this album, we would not have a pop star like Troye Sivan. Consent is the first album by an openly gay band to discuss queer subjects and also be a hit (No. 4 on the UK albums chart, and No. 36 in the US). A lot of the tunes address homophobia ("Smalltown Boy," "Why?," "It Ain't Necessarily So"), but there is love and lust too, most notably "Heatwave" and the sexy "I Feel Love (Medley)," which takes the Donna Summer classic and brings it to new gay heights.