Troye Sivan's Fans Helped Design His Miami Art Basel Stage
06 December 2021
"If everything turns to shit, I’m gonna go run errands for Pamela Shamshiri," joked Troye Sivan during his Miami Art Basel performance, referring to the interior design all-star whom he collaborated with on staging. It's fitting, considering Sivan spent his lockdown living in Australia and renovating his Victorian-era Melbourne home alongside David Flack. (Reading nooks! Apple tree centerpieces! The "most comfortable couch in the world!")
For Architectural Digest's AD100 launch, the Aussie pop star was asked to work with Shamshiri and Lenovo Yoga to call upon fan submissions to bring his Art Basel installation to life. They sent in ideas for four categories — "Paradise on Earth," "Technology and Progress," "Living in the Moment," "Beauty and Art" — and helped Sivan land on an original background for his acoustic South Beach set at The Goodtime Hotel.
This was Sivan's second live show post-pandemic, following his opening slot for the 2021 VMAs, and his parents stood front-row, iPhones raised to document the entire thing with giant smiles. Sivan was openly nervous, which is fair considering the guest list included everyone from Pharrell to Venus Williams, but he confidently powered through an emotional set with songs like "could cry just thinking about you" and his summer smash, "You."
Ahead of Art Basel, PAPER called up Sivan from his current home in LA to talk about pre-show anxiety, how COVID changed the way he approaches performance and why collaboration helps him get out of his own head.
How has your approach to live performances changed, especially after being forced to make the shift to all things virtual for so long?
I have a new level of gratitude for it. I really appreciate being able to sing for people in real life. At the same time, I got very comfortable, as well, with doing these virtual performances. They allow for creativity in a different way. Essentially, you’re producing music videos, so it takes away a lot of boundaries. But nothing can ever compete with the feeling of being in front of a real crowd. That interaction... it sounds so cheesy, but I got choked up [at the VMAs] the moment I remembered this is my job and my life. I think it had been so long, that it almost could’ve been one big fantasy or dream that I had. Now, I look back on photos of a show from my tour or maybe a festival that I played and I’m like, “Holy shit, I can't believe that actually happened and that used to happen all the time.” Hopefully we’ll get there again where I’m doing it often, but for now it still feels like such an intense experience again.
When you’re sitting at home alone and just creating things for the internet, it’s really easy to develop an imposter syndrome or you forget that there are even people at the other end.
Completely. I came back [to the US] and I was like, “All these people still want to get in the studio with me? Sick. I just booked this TV show? What the fuck?” I was really surprised, I’ve been so detached from it for so long being in Australia. I moved back home, so even coming back here and seeing that my friends are still here and they all still want to be my friend... I don’t know how to describe it, it just felt like the whole thing could’ve been something I imagined: my whole life in America, my whole life as an artist, could’ve been something that I just dreamt up. And I was like, “Oh wait this is real and it’s still happening and everyone’s so cool.” I was coming from 0 to 100. My first weeks back [in the US], it was the Met Gala and stuff, so it really felt like the craziest transition.
It seems like you did a lot of development in isolation as an artist. You appear to be more comfortable, and especially with your sexuality, than ever before. Do you think that’s true?
I do think that’s true and it comes from, ultimately, I don’t really care as much as I used to. Not in a bad way, like I care so much about the music I’m making and the music videos. I care about my job a lot, but the stuff that surrounds it, like what people say or comments on the internet, I don’t care about them as much. During the pandemic, I found such a solid base, something I was longing for for a really long time was I was lying to myself about how homesick I was. Then when I got home to Australia and set myself up there with my family and friends that have been my friends since I was two, I truly feel in my heart of hearts that I know I could go back to Australia and go to Uni for graphic design, or something like that, and I know I’d be happy. So it took off all the extra pressure and reminded me I’m here doing this because I love what I do and I’m so stoked to have all these opportunities. But it also gave me the sense of confidence and security where I’m like, nothing really matters. Just do it because you’re enjoying it, because you love it.
Photo via BFA/ Michele Sandberg
Pre-pandemic, the industry was like, Go go go. Is this song going number one? Will I become the biggest pop star in the world? Did you ever have that ambition and now do you feel more comfortable existing in whatever environment you find yourself in?
The people I’ve always looked up to, for example, someone like Mark Ronson or Robyn... I see the way they live their lives and I feel like they’re confident to just do good work and then live a good life at the same time. That’s my dream. At a certain point, I would imagine, your work would eclipse your ability to have a good life. I’m really intimidated by the thought of, and not saying I ever could do this, but having that level of commercial success. I think it would really impact your ability to hang out with friends or go to a club or go to a grocery store, and those are all things I really enjoy doing. So I don’t ever aspire to that, but I do think, and I’m even feeling it now, when you’re here in America and there are these cool opportunities and you’re loving your job, it’s very easy to prioritize that over something like family or friends. And I’m so lucky, this is coming from a place of privilege to do this, but I’m like, “You know what? No,I’m actually going to take off some time in December even if we have to say ‘no’ to that really cool thing cause I want to go on a family holiday for the first time in two years.” So it’s kind of a conscious effort to try and maintain some sort of balance in my life.
Those breaks are important to create work with intention, because otherwise it’s so easy to keep making more, but what exactly are we putting out? You’ve done such an incredible job, especially in the past few years, of releasing projects that look beautifully styled and art directed. You mentioned wanting to go to school for graphic design. Do you feel yourself growing more interested in the visual side of music?
I’ve always really loved that side of it. I’ve always loved photoshop. For me, I’m writing a good song when I’m imagining a music video, so the visuals have always been a huge part of my expression. But then I branched out over the pandemic and designed my house in Australia. I had such a good time falling into that world of interior design and architecture. I really fell in love with these YouTube videos about city planning and my mind definitely was in an exploratory phase. I was really enjoying being bored enough to find new interests because I hadn’t done that in a really long time. And that’s part of again this feeling of security for me. I have so much I want to do, and so much that interests and excites me. My main priority in life is to be happy and mentally stimulated, and I’m lucky that’s happening in music and in acting and in film, right now. I’m also curious to see what shape that takes in other industries or areas of my life. I don’t think I’m going to quit and go to Uni anytime soon, but I feel a sense of peace knowing that it’s there.
Your Art Basel performance is very visual and involved fan submissions for the stage design. Talk me through that process from the beginning and what it was like to work alongside Pamela Shamshiri.
This performance is a combination of pretty much everything we've been talking about, which is all my favorite things. It’s design, it’s live performance, it’s music, it’s collaboration. It's a collaboration between me and Pamela, who’s my favorite interior designer, and then this collaboration with people from all over the US that submitted their ideas, treatments, mood boards, drawings and photos. That’s something that came out of the pandemic: outreach to the people who follow me on Instagram or Twitter became so important and inspiring to me. One of the first things I did in march 2020 was outreach to people for graphic design. It felt so nice to have something that made me feel connected to other people and something that made me feel inspired from my bedroom. I’m never not floored by how great the ideas are, so it was really nice to hop on a Zoom with the winners and talk through where their ideas came from and the “why” behind what they do. Each of them had such specific, different mediums that they were passionate about. Pam and I worked through the ideas, and came up with a really cool stage design and performance.
Photo via BFA/ Angela Pham
It’s always interesting to get an outside perspective on your work.
That’s the thing about collaboration: I would have never come up with half these ideas. It’s so cool to be able to stretch your mind and get out of your own head.
How’d you and Pamela determine what criteria to look at all the submissions through?
I think the criteria was people who felt genuinely inspired from a genuine place. Finding people who found their medium and really expressed themselves through that. One of the winners we spoke to worked exclusively in flowers and their whole treatment was floristry. We spoke to him for like five minutes and he had me thinking about flowers in the most beautiful way: talking about how sometimes beautiful things are not made to last and the flowers are going to die and the fact that they existed in that form in that one moment is beautiful enough. It was so inspiring to talk to all these people, that’s just one example.
One submission category was "Living in the Moment.” What does that mean to you, right now?
Living in the moment is something we’ve all had to really practice doing over the last two years. I’ve had my own struggles with anxiety, which is literally my definition of not living in the moment, and I often find myself not living in the moment. So developing those skills of trying to bring yourself back to the present and if you can create some piece of art that helps people do that... maybe it’s the flowers, maybe it’s a really intimate music performance, I think that’s sweet and very needed.
Photo via BFA/ Angela Pham
Photography: Luke Gilford