There was a moment years ago when I felt attacked, not intentionally, but in the way that an offhand comment by someone at the table next to you at a restaurant might strike you rather peculiarly, as if a nugget of truth you had neglected your whole life took the form of a small bug that creepily crawled inside your ear, planted itself there and birthed a number of smaller bugs that ravaged your thoughts. The attack came in the form of a truism, or as close to a truism that an opinion can get, uttered by a friend: That if I was such a passionate listener of music, I could surely name one song that made me emotional. The fact was, I couldn’t.
Sure, there were songs that made me feel lost in space, if only for a moment. George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and the sudden break that occurs midway through Vampire Weekend’s “Hannah Hunt” both came to mind immediately. But I would be lying if I were to declare that either song or really anything in my life I had heard up to that point, on a wintery February mid-afternoon in 2015, had struck me to my physiological core.
Troye Sivan’s “My My My!” might just be the first song to do that. It’s a bubbly pop song, constructed from the bare bones that have defined the genre: verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus. Its three minutes and 25 seconds feel specifically engineered to be just short of satisfying, the only solution for which is to hit repeat. But more importantly, it’s a shameless anthem of queer love, one that works as an uplifting sequel to Sivan’s song “Heaven,” which appeared on his first album Blue Neighbourhood.
“Heaven” details Sivan’s journey coming out, his reckoning with his moderately religious upbringing — like me, he’s Jewish, but unlike me he attended an Orthodox school. Sivan noted in interviews around the time “Heaven” was released that the hardest person to come out to was himself. Before his coming out, Sivan sings, with mournful regret, “Trying to sedate, my mind in its cage / And numb what I see.”
The central concern in “Heaven” is spiritual, with Sivan reconciling his sexuality with its inherent connection to sin. Judaism, it seems to me, views sin as an act, not as a characteristic. One murders, for instance, but one is never a murderer. We’re all, in that way, redeemable. But sexuality is different because it’s a core part of us. It shapes our desires, our behaviors, our longings. It’s inseparable from who we are as people. It would feel rather disingenuous, or whatever the proper word for that is, to “atone” for my gayness and then, later the same day, partake once more in gay life.
That’s Sivan’s question: Can I get to heaven while being gay? In other words, am I abrogating this nebulous spiritual-cum-religious-cum-familial obligation by liking men? Later, in the chorus, Sivan lets out a cry for help: “Without losing a piece of me / How do I get to heaven? / Without changing a part of me / How do I get to heaven?” He ends his entreaty with some degree of resolution — “Maybe I don’t want heaven?” — but there’s more than a shred of doubt. After all, denying a core part of your identity feels rather cruel, but considering the alternative may be an eternity of damnation, well, something’s gotta give.
These doubts have also plagued my mind; I think I became more “religious” — or at least more conscious of my relationship to my religion — when I came out (again, to myself more than to other people). And the idea that I was giving into sinful temptation disturbed me. I didn’t have the throngs of screaming fans that comforted Sivan and told him he was loved, but I did have supportive parents and brothers and friends. And something tells me that Sivan wasn’t entirely comforted by that fandom, just as, despite displays of support, I still wrestled with that inner conversation, telling myself not that what I was doing was morally wrong in any way, but was disappointing to my family and faith, if anything by the text alone.
If “Heaven” asks a question, “My My My!” answers it. A passionate ode to, presumably, his boyfriend, the professional very good-looking person Jacob Bixenman, “My My My!” finds Sivan gloriously loving another man. The beauty, though, is that his act of pitching woo mirrors his transition from self-doubt to self-assurance. “Now, let’s stop running from love,” he croons. “Let’s stop running from us.” He’s taking a risk, as we all do when we fall in love. But he’s also turning his inner conflict from “Heaven” inside out. Once in denial of his sexuality, Sivan embraces it. And he’s roping others in with him.
It also helps that “My My My!” really bangs. Its glitch-infused chorus is so joyful, a mixture of hesitation and confidence that is inextricably linked to the gay community. It’s a community that has been ravaged by AIDS and is still held in contempt by large sections of America, let alone elsewhere in the world. Sivan’s vocals cut through, cheerfully crying, “I die every night with you.” Sivan has transcended and, perhaps, embraced this heaven/hell fear, describing and celebrating his personal petite mort without shame and with passion and verve.
When “Call Me By Your Name,” the other recent celebrated work of Jewish gay art, was released, there was some commentary that the film was a celebration of hedonism, and that Michael Stuhlbarg’s fatherly monologue towards the film’s conclusion was the coup de grâce in its celebration of uninhibited sexual behavior. But I don’t buy that. I don’t agree that someone, prone to intellectualizing their lives, finding themselves rapt by an unexplainable urge and an undeniable love is hedonistic. It’s liberating. It’s who he is. To deny our love is to deny our selves. I’m happy that Sivan has been able to do the same, and I’m glad I have his example to lead me through my own life.