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Music Reviews

MPAA Rating
Pop, EDM/Electronica/Techno
Topped iTunes' singles chart.
Record Label
EMI, Universal
July 23, 2014
Adam R. Holz
Troye Sivan

Troye Sivan

"Happy Little Pill"

Scores of young singers from around the globe are doggedly trying to follow in Justin Bieber's now-famous footsteps, hoping against hope that posting a few songs on YouTube might transform them from hometown nobodies into global supersomebodies. Almost all of them fail. But in just the last couple of months we've seen newcomers Austin Mahone and 5 Seconds of Summer use Google's video juggernaut to propel their music to the top end of the pop chart.

Now make way for 19-year-old South Africa-born Australian Troye Sivan. The teen actor (he had a role in 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine) and singer has cultivated a massive YouTube entourage of more than 3 million subscribers, and his videos have been watched nearly 100 million times. "Happy Little Pill," his first original song from his debut EP titled TRXYE, was nearly instantaneously propelled to the top of iTunes' singles chart.

Is it any surprise that the Internet hive exclaimed, "Watch out, Justin Bieber!"

Listening to Sivan's first song, however, I don't think that's the right comparison. There's a moody, existential feel here that recalls another teen from the Southern Hemisphere who's recently enjoyed her own meteoric rise to fame: Lorde.

Like Lorde, Sivan has an eye for detail as he examines the world around him. And in this song, it seems as if he's looking at the landscape of consumerism and excess and finding it wanting when it comes to producing meaning and easing loneliness.

"In the crowd, alone," Sivan begins against a spare-but-dreamy synthesizer soundtrack. "And every second passing reminds me that I'm not home/Bright lights and city sounds are ringing like a drone/Unknown, unknown."

The first verse, then, paints a picture of isolation and alienation. From that stance, Sivan tells us more about the unfulfilled and unfulfilling world he sees: "Oh, glazed eyes, empty hearts/Buying happy from shopping carts." So consumerism is one failed response to the emptiness within. Next up? Alcohol, drugs ... and more materialism: "Nothing but time to kill, sipping life from bottles/Tight skin, bodyguards, Gucci down the boulevard/Cocaine, dollar bills."

See what I mean? We're light-years away from Justin Bieber's "Baby" as we quickly move toward the class-conscious commentary of Lorde's smash hit "Royals."

Sivan clearly sees people striving in vain to deal with their disconnectedness with stuff and substances. In the chorus, though, his focus shifts from others in the empty metropolis around him to his own attempts to find meaning. He's not faring any better, though, as he describes popping a "happy pill" to take the edge off:

"My happy little pill/Takes me away/Dry my eyes/Bring color to my skies/My sweet little pill/Take my hunger/Light my way/Numb my skin."

So is this new and quite young role model really singing the praises of illicit drugs here? Some (maybe many) of his fans will think so. Not good! But it seems that Sivan is actually slyly telling us that this so-called happy little pill (metaphorical or otherwise) can't do the job of making him happy. The next verse offers a clue to this:

"Like a rock, I float/Sweat and conversations seep into my bones/Four walls are not enough, I'll take a dip into the/Unknown, unknown."

He's still just as unknown as he was at the beginning. And his happy little pill isn't helping him do the happy dance any more than alcohol, Guccis or cocaine are doing it for the people he described earlier. We hear in conclusion, "Alone/ ... Not home/ ... Unknown/ ... Oh, glazed eyes, empty hearts."

"Happy Little Pill," then, delivers a stern indictment of secular culture's go-to strategies for gratification. That said, Troye ultimately has nothing to offer in place of the failed coping mechanisms his song quietly, cuttingly critiques.

And that's sad.