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16 Aug

Hey circuit queens! Unpacking the visual references in Troye

The Australian artist is back with what would be the yr’s hottest video, with references to Peter Hujar, Caravaggio and Wolfgang Tillmans. Strap in and strap on!

Well, we’ve got our first poppers anthem of the summer. Yesterday, Troye Sivan debuted “Rush”, the lead single from Something To Give Each Other, the Australian popstar’s first record in five years. A Gordon von Steiner-directed music video dropped alongside the song, setting the web ablaze for its heady depiction of a sticky, sexy, very gay summer. In an announcement accompanying the track, Sivan said the song evoked “the sensation of kissing a sweaty stranger on a dancefloor, a two-hour date that was a weekend, a crush, a winter, a summer.” 

The video – which we’re assuming broke the record for probably the most jockstraps seen in three minutes – also set off a game of pop cultural bingo, a sequence response happening concurrently across Twitter, TikTok and Instagram. Were those the Gaultier jeans? Was that the Galliano newspaper print? Exactly what number of twinks is just too many twinks? Well fear not, we’re here to unpack every visual reference value knowing within the easy classic that’s “Rush”.


Before the music video had even dropped, we caught a glimpse of what the visual world of “Rush” might appear to be via the only’s cover art. The image, shot by Stuart Winecoff, sees a sweaty, sticky Sivan recline on a white linen sheet, arms framing his face, brow scrunched in ecstasy. His scarlet temples suggest he’s either taken a giant ol’ huff of the poppers his song oh-so-cleverly references, or he’s within the throes of homosexual exultation (anal). The image reminds us of the work of Peter Hujar, specifically Orgasmic Man, 1969, a photograph that was recently repurposed for the duvet of one other gay cultural artefact, the Hanya Yanagihara novel A Little Life. Here’s hoping Troye and his army of twinks don’t meet the identical ends as those bohemian rascals.


It in fact wouldn’t be 2023 without some type of Y2K reference, and our first watch of the video immediately recalled the early work of Britney Spears. “Rush” is a contemporary interpretation of “I’m Slave 4 U”, one with quite a bit less women and 100 per cent more glory holes. Like Britney in her video, “Rush” begins with the Australian sensation singing alone, before making his way right into a room filled with bendy, nubile dancers (heavy respiratory ensues). Parts of the video even borrow Britney’s sunset environs, casting an orangey haze across a handful of the scenes. The leather chaps and white briefs combo that Sivan sports are also paying homage to Britney’s panties-over-jeans look that spun the world off its axis back in ‘01.


The music video for “Rush” is a gay men’s mag come to life, as if Andy from Toy Story kept a stack of XY within the corner over Woody and Buzz. A reference to the XY chromosome present in biological males (a tad essentialist, but we move) XY magazine was a youth-focused gay magazine founded in West Hollywood in 1996, and featured chiselled lads in editorials filled with brash, primary colors. Cut to today, and “Rush” is firmly within the tradition of that magazine, with its spunky men in colored jockstraps and tight little baby tees.


On the track’s testosterone-fuelled chorus, Sivan’s featherweight falsetto breaks right into a football chant – ”I feel the push / Hooked on your touch” – while topless men link arms and do a novelty dance that’s without delay “YMCA” and “Come on Eileen”. It’s homoerotic and it’s goofball-coded, like sports fans who get drunk on the Euros and choose to moon and slap their friends’ bums until the blood vessels burst on the surface. Between the body-to-body choreography and adidas tracksuits, the entire thing rides on the identical form of masculinity hawked in Wolfgang Tillman’s portraiture, where sweat-drenched men in track jackets clutch at one another’s faces and shove rope-veined arms into three-stripe shorts. All with the golden hour idyll of Alasdair McLellan.

It’s also quite Broquette-coded, with angel-faced jocks wrestling in cycling tops and twunks deep-throating beer funnels. And in an era of queer pop, where styling is so often in service to identity politics, it’s refreshing to see LGBTQs looking hot and hedonistic. It’s aspirational. Actually, the music video reads like a fashion campaign – perhaps for DSquared2 (see the ‘Choke’ t-shirt from AW23) or Diesel – where sleaze is telegraphed within the flash of a jockstrap, a too-tight vest, and a cowboy boot. After which there are the skinhead trousers from Jean Paul Gaultier’s AW97 collection, a sequence mail dress from Paco Rabanne’s SS23 proposal, and a great deal of archival Dior miniskirts and a saucy John Galliano newspaper-print bikini.


Although this probably won’t be counted as inspiration for the entire video, there’s a single shot about halfway through that evokes all of the majesty of a sixteenth century Baroque masterpiece (form of). As Sivan is hoisted within the air two by two men, one other inserts a funnel into his mouth for a classic, fratboy keg stand. It’s got all the trimmings of a Caravaggio painting – the drama, the dynamism, light and shade, pretty gay boys. Caravaggio was, in fact, a gay man himself, so it’s not too far-fetched to suggest they’d slip the reference in. The degrees!


Although “Rush” only premiered yesterday, the web has already witnessed roughly 84 years of discourse regarding the suspiciously skimpy men cavorting through each frame. Is the video promoting an unrealistic body image? Was anyone over 10 per cent body fat immediately banned from set? Truthfully, we couldn’t let you know, but ultimately we suspect Sivan just desired to pay homage to the sylphlike creatures who got here before him. If the video is anything to go by, Slenderman, Salad Fingers and the Creepy Thin Man from Charlie’s Angels were all on the moodboard, together with the Child Catcher and Jack Skellington from The Nightmare Before Christmas. Unafraid to reference or not reference!

Update (July 18): In a recent interview with Billboard magazine, Sivan addressed criticisms of the “Rush” music video, specifically the dearth of body representation.

“I definitely hear the critique,” he said. “To be honest, it just wasn’t a thought we had – we obviously weren’t saying, ‘we would like to have one specific kind of person within the video.’ We just made the video, and there wasn’t a ton of thought put behind that.”

He also singled out an article from Vulture that instructed him and his dancers to “eat something, you silly twinks”.

“That basically bummed me out to read that”, the singer said, “because I’ve had my very own insecurities with my body image. I feel that everybody’s body is as beautiful because it is, including my very own, and it just sucks to see people talking about other people’s bodies.”

Sivan’s latest album Something To Give Each Other is out October 13. “Rush” is out now.

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