In a time of iniquity, the music of Hayley Kiyoko is profound in its shattering of stereotypes surrounding sexuality, Jade Matlock details
We are fortunate to live in a time where the social expression of sexuality is more accepted and widely received than ever before, but there was still a critical boundary that was yet to be truly crossed in terms of LGBTQIA+ representation – music. While many artists are openly part of the community, there seemed to be a lack of explicit references to this in their music, leaving a gap of songs for to which LGBTQIA+ youth can relate… until now.
Hayley Kiyoko released her debut album Expectations back in March 2018, but this is not the first time you may have seen her face dotted around. Not only did her group The Stunners provide support for Justin Bieber’s My World Tour in 2007, Kiyoko has popped up on our television screens as Velma Dinkley in Scooby-Doo! Curse of the Lake Monster and perhaps her most notable television appearance, Stella Yamada in teen classic Lemonade Mouth. Since then, Hayley has made quite the name for herself – literally. Known to her dedicated fans and the wider internet as ‘Lesbian Jesus’, she has performed around the world to sold out audiences, displaying her talents at last year’s universally renowned Coachella festival, with a stint performing at Reading and Leeds festival planned for August 2019 alongside household names such as Foo Fighters and The 1975. A trailblazer in her own right, Kiyoko writes from the heart about the trials and tribulations of being a lesbian in the modern age with brutal honesty and a confidence that others could only dream of.
However, acceptance of oneself did not always come so easily for this powerhouse; coming out as a lesbian to her family at 11 years old, Kiyoko struggled to come to terms with her identity as well as the fear of societal rejection that openly LGBTQIA+ individuals experience on a daily basis. These struggles continued into adulthood, addressing her frustration at not being able to connect with people the way she wanted to in a 2016 interview. She later stated influences like Tegan and Sara and Katy Perry’s ‘I Kissed A Girl’ as the tipping point that gave her the push she needed to integrate her sexuality into her song writing – a move she regrets not making sooner after seeing the impact such transparency had on the fans of her music. After the release of the provocative single ‘Girls Like Girls’ in 2016, which enlightened the masses on how her sexuality is valid and not simply a ‘phase’, Kiyoko strives to recognise the normalcy of lesbian relationships in a music scene that is traditionally heteronormative, while also communicating the natural conflict that comes with working out who you are.
With Expectations, she does just that. With punchy lyrics like ‘This love asylum, like an island, just me and you / Spent the night, you got me high, what did you do?’ exploring the first inklings of romance in ‘Feelings’, Kiyoko effortlessly explores the idea of a love that disregards the typical heteronormative qualifications of love, choosing to focus on the interpersonal connection between those involved rather than their position as two women. The song writing in this album brings forth a refreshing level of intimacy to the pop genre, exploring the deepest fears and insecurities of a woman coming to terms with who she is. This can be seen most prominently in the almost chilling lyrics of ‘Wanna Be Missed’, with ‘Wanna know she’s only mine / Breathe her in give me life’ establishing a fundamental need for a love that is furiously reciprocated by her partner, creating a bond with listeners of all sexual orientations in our mutual need for affection. Perhaps some of her most soul bearing writing comes from ‘Sleepover’, depicting the difficulties of manoeuvring romantic and sexual feelings for a female friend. ‘You will never understand / Even when you hold my hand / I just feel alone, feel alone’ marks a darker shift in tone from the idyllic guitar rift it battles against, acting as an insight into the troubled mind of feeling isolated in your experiences while trying to keep up appearances. Overall, Kiyoko’s debut is a masterpiece, and perfectly represents the considerable difficulties of being LGBTQIA+ in a dominantly heteronormative environment.
For artists like Hayley Kiyoko, there is no better time than now to break down the boundaries of sexuality in song writing, and her UK concerts (which includes a brief stint at the O2 Academy, Birmingham in February) gives a whole new audience the opportunity to be tantalised by her whimsical musings.
‘Expectations’ is available now via EMPIRE / Atlantic Recordings. Tickets to see Hayley Kiyoko perform live are available here.