Is This Thing On?: Hayley Kiyoko, exceeding expectations

Some may recognize her as the spunky guitarist from the film “Lemonade Mouth” (2011), and others may know her affectionately as Lesbian Jesus, the moniker given to her by fans. Either way, Hayley Kiyoko is worth keeping an eye on.

The bleach blonde L.A. native released her first full length album, “Expectations” (2018), last Friday. The highly anticipated release comes three years after her viral summer hit “Girls Like Girls” (2015). As the name alludes, it’s one of Hayley’s earliest public expressions of her sexual orientation. The music video tells the story of a young girl who is in love with her best friend, who happens to be in an abusive relationship. In an epic role reversal, we see a heroine saving the girl from her violent boyfriend. No lie, the video had me tearing up a little bit. 

Though I’m not an expert on all the gay artists out there, I might say that few are as vocal as Kiyoko. In an interview with Fuse, Kiyoko shares her struggle to figure out her sexuality in high school: “As you grow older … you become wiser and realize, ‘Oh, I just need to love myself.’ And then nobody else’s opinion really remembers.” In the video for her single “Gravel to Tempo” (2016), Kiyoko dances embarrassingly yet unashamedly through the halls of her high school, as a way of getting the last laugh from the popular girls from whom she used to seek validation. In fact, Kiyoko encourages other girls to reconcile with their feelings, too, a common theme throughout her music. That was an eloquent way of saying that Kiyoko tries to convince all of her crushes that they also like girls, even if they don’t know it yet. While Kiyoko’s early work was more subtle, “Expectations” is unabashedly gay. We’ve watched Kiyoko step out of her bedroom fantasies in “Sleepover” (2017) to confront her feelings with full force.

Standouts from her album include “Feelings” and “Curious” in which Kiyoko both confesses her overemotional tendencies in a flirtationship and subsequently teases a girl who won’t own up to the fact that she likes Hayley more than her boyfriend. “I’m just curious, is it serious?” she plays. In a powerful collaboration, Kiyoko lets R&B/hip-hop queen Kehlani take the reins on “What I Need,” in which she appears to make a little progress with the same girl from “Curious.” Kehlani, who is bisexual, plays the unsure love interest and offers her perspective. The two women join together for a powerful chorus, with Hayley’s persistence complimenting the sweetness of Kehlani’s hesitation, which grows into realization.

Other female pop stars have dabbled with gay lyrics. Unforgettably, Katy Perry fetishized this in her first hit, “I Kissed A Girl” (2008), completely shedding her past life as a clean Christian singer. Ironically enough, this song sparked something within a 17-year-old Kiyoko, who knew at the time she was gay. She told The Guardian, “It was a very exciting moment. Of course, I wished that it was a gay girl singing, but I was like, ‘That’s gonna be me.'” So there you go, Katy Perry exoticizing gayness actually brought some good into this world.


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