Queer representation within modern culture is definitely becoming more commonplace, but few artists explicitly use their queerness when it comes to subject matter within music. Enter Hayley Kiyoko, the former child star who’s debut album Expectations maintains a constant lady loving theme throughout.
The Expectations (Overture) gives way to the frustratingly smooth Feelings, a relatable frustration of knowing you’re into someone of the same gender in a world where you’re taught that heterosexuality is near enough compulsory. It’s freeing to have a young artist so sure o who they are, something that has rightly earned Kiyoko the unofficial title of ‘lesbian jesus’ amongst her fans.
It’s impossible to get a track any gayer than the Kehlani featuring What I Need, without a doubt this record’s standout moment. Both ladies are publicly out and the chemistry between the two is more than enough to get you a little hot under the collar. Hayley’s adorably nerdy personality versus Kehlani’s cool casual presence make for a dream lady-loving duo. It’s 20gayteen and us queer ladies are over being queer-baited by straight stars thinking it’s ok to capitalise on gay culture, so thankfully this song is more than the real deal, they play off each other with more chemistry than should be legal. If either party think they can get away with not releasing a video for this track, there is likely to be a full scale uprising.
It’s a well established trope that at some point most queer people will be crushing on their best friend of the same gender, well now there’s an anthem for that! Sleepover will make you melt with how gentle and subtle the desire for physical affection is, but sadly Hayley’s interest doesn’t return the favour. It quickly becomes clear why there is a second adolescent phase upon coming out for queer people, because so much of our time beforehand is spent conjuring up ideal situations in our heads as opposed to actively living them.
Mercy/Gatekeeper has many darker nuances to it, punctuated by muffled drums like those heard outside our beloved gay clubs the world over. Kiyoko is at the mercy of her sexuality, but not negatively as there is definitely something freeing buried amongst the chaos. The latter part of the track should soundtrack the next gay tv couples first kiss in a seedy underground club, and if it doesn’t then I will personally spearhead the letters of complaint.
Curious deserves it’s own paragraph. Yes, it is a majestic banger that can happily stand alongside Dancing On My Own by Robyn in the gay bangers standings. BUT, and it’s a big but, we need to address the bi-erasure going on with this track and video. I will admit at first even I wasn’t aware of this issue at first, but it’s clear from the lyrics and video that the object of Kiyoko’s affections could simply be bisexual and that there should be no issue made of that. Bisexual people exist and as much as I love Hayley, I feel there was a way of tackling someone being dishonest without further fuelling the idea that bisexual people need to ‘pick sides’ or are somehow more likely to play people when it comes to relationships.
The record closes with Let It Be, a rose tinted glasses love song about not being able to stay away from that one person who flips your entire world upside down. Subtle in her approach, Hayley once again turns the harshness of growing up queer into something beautiful to be celebrated. It’s beyond refreshing to have someone looking at the positives rather than lingering on the heartbreaks, betrayals and struggles that come with same sex attraction.
Hayley Kiyoko has recently been quoted in an interview as wanting to just “own shit and make out with girls” – something there is no doubt of her achieving following this album release. It’s the gayest record in recent years, and that feels so incredible to be able to type in a review. Hayley Kiyoko understands how isolating being gay can be and in this record has held out a supportive hand, a caring shoulder and a reassuring ear to anyone and everyone who has ever been made to second guess their very existence. 20gayteen truly belongs to Hayley Kiyoko.