Hayley Kiyoko, known as lesbian Jesus by fans, became a pop sensation for queer women when she released her second EP, “This Side of Paradise” in 2015. The single “Girls Like Girls” launched her into the public eye because of her female love interests.
On Saturday, Kiyoko released “Expectations,” her highly-anticipated debut album. Prior to the album, Kiyoko had only released three EPs over a five-year span, garnering attention and support from the LGBTQ community.
In an industry dominated by heteronormativity, Kiyoko’s songs represent queer girls and women. Her lyrics describe situations like coming to terms with one’s sexuality or crushing on a girl who will never return the interest.
Kiyoko said in an interview with Refinery29 she faced accusations from music executives who questioned her use of female love interests and queerness for views in January 2018.
Responding to backlash from only singing about women, Kiyoko compared her songs to straight female artists.
“Taylor Swift sings about men in every single song and video, and no one complains that she’s unoriginal,” Kiyoko said in an interview with Refinery29, an entertainment company focused on young women.
Swift defended Kiyoko’s remarks, responding to a fan’s post on Tumblr, saying it’s Kiyoko’s right to call out the double standards queer artists face.
“We should applaud artists who are brave enough to tell their honest romantic narrative through their art, and the fact is that I’ve never encountered homophobia and she has,” Swift wrote on Tumblr.
Although Kiyoko’s debut album seems universal at the surface, the songs actually relate specifically to the experiences of women and girls who have feelings for other women.
“Expectations” leaves listeners with all of their expectations met, and wanting more.
Kiyoko takes pop and makes it her own. Her music is catchy, rhythmic and emotionally charged.
After co-directing the video for her song “Girls Like Girls,” Kiyoko began self-directing all of her music videos. She uses the videos as a way to express her sexuality and give listeners a chance to understand her songs.
The first single off of her debut album, “Sleepover” chronicles one of the most common situations queer women face: romantic feelings for a woman who doesn’t share the same sexual preference.
In her self-directed music video, Kiyoko illustrates the confusion and loneliness that come along with having romantic feelings toward a women she can never have. She is vulnerable and unapologetic over the soft-synth beat as she sings about her suppressed feelings.
She sings, “Even when you’re next to me, it’s not the way I’m picturing, I’m just feeling low, feeling low.”
In her song, Kiyoko escapes to a world where she can have the woman she desires.
“Feelings” explores the intense longing for someone to reciprocate your affection.
“I overcommunicate and feel too much, I just complicate it when I say too much,” Kiyoko coos.
In the music video, Kiyoko dances around a girl who doesn’t emulate her emotions. It’s clear that Kiyoko feels comfortable around the girl, indicating her acceptance of her own sexuality in contrast with the shyness of her crush.
“I’m not over-sexualizing my music. I make out with women because I love women, not because I’m trying to be sexy. That’s not to turn heads — that’s my life,” Kiyoko said in an interview with Refinery29.
“Are we just friends? You say you wanted me — but you’re sleeping with him,” Kiyoko sings over the dance-pop beat.
Once again, she addresses the confusion and uncertainty queer women and girls face when pursuing a love interest, in this case a woman who is ambivalent about their relationship.
The music video features actress Tereza Kacerova as a woman who flirts with Kiyoko but leads her on. Kiyoko is left confused, but rather than accept the heartbreak, she confronts Kacerova in a moment of passion at the end of the music video and sings, “I’m just curious, is it serious?”
“Sure, I’d love for people to just like me, and my music. But if I don’t allow labels, there’s no way to normalize them. Over time, my existence alone will help people see that a lesbian singer is just a singer,” Kiyoko said to Refinery29.
Overall, Kiyoko’s debut album is a ray of hope for the pop industry. She gives listeners a new perspective and brings queer love even further into the mainstream. At a time when pop music is producing redundant opposite-sex attraction love songs, Kiyoko’s unapologetic queerness is breaking barriers.