In the past few years, Hayley Kiyoko has gone from a Disney Channel star to the so-called “lesbian Jesus”—a cheeky moniker bestowed on her by fans thanks to her über-relatable lyrics about relationship frustrations. As one of pop music’s only openly gay female artists, Kiyoko says that just because said relationships don’t conform to the heteronormativity often found in pop music, that doesn’t mean her debut album Expectations won’t have broad pop appeal. “We’re all going on our own journey and trying to find comfort within our emotions. I wanted to create a setting for listeners to take their personal journey on and make the album their own,” she says. “It’s specific about my journey but it’s also vague at the same time.”
On the album’s first single “Feelings,” Kiyoko showed the world exactly what kind of creative force she is. From directing and starring in the song’s video to confidently celebrating her sexuality, Kiyoko’s art form was decided as powerful and all her own. On Expectations, she continues on that path. “I’m proud I was able to vocalize how I’ve felt through the years,” she says. “I really focused on making this album as visual as possible. So, I encourage everyone to listen to the album from the beginning to end, in order.”
That call to action is notable given the short attention spans many of us have developed in the current climate of digital streaming—especially coming from a 26-year-old. For Kiyoko, this was a natural decision. “I’ve always loved stories. I want listeners to feel like they’re in my world but also their world. It should feel like reality but slightly to the left,” she says. “I did my best to elevate [the narrative] as much as possible and to truly make it an experience,” she adds.
To an outsider, Kiyoko’s artistic integrity and refreshing honesty might seem like just what the pop world ordered. But the singer herself struggles with balancing her own high expectations with fear of disappointing herself and others. “It’s my biggest strength but also my biggest weakness,” she admits. “You need to lower your expectations when you’re not at your best but maintain them for yourself so you continue to grow.”
When I offer that the creative process behind Expectations sounds like a valuable lesson for life in general, Kiyoko laughs. “It’s a big circle of trying to figure it out,” she adds. “We’ve just solved the world.”
With Expectations out now, allow Kiyoko’s musical sounds and sage wisdom to exceed yours.