Photo Credit: Amanda-Charchian courtesy of Atlantic Records
Meet Hayley Kiyoko, the 26 year old American singer-songwriter, director, actress, and dancer who has become a lesbian icon called “Lesbian Jesus” by her devoted fans.
The daughter of a comedian/actor and Japanese-Canadian figure skater and choreographer, the LA based Kiyoko started modelling at 5 and starred on Disney Channel and Nickelodeon shows as a kid before winning roles in films such as Scooby Doo and Blue Lagoon: The Awakening. She started releasing music in 2013.
Kiyoko knew she was attracted to women from the age of seven, and in a 2016 essay for Papermag.com, she wrote of the pain and isolation she felt growing up.
“I had my heart broken over and over again; I never felt good enough. My life was led by these crushes as far back as first grade, when I had a crush on my teacher. That was the first time I realized I liked girls. But the problem is you feel like you can't share these true feelings with anyone for fear of outing yourself and facing judgement. So you struggle. And feel alone.”
Kiyoko hid her sexuality in her early music, until deciding to out herself with the 2015 YouTube hit “Girls Like Girls”, which bought her a contract with Atlantic Records and a strong queer fan base.
“When we shot the music video for “Girls like Girls," I felt like I was finally telling my story for the first time. The yearning feelings I had and also the feeling of being so alone,” she wrote in Papermag.com.
Photo Credit: Josh-Paul-Thomas courtesy of Atlantic Records
On March 30 Kiyoko released her first full-length studio album, Expectations, featuring electropop songs focussed on same-sex love. Kiyoko directs all of her videos, and is determined to normalize same-sex relationships and help young queer kids see a positive future for themselves.
Kiyoko is proud that her music connects so deeply with young queer people. “My music reassures them that they aren't alone -- that their feelings are valid, that they are enough and they will find someone to love them back.” She wrote in Papermag.com.
“It's hard sometimes, especially after this election, because I feel a responsibility to these girls. I know they are looking to me for guidance and comfort. It breaks my heart that fear is so present in our world right now. School is hard enough and it breaks my heart to see these kids under attack by hate crimes and bullying.”
In August last year, Kiyoko told Elle magazine that it isn’t easy being an out lesbian in the pop industry.
“For me, every music video is a hurdle. Every time I do a music video, I’m constantly fighting to get my point across. As a gay woman, that’s also a big hurdle. I remember when I did my last music video for “Sleepover,” I had pitched my concept and someone said, “Is it gonna be another music video about two girls?” And I was like “Well, yeah, it is, because that’s my life!”
“That’s a great example of me having to drive my point of trying to normalize girl-on-girl relationships, because people just think that’s obscene. Literally, they go “That’s obscene.” It’s not obscene, it’s my life.”
“I’m very proud of every video, because it’s a lot of hard work. I’m working to get these stories out because it’s important. They’re not just music videos with glitter and fancy moves. There’s meaning behind it. I’m trying to push things forward in our society, and it’s hard.”
Kiyoko faced criticism for comments she made about Taylor Swift In a March 31 interview with Refinery29, when she spoke of her struggle for creative control over her product.
“I’ve had several music industry execs say ‘You’re doing another music video about girls?’ I literally looked at them and was like, um, yea...Taylor Swift sings about men in every single song and video, and no one complains that she’s unoriginal,” Kiyoko said. “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.”
Swift responded to Kiyoko’s comments with a supportive post on Tumblr, writing that “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. It’s her right to call out anyone who has double standards about gay vs straight love interests.”
Kiyoko’s latest single, "What I Need," features out queer singer, Kehlani, who became very political when she toured Australia last year, educating her Instagram followers about the plight of Australia’s Aboriginal population and urging young people to vote Yes in the same-sex marriage postal survey.