Hayley Kiyoko’s Undiluted Lesbian Melodrama Is Making Her A Breakout Pop Icon

Amanda Charchian

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“I remember my gay content for TV was watching two straight girls make out on The Real World,” budding pop star Hayley Kiyoko told me over the phone, in between bites of tacos. “That was my fix.” Instinctually, I switched out of “reporter mode” and into “two queer women having a chat” mode. “Saaaame, girl, same,” I vocal-fryed into my TapeACall.

The pop music scene has been expanding with gay, queer, queer adjacent, and queer-assumed musical performers enough over the past decade that Kiyoko probably isn’t the first of something — but that technical truth sells short the way it feels, like she’s creating a brand new lane in the music industry.

Maybe it’s because of her music videos. Starting with the breakout hit video for “Girls Like Girls” from her second EP This Side Of Paradise Kiyoko has been self-directing music videos that are undiluted lesbian melodrama. In her videos for “Feelings,” “Sleepover,” and “Curious” — singles from her new album Expectations — Kiyoko explicitly romances women; she seduces them and pines for them, she kisses and… more than kisses. Whether or not these images should feel fresh, they do. The visual language is clearly queer; vibes-wise, the viewer can feel the difference when the eye behind the camera is a gay one.

Or maybe she feels like a new kind of pop star because of her lyrics, stories of obsessive pining for a best friend who will never love you back like that (You wanna be friends forever? / I can think of something better), stories of a female lover going back to her boyfriend (If you let him touch ya, touch ya, touch ya, touch ya / The way I used to, used to, used to, used to), stories of girls who will hook up but won’t admit they’re into it (‘Cause baby, you know that you got it / Girl, yeah, you know that you want it / Girl, why can’t you just be honest — with yourself?).

These anecdotes are familiar for anyone who grew up queer, who hunted for the crumbs of these stories in movies and TV and online, who exchanged them giddily with the first queer friends they finally, finally made. But here they are now, front and center, with Top 40-style beats and instrumentation, no longer crumbs. Instead — the whole cake.