Hayley Kiyoko On The Similarities Between Perfume And Songwriting

Hayley Kiyoko’s 2018 debut album Expectations established her as one of the most important new voices in pop — and one who is devoted to prioritizing diversity and inclusion. Kiyoko is open about her experience as a half-Japanese, lesbian woman, who grew up as a closeted teen, and she’s been a vocal advocate for the LGBT community during an era where representation has become more important than ever. Following up her debut with the I’m Too Sensitive For This Sh*t EP in 2020, she’s now pivoted to work on another kind of artistic project — a perfume.

Announced last month, Kiyoko’s new fragrance Hue is a gender-inclusive perfume that’s not designated by gender as many scents are. “Fragrance can be an aphrodisiac for any gender or sexuality,” Hayley said in an interview when we spoke about her new project over the phone a few weeks ago. She spent two years creating a scent that felt true to herself, actively involved with selecting all the top, middle, and bottom notes in the fragrance. Fascinated by the connections that music and perfume share, and bolstered by the memories of using perfume as armor as a teenager, Hayley wants Hue to be a comforting, safe place for fans. Read more of her thoughts about her new scent and the perfume-making process below.

One of the first things that stood out is that it was important for your scent to be gender inclusive, why was that something you wanted to prioritize?

I’ve always battled with balancing my masculinity and femininity, sometimes I feel more masculine, sometimes I feel more feminine. I wanted to create a perfume that embodies both. I thought this fragrance should be for everyone. Whether you like fruity or floral tones shouldn’t really describe who you are as far as your gender. I was really excited to create a fragrance that embodies both.

How would you describe the scent you’re going for with Hue?

Specifically, it has fruity and floral top notes — it has some blood orange and freesia. Then, the heart of it is more like lychee, pink magnolia, and rose. The bottom notes are more musk and cacao. So it really has this awesome freshness to it, but then it also feels like you’ve had it on forever. So it’s very comforting.

What was the process like building out the scent of the perfume?

The process is really intense, it took two years for me to finally create something that felt authentic to who I was. It’s like music, when you go into a songwriting session, you’re explaining a feeling, and then you’re trying to create a feeling. So the same thing goes with perfume, you go ‘I want it to feel like this,’ but how to create a feeling through scent is a whole other obstacle in itself. What I did love about the process is that there’s so many connections to music. Music is created of notes and perfume is created of notes, and you combine the notes in a certain way and that creates a chord, which is basically like a chord in music. And then you rearrange the chord and that’s how you create a fragrance. So it was really fascinating, and such an exciting process. It really makes me respect any type of fragrance that can really embody a feeling so authentically.

How did you want people to feel when they put Hue on, what’s the driving emotional force?

How I feel about my fans was a driving emotional force. I think I struggled a lot growing up, being in the closet, searching for courage to get through every day life. Especially nowadays, we don’t have that physical connection or comfort in person. So how do you comfort yourself? For me, it’s through scent, and it’s through lighting a candle, spraying my perfume — that can make me feel good. Because right now it’s all about self-soothing and taking care of yourself. That was a really important thing for me going into this whole process.

Trevor Flores

So was the feeling you want Hue to evoke something to do with comfort and self-soothing?

The feeling I wanted Hue to convey was to highlight and enhance whatever you’re going through, and creating a safe space for it. Igniting hope and comfort through whatever you’re going through.

Were there any major shifts that came in the process of working on the perfume due to the pandemic?

Absolutely. First of all, I never thought the process would be so long. But it’s also been interesting, creatively, I thought I liked certain scents and then realized I didn’t. Learning that you can like certain scents but certain things can evoke other feelings that maybe I didn’t necessarily want. That was an interesting part of the process for me. I love comfort and I want to feel comfort but I don’t personally like vanilla. And that kind of world of comfort. I love more of the musk world of comfort, so we went in that direction. Also, I loved watermelon going into this, and watermelon didn’t make the cut. It was really interesting to see where it landed — again, it’s like music. I go into the studio and go ‘I want to feel like this,’ and then you put the chords together and sometimes you can accomplish that feeling, but sometimes I go ‘oh ok, this combination doesn’t encompass that feeling, how do I adjust it? How do I fix it? How do I rewrite the lyrics so it can evoke that feeling?’

What are some of your personal favorite perfumes?

Growing up, my very first perfume was Elizabeth Arden Green Tea. I wore that for many, many years going into high school. And then I wore Dolce & Gabbana No. 3, and that was probably a staple for a long time. And now I have Hue. I’ve been very loyal to my perfumes, I feel like once you find a perfume that I love, I wear it forever.

And what drew you to working with scent as a medium?

Growing up, perfume was like an armor for me. It gave me courage and it made me feel confident at times when I didn’t feel confident at all. That is something that I wanted to give to my fans, and create something that can hopefully help them get through what they’re going through.

I love the portrait by Liz Hirsch that’s included with the perfume. How does that tie into the concept?

The name Hue is inspired by the idea and the reality that everyone brings color to this world. We’re all different shades, and we all don’t fit in one box or stereotype. So that was really important for me to convey. The image is a portrait of me, but it’s very multicolored but it’s not necessarily a rainbow. They’re what makes me, me. And the same thing goes with everyone else — we all don’t fit in one category, we’re all different shades. The motto for this perfume is embrace you, embrace what makes you you.

Do you see yourself expanding into other categories beyond perfume after this?

I have no idea, we’ll see how this goes first. I’m just really excited to get to share this with the world. For me, it’s just one step at a time. I’m taking it one day at a time like everyone else, but obviously I hope that it’s successful and I hope that people love it. And hopefully I’ll be able to continue to make more. But it’s been a really fun process for me to be able to have another outlet besides music and try to embody my message through another medium.

What are your plans for 2021 with music?

I’m definitely working on my album, and I think what we all went through with 2020 is just taking it day by day and focusing on what’s important, which is health, number one. So for me, it’s interesting this was the first year I didn’t really make any resolutions. I’m just grateful to be here and take whatever comes my way this year. And I’m really enjoying that mentality and being open to whatever opportunities are able to come.

Hue is now available here.

Hayley Kiyoko is a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.