All of a sudden everyone is talking about someone called the Lesbian Jesus, and hailing this Los Angeles artist as the source of the Sapphic Second Coming. She might be here to save us all, but who exactly is Hayley Kiyoko, and where did she come from?
A lot of people have probably seen Hayley Kiyoko strutting down the street by now busting self-assured dance moves in her video for ‘Feelings’, and if you’ve got Twitter, it’s likely that you’ll have inadvertently seen the rising star flash up in gif form by now; most likely, catching a bra that’s been thrown on stage – something that happens at nearly ever show. A boundary pushing pop star who’s managed to entrance straight-laced America with her debut album ‘Expectations’, she’s also an artist doing something unique in 2018.
OK, so what’s her back-story?
Like many other first rate pop stars – Ariana Grande, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera – Hayley Kiyoko’s break came in the world of children’s telly. As a kid she was spotted at an ice rink by Nickelodeon, and presented a short segment about her favourite hobby, titled I’m Hayley, a Skater. Disappointingly, it was not a tribute to “I’m Amy, and I’m an indie”, but it was Kiyoko’s first time in front of a camera. She carried on acting throughout her teens – saying it was a way to support her musical ambitions – and formed a garage band called Hede in 2007. They played a few shows and released one single called ‘Warehouse’ before disbanding.
What happened after that? And how the hell did she end up supporting Justin Bieber?
Shortly after she fronted Hede, Hayley Kiyoko was approached by pop star and Hairspray star Vitamin C, and ended up joining pop group The Stunners as a result. Fellow artist Tinashe was also in the band, and they released a handful of singles together including ‘Dancin’ Around The Truth’. The Stunners later supported Justin Bieber on tour, but never released an album; they split up by the time 2011 came around. A large factor was most likely that Hayley Kiyoko’s acting schedule was suddenly jam-packed.
Starring as Stella Yamada in the Disney Channel’s 2010 high school flick Lemonade Mouth – a musician who mounts a protest when a school tries to remove the building’s lemonade machine – Hayley Kiyoko found herself with a growing fan-base. A few years later, that same fan base helped her to crowdfund her debut solo EP ‘A Belle to Remember’; a peppy and more polite first step towards the pop gold she puts out in 2018.
And what does all this have to do with being the Lesbian Jesus?
Well, up until Hayley Kiyoko put out her second EP This Side of Paradise, she had never really explored her own sexuality in her music. Then, the singer – who identifies as a gay woman – wrote ‘Girls Like Girls’, and co-directed the video that changed her entire career. Depicting two teenage girls harbouring a mutual crush, the two protagonists soon join forces, and fight back against the video’s creepy straight man who won’t leave them alone. The video soon became a Tumblr mega-hit, and it currently has 92 million hits on YouTube. On top of this huge surge in success, ‘Girls Like Girls’ also marked a major turning point for Hayley Kiyoko. It no doubt paved the way to Hayley Kiyoko’s debut album ‘Expectations’, a bold and glossy feast of female pronouns, love songs for women, and a refreshing swerve away from the more tragic LGBTQ narratives that dominate pop culture elsewhere. Fans are now calling her the Lesbian Jesus.
Why is everybody talking about her right now?
Well, first and foremost, Hayley Kiyoko is getting a lot of attention thanks to her excellent debut album; ‘Expectations’ is a much-needed antidote to heteronormative pop music, and the songs speak for themselves. For young queer fans, the power of watching a gay woman infiltrate that world with ease while singing songs that normalise LGBTQ desire is hugely valuable.
However, in recent months Kiyoko also hit the headlines after she criticised Rita Ora’s latest track ‘Girls’ – a track which also features Charli XCX, Cardi B, Bebe Rexha, and the divisive chorus “red wine, I just wanna kiss girls”.Responding to the track, Kiyoko took issue with this line in particular. “I don’t need to drink wine to kiss girls; I’ve loved women my entire life,” she said, posting on Twitter. “This type of message is dangerous because it completely invalidates and belittles the pure feelings of an entire community. I feel I have a responsibility to protect that whenever possible. We can and should do better.”
Rita Ora later issued a statement of her own, confirming that she has had relationships with both men and women in the past. She added that the song reflects her own personal experience. “This song is about liberation and freedom and empowerment and celebrating who you are,” she later told Billboard. “I think the narrative is shifting already. There’s not one way to come out.” Sympathising with Ora’s position, Olly Alexander from Years & Years also chimed in elsewhere. ““We can’t police the way people express their sexuality,” he said.
What’s next on the agenda?
Hayley Kiyoko is currently playing the lead role of Lexi Himitsu in Five Points; a new teen drama which aired on Facebook Watch at the beginning of June. The show is set at a South Side, Chicago high school and explores a life-changing event from five different points of view. She is also touring the US for the whole summer, and in August she is supporting Panic! At The Disco. Find full details here.
Looking forward to the future, Kiyoko has no concrete plans for a second album, but she is keen to continue writing music that empowers her LGBTQ fans. “It’s been a very humbling experience and I’m very grateful to be able to share my truth and have people welcome the truth and also relate to it,” she told Harper’s Bazaar. “And it inspires me to share more. It’s important for people to feel accepted and feel validated with their emotions and experiences. So if I can be a small part of someone’s positive experience, it really means a lot to me. That I’m able to share that with them, and make that connection. It’s really cool.”