Hayley Kiyoko's 'Expectations' Album Review
For Hayley Kiyoko, the most remarkable part about her work has never been the music itself, but the way she has been able to convey the stories behind her lyrics.
When Hayley Kiyoko released her first self-directed music video, "Girls Like Girls", on her Youtube channel in 2015, it struck a chord in the LGBT community, acquiring millions of views and becoming internet viral. It also marked the beginning of many same-sex love story songs to come, jump starting Kiyoko’s career into queer pop. While, the song and lyrics alone were only slightly above average, paired with the plot of the video, the music gave viewers a candid look into the initial struggles and conflicted feelings that arise in lesbian love, without any of the sexualization or fetishism.
Her critically acclaimed extended play Citrine, which was released in September 2016, further examines Kiyoko’s relationships with girls. Citrine solidified her loyal following, who now commonly refer to Kiyoko as “lesbian Jesus.” On their own the lyrics and music of her second self-directed music video "Gravel to Tempo" come off as basic and mundane, something slightly more mature than what you would perhaps hear as a pop track for an episode of a teen show. Watching the music video, however, makes Kiyoko’s work feel personal. The story line gives new life to the lyrics, so that regardless of the sexual orientation of the listener, the song nevertheless inspires an awe and admiration for Kiyoko’s honesty.
Thus, when Kiyoko released her newest album, Expectations, this March 30th, my standards were not focused on the innovation or creativity of her songs, but on her ability to convey a grounded, genuine, depiction of her innermost thoughts. In some ways, I was not disappointed, even pleasantly surprised. The album takes an even deeper dive into her bittersweet introspection of past romantic relationships, and while some songs’ lyrics seem to lack substance and depth, such as "Let it Be" and “Wanna Be Missed”, others provide a more compelling story. “Sleepover” and “Feelings” stand out as the most reflective songs about her experiences.
Kiyoko also attempts to branch out into talking about other topics relevant in her life, such as her post-concussion syndrome. “Mercy/Gatekeeper” contains lyrics that come directly from poems she wrote in her journal during times of intense pain. The experimentation is one worth acknowledging, but nevertheless feels underdeveloped and too fixated on the physical aspects of the syndrome rather than its emotional ones.
Her music also receives an upgrade. Her tracks, which contains elements of pop, R&B, and indie, feel fitting for clubs. The background of many of them contain low synths as a bass line that range from bouncy to guttural to futuristic depending on the mood. “Curious” and “What I Need” are easily the most danceable. Others songs like “Under the Blue/Take Me In” and “Sleepover” invoke a dreamier landscape, which works well with the introspective nature of some of her more personal pieces.
In anticipation of what story she would throw at me next in her self-directed music videos, however, I was unfortunately dissatisfied. Clearly, Kiyoko is expressing her comfortability around women in “Feelings” and “Sleepover.” But between all the kissing and sexually connotative camera angles, the juxtaposition between the videography and lyricism is distracting.
Overall, Kiyoko’s album is definitely worth a listen. Her storytelling may be lacking in its cinematic direction, but it reveals itself in other ways, such as her lyrics, which demonstrate Kiyoko’s strive to be as explicit and communicative as possible to her fans. As long as Kiyoko continues to establish intimate relationships with her viewers, I will be listening.
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