On paper, it would appear we’re at an exciting moment in pop music, with a new wave of exciting LGBT+ artists releasing new material this year.
It’s worth nothing, though, that in this new spring of talented acts, who are being candid about their sexuality in their art, and inspiring others to be more open in the process, women are in the minority.
Among these women is Hayley Kiyoko, who released her debut studio album, ‘Expectations’, back in March, winning herself a legion of new fans with her honest approach to sex, relationships and other personal topics.
Speaking to HuffPost UK, the Los Angeles-born star highlights this lack of visibility for women in the LGBT+ community, saying she hopes her place on the music scene can affirm to her young fans that they too can “follow their dreams”.
“We kind of live in a society where we have to see it to believe it, right?” she explains. “So it’s really important to have representation.
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“Obviously I have no control over who I am and what I look like and what I like... but I definitely represent a minority that is not really showcased in the pop mainstream world.
“So, I feel lucky to be able to give younger generations hope that they can do whatever they want.”
When ‘Expectations’ - which reached number 12 in the US album chart, and 24 here in the UK - was first released, many critics picked up on the use of female gender pronouns on the album and Hayley’s references to romantic relationships with women.
But despite the conversations all this ignited, and the praise Hayley has received from LGBT+ listeners, who happy the community has a new young woman to look up to, the singer says she never set out to make a visibly queer album.
“I am who I am,” she explains. “And I am an artist. And I like girls. So, of course, I’m definitely going to be singing about that.
“It’s not something that I focus on, or try to be like, ‘this is what I’m going to do’. It’s a part of my life, and that’s part of my experiences, and as an artist, it’s my duty to share my experiences with people.
“I enjoy being able to be myself and get to share that and have people give it a chance. Even if they don’t connect to me on a specific level, but they can connect to the emotion and the feeling and the tone, then that’s everything.”
You’d be forgiven her thinking Hayley would be feeling the pressure right now, especially as she’s still at such an early point in their solo performing career, but she insists this isn’t something that preoccupies her.
“I don’t feel pressure from other people to be a certain thing because I’ve never been trying to be something, do you know what I mean?”, Hayley says. “I’m literally just being myself and putting out art, and with that, I’ve been really lucky that it’s kind of meant something to people. So I’m just going to keep doing what I do.
“The only pressure that I feel is from myself, to put out great music and great stories and great videos. That’s the pressure that I feel.”
This self-imposed “pressure” is clearly one of the big driving forces behind ‘Expectations’, even inspiring the album’s title, as she tells us: “Expectation is my biggest strength and my biggest weakness.
“I set such high expectations for myself that that’s what drives me, and what keeps me going. And then it also pulls me back, because I’m constantly disappointed by myself, but also by other people.”
A co-writer on all 13 tracks on ‘Expectations’, Hayley’s stamp is all over the album, and it’s clear she has a far more hands-on approach than many of her pop peers at the same stage in their careers.
As well as serving as a co-producer on the album, Hayley has directed all of its accompanying music videos, which was obviously no easy task.
“I’m starting to really figure out the balancing act,” she says, “But it’s definitely something that’s very meticulous. I have to communicate myself very well to other people to verbalise what I see in my head, which is not the easiest thing to do, but I’ve started to get better at it, let’s just say.
“It’s no small thing putting together an album. I co-produced the album and co-wrote every song... and we did over 100 mixes and mastering… and I definitely feel like this is the best body of work that I could possibly make at this time and I feel extremely proud.
“And it definitely represents me as an artist and as a person and as a storyteller.”
As one of the few female LGBT+ rising stars in the current pop scene, Hayley has become a role model to her influential young fans, claiming that, particularly in the current political and social climate, she wants to inspire them to always have faith that things can, and will, get better.
“I think we need hope for the younger generation to feel like things can change in a positive way,” Hayley says. “And for myself as an artist, that’s my goal.
“And I’m sure it’s many other artists’ goals as well, but I think that’s what’s really important, is to not give up, [or to] feel like things can’t change in society.
“There’s always room for growth, there’s always room for more compassion towards one another, and it’s about exercising that.”
However, Hayley points out that escapism in is as much a part of ‘Expectations’ as addressing issues both relating to herself and the wider world.
She continues: “I think music should be used for all purposes. That’s what’s so great about it, everyone uses it for their own purpose, whether it’s escaping or whether it’s mirroring reality and being present, and dealing with issues.
“And my album definitely touches on real life struggles. I mean, I sing about depression, I sing about loss... but then there’s also tracks where it’s got a sexy mood or it feels like you can escape.
“Honestly, on ‘Expectations’, I just wanted to comfort people. So, if they feel sad, I wanted there to be a track that felt sad, and that validated their feelings.
“I really wanted my album to be a validation of all emotions, and all feelings. Life isn’t perfect, and sometimes you go through ups and downs. And that’s OK.”
‘Expectations’ by Hayley Kiyoko is available to download and stream now.