“I’m real and I don’t feel like boys.” – Hayley Kiyoko
Graphic by Nieves Winslow
It is June 24, 2015. I am surfing the internet (or, doing homework- “Yes, even in the summertime Mom!”) As it is for many of us who, on the daily, endlessly click through the void of simultaneous nothingness and everything-ness that is the internet, I am bored. YouTube becomes my next destination, and I look under the “recently uploaded” tab to see what generic, boy-meets-girl, but “we swear it’s original!” single has been released to the general public today. I see a thumbnail with a cute girl, and, as the rules of gayness dictate, I must click on it.
I think if I had read the title of the video, my reaction might have been slightly different. The video immediately stirs suspicion, as the cute girl is riding a bike with blood and bruises on her face. She arrives at an inconspicuous suburban house and immediately hugs another really cute girl in a way that is, huh, not very platonic. But, as we know, we gays like to aggrandize, so I tried not to get my hopes up. These girls share cigarettes and dance in a field together to lyrics like, “Stealin’ kisses from your Mrs., does it make you freak out?” and, “Buildin’ your girl second story, rippin’ all your floors out.”
Suddenly, I become aware of how monumental this video is. The chorus arrives, and I hear what will become the most memorable line of the song as well as its extremely memorable title: “Girls like girls like boys do, nothing new.” This, my friends, was the beginning of the very queer part of Ms. Hayley Kiyoko’s musical career.
Named the “queen of the gays” by her loyal fans, Kiyoko has become a revolutionary and representative voice for this new generation of young queer girls. Kiyoko has been acting and singing since the 2000s, but didn’t garner her following until the past few years, when she began to release music that focuses on queer female subjects, starting with “Girls like Girls” in 2015. This song was the first that told me that “not feeling like boys” (a lyric from said song) was A-OK, and that there were millions of other girls (judging by the 80 million views of the video) who felt the same.
The nonchalant and innocent portrayal of young love between two girls shouldn’t be revolutionary. But for an audience who has been starved by the producers of the constant barrage of cishetero-centric content that streams through the top-40 charts on the daily, this moment was monumental. Suddenly, queerness in a music video wasn’t being exploited as a method to attract men using the homophobic allure of sexualized lesbian relationships. It was pure, unadulterated, young love that was celebrated instead of denigrated. The image of the cute girl with a grin on her face and bruises on her cheeks from defending herself from the video’s physical manifestation of violent queerphobia became an image of strength in the face of an oppressive society.
As a queen can never leave her subjects bored, Kiyoko has constantly progressed in her music style. As she has evolved into a young queer woman in the public eye, her music has grown with her to memorialize all the pivotal moments of a queer woman’s life.
Following “Girls like Girls” was “Cliff’s Edge”, released the following November. The focus of the video was the beginning of a sexual relationship with another woman and all the good and bad things that accompany it (slyly represented by the pink and blue coloring of the video to portray those contrasting themes). Aided by coordinated dance sequences in a eerie lake and lyrics such as, “Kiss me with adventure until I forget my name” and, “Cliffs edge, you turn me on, you lead me on, you’ve got me on a cliff’s edge where I belong”, Kiyoko paints the picture of tentative and then exuberant exploration of sex and an ensuing relationship with another woman. The finished product is a song and video that says, “I get you” and, “Relationships, even queer ones, are complicated.” Kiyoko is preaching to the queer choir, and they are singing her lyrics right back to her.
A common theme in the queer community is a fear of expression. Expression through gender, clothing, and personality has always been a point of contention, as the rest of the world constantly attempts to force us back into the closet. Never one to quietly accept the ideals of the straight world, Kiyoko takes on the popular mean girls in her next music video “Gravel to Tempo.” Combining the insecurities and pride of being out, Kiyoko dances more and more confidently throughout the song, moving to the beat of her own drum (literally) in front of the girls who used to hurt her in high school. Lyrics like “I don’t feel adequate, thinking I’m a monster in disguise” and “I thought I was depressed, but I think I just needed to cry” convey the message of communal feelings of inadequacy in the queer community. These lyrics, however, are coupled with those of strength and pride: “I’ll do this my way, don’t matter if I break, I gotta be on my own.”
Listening to “Gravel to Tempo” is like watching a flashback sequence of my life, with back-to-back contrasting images of me cowering in the corner evolving to me confidently proclaiming my sexuality in front of my classmates. Her music acts like a life jacket for those drowning in a homogeneous world which wants nothing more than to sink you into its depths. Listening to this song is like coming up for fresh air; air that smells like freedom and pride.
In her latest EP, Kiyoko has continued her positive impact on the queer community by releasing songs such as “Sleepover” (detailing the common queer problem of falling in love with your straight best friend), “Pretty Girl” (for when you really want to tell that beautiful girl how beautiful she is), and “Ease My Mind” (when the haunting of a past lover controls your every thought). Her newest release Feelings” shows the power of uncontrollable sentiments over budding relationships.
What is so magical about Hayley Kiyoko is her ability to convey an overarching message of “I am just like you” to her fans. You may not know another queer woman in your life, but Kiyoko’s music serves as a reminder that they’re out there, and they are going through similar experiences. Kiyoko’s continuous dedication to being an unapologetically queer woman of color and being proud of her communities is clearly reflected in her videos. She casts women of color as her love interests (“Sleepover,” “Feelings”), shows camaraderie and friendships between marginalized groups during times of tension (“One Bad Night”), and portrays people in all of their messiness and beauty, such as close-up shots of beautiful stretch marks during sex (“Sleepover”).
The best thing about Kiyoko is that you get to know her life and experiences through her music and videos. I had the pleasure of attending one of her concerts in her One Bad Night tour in Detroit, Michigan, and every one of my instincts about who she was was right. She proudly proclaimed her concerts as a safe zone for everybody there and made the audience feel protected by her comforting presence. The community that she has created has grown to include so many people and experiences, and yet as it’s changed, she continually assures us that we are all valid.
“Girls like Girls” was released on June 24, 2015. Two days later, the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states. Coincidence? Definitely, but that doesn’t keep us from realizing the power of having a role model who shares her experiences with the world. We love you Hayley. Continue existing unapologetically.