When 20gayteen began (as dubbed by the ingenious Hayley Kiyoko), we did not truly know what was to come. 2017, in a nutshell, sucked: we were going into the first year of an anti-everything-queer presidential administration and we were growing more weary by the day. Starved for queer content in all facets of media, queer people have been waiting for a fresh voice in popular music especially. With queer artists like Kehlani, Todrick Hall, and Lauren Jauregui gaining popularity, we had hope, but we still wanted more (rightfully so.)
Enter Ms. Hayley Kiyoko, our lesbian Jesus, our messiah, our light in the darkness, with her debut album, Expectations. Having released multiple EPs in the last few years (one featuring the song Girls Like Girls, which arguably propelled her to queer fame), Kiyoko has been developing her fan base, which has been eagerly anticipating the release of the album. Through a combination of electric pop and nature sounds, the album presents a solid delivery of queer experiences blended with personal struggles of depression and learning to live authentically. As encouraged by Kiyoko on Twitter, listen to this album in its designated sequence to truly experience the magnitude of her message.
Opening with an instrumental, Expectations/Overture, the sounds of wind and birds chirping mix with a melancholy humming by Kiyoko that transports listeners to a dream-like state of serenity. Fading out into an almost psychedelic rhythm, Feelings amps up the beat to really kickstart the album. It’s difficult to listen to this foot-tapping song without remembering the accompanying video, with Kiyoko strut-dancing to the rhythm in the street as she tries to woo a passing woman. Amidst intermittent flute interjections in the chorus, Kiyoko’s smooth vocals convey the emotion we all know too well: feeling way too much for someone.
Still in the romantic mood, Kiyoko’s highly anticipated duet with Kehlani, What I Need, follows. Falling in love with people who are still doubting their queer identity is a persisting theme amongst queer women, and Kiyoko and Kehlani can relate. When Kiyoko and Kehlani sing “What I need, what I need, what I need is for you to be sure” in the chorus, they convey a frustration with women who express queerness but fear societal commitment. But they still recognize their own downfall in falling in love with women who are still questioning their identities (“I only want a girl who ain’t afraid to love me, not a metaphor of what we really could be“); the bridge and chorus become a push-and-pull between their feelings and their consciences.
This is where the album takes a mournful turn. Switching to an acoustic guitar accompaniment, Sleepover continues the previous theme of falling in love with the wrong people: in this case, a straight best friend. When Kiyoko woefully delivers the lyric of “At least I got you in my head,” she effectively communicates the deep misery of unrequited love. Enter Mercy/Gatekeeper, where Kiyoko’s voice drops an octave for a mournful delivery of a song about her perceived lack of inner confidence and strength. With the chorus of “Bang-bang, I start to fly,” she reveals how her imagination is able to free her from her feelings of depression.
Under the blue/Take Me In follows, with a stellar ocean analogy (this is fitting, as Kiyoko was born and raised in California.) Filled with finger snaps to fill the silence between electronic beats, the song is simultaneously done-up and down-to-earth, in a way that only Kiyoko can truly accomplish. The previously released Curious is up next, and its I’m-begging-you-to-dance-right-now message reignites listeners from their melancholy. Kiyoko taunts a former lover for choosing a man over her and being in a miserable relationship as a result. “Did you take him to the pier in Santa Monica, forget to bring your jacket, wrap up in him cause you wanted to” is the star lyric of this song, delivered at flawless speed during the chorus.
Ingeniously, Kiyoko injects an instrumental into the middle of the album with xx. Providing a transition in mood from the previous upbeat excitement, Kiyoko takes the audience on an emotional rollercoaster from previous confidence to subsequent sadness.
A flawless detail in this album is the transitions between songs, particularly flowing from xx to Wanna Be Missed. Blink-and-you-missed-it, this transition conveys a continuous thought process. Wanna Be Missed says what all of us are thinking when we’re single and lonely: LOVE ME. Abandoning the common procedure of incorporating the difficulties of love in the spotlight, Kiyoko’s choice to convey her emotions as relatable reminds us how down-to-earth her energy is.
The star of the album is next up: He’ll Never Love You (HNLY.) Beginning with the sound of a record machine turning on-and-off, the song sees the return of Kiyoko’s infectious confidence. A mental picture of Kiyoko teasing and dancing for a woman is instantly procured, and you begin to agree that the man will never love this woman like Kiyoko would. Returning with an intense beat and a nostalgic voice, Kiyoko sings of living in and loving the California vibes in Palm Dreams. Evoking the emblems of palm trees and parties, Kiyoko deconstructs her seemingly glamorous lifestyle by portraying an easy-living vibe that reminds us she’s just like us.
If you thought you had been subjected to an emotional rollercoaster prior to this point in the album, wait until you hear Molecules, which was written about the death of the brother of a close friend of Kiyoko’s. The feeling of wanting to drift away alongside the person that has passed is so mentally heavy yet so emotionally freeing. If you have lost someone, listening to this song may connect you to them in a way you haven’t been before.
Forget all the previous baggage: Kiyoko is moving on to greater and brighter things in the future according to Let It Be. Tambourine-accompanied with a hand-clapping bridge, this is one to sing with your friends when the future is going to be better than the past. Despite nostalgic undertones, the song gives you the feeling that Kiyoko is dusting the dirt off of her scarred hands to carve out new masterpieces.
This is just the beginning of what will be both a very queer 20gayteen and a very successful career for Hayley Kiyoko. Her ability to vulnerably portray her emotions in such an introspective way sets this recording apart from other albums. Thank you for blessing us, our queer messiah.