Introduced to the music industry by way of a meticulously crafted, mid-aughts girl group and ultimately finding fame through secondary roles in Disney franchises, it seems Hayley Kiyoko is still navigating a space among the realms of marketable pop and personal artistry. Dubbed “Lesbian Jesus” by her fans–despite the singer herself dismissing the cheeky pseudo-sacrilege–Kiyoko is one of few openly gay female artists entering the mainstream pop scene. In fact, it was the shock factor behind her initial declaration of queerness in the 2015 “Girls Like Girls” that set the trajectory for Kiyoko’s burgeoning music career. On March 30th, Hayley Kiyoko built upon her discography with her debut album Expectations–as unapologetic as ever.
It’s evident that Expectations is aspiring, as demonstrated within seconds of the album’s initial overture track. Instrumental interludes (“xx”) and a back-to-back pair of two-song tracks (“Mercy/Gatekeeper and “Under the Blue/Take Me In”) follow. Crashing waves and chirping birds color the edges of several tracks like “Sleepover” and “Let it Be”–clearly, Kiyoko wants her work to be an immersive experience.
At times, though, Kiyoko’s Expectations falls short. “Palm Dreams” sounds like every other ode to the Angeleno lifestyle circa 2013, closing with the repetitive, empty claim, “If you party with us/ We’ll go up.” Most disappointing, the track “He’ll Never Love You” opens with an inventive, cross-cultural, and genuinely catchy instrumental just to bait-and-switch with yet another unremarkable beat as Kiyoko comes in. The vocal production in particular left a lot to be desired, although that may just be due to my personal bias towards strong pop vocalists. Kiyoko’s vocals are heavily stacked and mixed so often throughout this album I found myself searching her live performances to verify she could actually sing. This shortfall is clearest on her duet “What I Need”–next to Kehlani’s crystalline voice, Kiyoko sounds like the background vocals on her own song.
Her most sharply-honed perspective emerges through her expression of experiences previously unheard of in pop music. Quite honestly, Kiyoko is in her prime when she’s jaded. Echoing the sentiment of “Girls Like Girls”, Kiyoko’s album narrates romantic pitfalls exclusive to sapphic relationships–especially when they exist in opposition to heterosexuality. On the single “Curious” Kiyoko cuts, ” The artist spoke to Billboard about the story behind that particular so
Despite some less-than-stellar production choices, Hayley Kiyoko’s “Expectations” has me eagerly anticipating her future projects, especially within a mainstream media environment increasingly-embracing queer narratives at a rapid pace. I mean, if Ed Sheeran can repackage the same heterosexual marriage anthem every 3 years and have it certified Diamond nearly as often, the same license for creating–and evolving through–mediocre-at-times pop should be afforded to promising gay female artists.