Hayley Kiyoko Is Taking Over the World

Hayley Kiyoko Is Taking Over the World

The rising superstar shares an exclusive tour diary with V and talks about life on the road, the Lesbian Jesus moniker, and Taylor Swift.

The rising superstar shares an exclusive tour diary with V and talks about life on the road, the Lesbian Jesus moniker, and Taylor Swift.

Text: Jake Viswanath

Hayley Kiyoko wants to take over the world—and the galaxies beyond. When we connect, she had just woken up in her hotel room in Houston and immediately started gabbing about her visit to the Johnson Space Center. “I literally have become a space geek within 24 hours,” she brags with the excited verve of a little kid who just scored a bunch of candy on Halloween. “We went to the Johnson Center on my day off and now I’m wearing my NASA sweater. And I watched Apollo 13 last night and it’s just like, I’m totally geeked out now.”

Ironically, the world is geeking out over Kiyoko, or as her most dedicated stans have dubbed her, Lesbian Jesus. Her first album Expectations is impressively meticulous and dynamic for a debut. But her brand of pop packs a more powerful punch, being written from her distinct perspective as a lesbian woman. She explores every angle of queer relationships, from needing to fully embrace one’s sexuality in Kehlani collaboration “What I Need” to girls playing games with her heart in the obscenely catchy “Curious”, the video of which has racked over 13 million views on YouTube. Oh, and she directed it herself too, as she does with all of her videos, allowing them to serve as a true (and aesthetically pleasing) reflection of her story.

In a testament to her burgeoning pop princess status, the rising superstar is nominated for Best New Artist at the 2018 Video Music Awards and currently on tour with Panic! at the Disco, her first time performing in arenas. Kiyoko shared an exclusive photo diary with V, giving us a behind-the-scenes look at the fun tour mayhem, and chatted with us about connecting with large crowds, telling her own stories through video, and because I couldn’t resist, that time she jumped on stage with Taylor Swift.

Let’s get to talking about you. You’re currently on tour with Panic! At The Disco, your first ever kind of arena tour. Tell me how that’s going.

It’s been so amazing. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. Brendon is so kind and the team he works with is so nice and they’ve been so warm to us. And their fans are just great, so it’s just been really all around incredible. And it’s a different experience obviously than when you’re headlining, so it’s been good practice for me, especially with arenas, because I’m so used to being able to see everyone’s face and being in more of an intimate setting.

It’s just like, when you’re opening, not everyone in the audience will know your music. You won’t know how they’ll react. How have they been reacting?

It’s been crazy because every single night, at the end when I sing “Girls Like Girls”, everyone puts their lights up, the entire arena. So what’s been really cool is, even if people aren’t necessarily a fan, by the end of our set they respect us enough to participate and put their lights up. I don’t ask them to do that, and they just light up the whole arena. So that feels really cool and that’s been a really incredible surprise on this tour.

It sounds like people are being able to connect no matter what and just relate.

I think that’s the thing with my music is it’s for everyone. And I think that everyone, or most everyone, can share this common interest of love, and making people feel good, and having hope. And so I try to really implement that in my set.

Totally. What I’ve noticed is your music is very universal. It comes with a really unique queer perspective, but it’s also remarkable how it’s delivered in a way where everybody, no matter who you are, who you love, can relate to it. When you were creating Expectations, where was your headspace at? What was your goal?

My goal was to create an album that you could listen to from beginning to end that you enjoy and that you didn’t have to skip a track, and that it was a full piece of music and work that was just enjoyable and fun to listen to. And potentially visual. That was my goal going into the first album. And you know, there’s a lot of pressure with your first. You want it to be the best it possibly can be, and so I really gave her my all, and I’m really proud of it. I encourage people to listen to it because I love it so much.

I love that. Was there any song in particular that was either easy and fun to write or one that was more emotional and super tough to write?

“Let It Be” surprisingly really had a great flow to it and was easy to write. And I love the lyrics and it’s an emotional song. And the hardest song was probably “He’ll Never Love You”, just because that was such a personal song. I mean every song is personal on my album, but that song, I’ve been trying to write my entire life. That phrase of “He’ll never love you like me” and getting the lyrics right, and understanding how to tell this story from my perspective without sounding just, you know, just being able to do it right. So that was a hard song.

I can imagine. You’re kind of saying to another woman ‘He’ll never love you like I will’ and you don’t want it to sound jealous or any of that. You want to get your true emotions across.

Yeah, it’s that fine line. And I think as an artist, riding that fine line of being confident and loving yourself, but also being real to the point where there are moments of self-doubt. There are moments of sadness and insecurities, and riding that line and being able to project that with your music I think is one of the hardest things.

Totally. It seems like you’ve been on a journey to build up to that point.

It’s been an incredible journey of self-discovery and self-confidence just within myself. Seeing people react, and support, and validate my feelings. And so I’ve really been able to, I don’t know, become who I’ve always wanted to be. Which is me.

You built a good fanbase prior to now you’ve entered this new phase, and you come out and create this new music. Did you ever have that fear of being rejected or turned away? Or has this journey been accepted more than you expected?

From the beginning, I’ve always been afraid of being rejected. And I think we all have that fear. We just want to be accepted. And I think that for me, I don’t want to be rejected because of who I am. I want to be rejected because you don’t like the music, right?

Exactly.

So for me, that was like a big fear. And for those people that don’t know who I am, I don’t want them to judge me. I want them to judge the music and really listen to my art first. And that’s how it’s always been for me with the music videos, which is crazy because now people love my music videos and they see the art first. And they’re also able to learn about me. So I was always afraid that I wasn’t going to be able to be as open as I am because I thought it might detract from my art and my music.

For sure. I think that’s a fear for a lot of artists. You don’t want whoever you are, whoever you love, to overshadow what you create.

And in retrospect, it actually supports what I love and what I create.

Completely. I see a lot of your life and your narrative infused within your own art. I actually like that you mentioned the videos because you directed them all yourself, and it feels like you’re authentically telling your story. Take me into that process.

It’s a very long process but…

I can imagine.

In a couple of sentences, it’s basically making a mood board, creating a color palette, lots of PowerPoints, putting the team together, finding the location, figuring out budget, shooting the video, and then being in the editing room and editing it together, going to a colorist, coloring it, and then you see the final product. So that’s a very simple version of directing a video.

[Laughs.] Nice to know. Do you ever feel like you get enough credit for everything that you do? Or do you feel like in the media and the public sphere, do you feel like a lot of credit is still shifted towards a man when a woman does something?

You know, I’m new to the scene, so that would be a great question to ask me in like six months. Six to twelve months.

I’ll call you back.

Yeah, totally. You know, you create art and you want the art to be taken first. So for me, I don’t do it for the credit because I give myself that credit.

I love that.

Like nobody really understands the hard work that’s put into it and they never really will. My friend always said, “They don’t care how hard it was to get the shot. All they see is the shot.” And that’s very true with all my music videos. They look flowy, and they look easy, and they look seamless. And these videos I’ve had blood, sweat, and tears for every single one, trying to make them. And the only people that know that are my team and myself. And so I can’t try to seek that validation for people to try and understand until they’re a part of it, really.

For sure. Back to this whole whirlwind a little bit, how have you processed it all?

After I met Taylor Swift, I was like staring at the ceiling for like three days [laughs]. I honestly don’t really know what’s happening. But it’s exciting. And I feel ready for this next chapter because I’ve always wanted people to just give me an opportunity. And that’s what I’ve been fighting for, for 13 years. Just opportunity. And so I feel like people are starting to turn their heads and listen. And that feels like a big hug. So it kind of feels like a whirlwind right now because I don’t really know how to process a lot of this stuff, but obviously I’m just going to continue to focus and stay focused on the end goal. And you know, keep going.

For sure, and on the note of Taylor, how did that whole thing come about? I’m a huge Taylor fangirl.

It was the craziest thing because I had a day off in Boston and she had her show, and I was going to go to her show and she asked me to perform, like asked my team if I wanted to perform. And I’d never met her and I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is insane.” And it was so cool because when we met, we’re very different, but we’re also very similar, as far as we’re likeminded people. So it was really cool to see someone that worked the way I worked, it was a very inspiring thing for me. And like she’s just massive. The whole thing was just crazy. It was nuts.

For sure. I was actually at a different show and she put “Curious” on the pre-show playlist as we were all waiting. And it was…

I know. So crazy. That goes back to what I was telling you, is that I just wanted opportunity. And what an opportunity to have someone validate your music and be like, “Hey, she’s cool.” And like that’s all. I’ve just been over here just working hard. And seeing all these things and just to have that opportunity was just like I’ll never forget it. I’m so thankful for her.

For sure. Before we go, I want to know, now you have the ‘Lesbian Jesus’ name. How do you feel about that name?

You know, I’m humbled. And it’s the highest honor. I think it’s that I personally don’t want to offend people.

Of course not.

So I don’t call myself that, but if my fans want to call me that then they can do whatever they want to do because they’re happy, and they’re proud, and I support their feelings, you know? And it’s pretty funny online if you Google it and see my face and the Photoshop. It’s become quite a conversation.

Take a peek at our exclusive Hayley tour diary below.

LETʼS. GO. GIRLS! (and L8wrence)

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