REVIEW: Hayley Kiyoko’s Debut LP Exceeds Our Expectations
After what felt like eons of waiting for Hayley Kiyoko to drop Expectations, the 13-track LP finally hit stores and streaming services on March 30. Prior to release, Kiyoko took to social media to encourage fans to listen to the album from beginning to end, at least the first time:
dear everyone, PROMISE ME YOU WILL LISTEN TO MY ALBUM FOR THE FIRST TIME IN ORDER. FROM BEGINNING TO END AS IT WAS INTENDED FOR THE BEST EXPERIENCE. I love you, hayley
— Hayley Kiyoko (@HayleyKiyoko) March 30, 2018
If listeners followed her advice, they likely found that Kiyoko’s album is a steady, almost stream-of-consciousness exploration of the coming-out process. Kiyoko has spoken repeatedly about how her music increased in honesty once she acknowledged, out loud, that she likes women.
The 27 year-old singer-songwriter has since rapidly climbed the ranks of LGBT icons, especially because of how candidly she speaks about her experiences with other women. She also defends her right to write music about those experiences. In a recent interview with BuzzFeed, Kiyoko said:
“I was in a writing session the other day, and a writer was like, 'Oh, you shouldn't use that pronoun because other people can't sing to it,’” she says. “And I was like, 'I'm sorry, I've been singing to straight songs my whole life, and I'm just fine.'”
I’ve written before about how Hayley Kiyoko’s music is unapologetically queer, and how much I appreciate that as a lesbian who grew up listening primarily to pop music. Although I was introduced to artists like Tegan and Sara when I was in the throes of figuring out my sexuality, their music wasn’t widely played on radio stations or MTV when I was young. Kiyoko is everywhere, and it’s incredibly refreshing to hear a woman singing about how much she loves women on mainstream outlets. She’s been labeled by several media outlets (and fans) as Lesbian Jesus, and honestly? It’s a title I can agree with.
On Expectations, Kiyoko sings about all the things we’ve come to expect from popular music: sex, romance, heartbreak, growing up, and everything in the periphery of those experiences. She has a flair for the dramatic that suits her well; the titular track is an overture that sets a slow, intimate pace for the rest of the album.
But don’t be fooled: the dance-heavy beats Kiyoko is known for on singles like “Feelings” and “Curious” underscore everything. Some of the poppiest, fastest tracks on Expectations are some of its best. I’ve had “What I Need” (featuring Kehlani, another openly queer pop artist) on repeat for a while, and “Curious” remains a fave.
Transitions on tracks like “Mercy / Gatekeeper” and “Under the Blue / Take Me In” create a cohesiveness that makes the middle of Expectations feel just as dynamic as the beginning and end. Seeing as so many albums struggle to keep a listener’s ear in the middle, that’s an accomplishment that deserves recognition. Kiyoko’s songwriting is bolstered by her impeccable sense of good taste in what sounds good, and the way she takes creative control of her recording process—even directing her own music videos—is amazing.
If you’ve somehow missed the Hayley Kiyoko hype, or you’ve ignored it, or you’ve been dubious about it, I highly suggest you give Expectations a listen. And give this young, flourishing artist what she wants: listen to the record from cover to cover and go on the journey with her.
It’s worth every second of the ride.
Expectations is available in stores and on streaming services now. Follow this link to listen to the album on Spotify.
Kiyoko is currently on tour and will be making her first appearance at Coachella this weekend. For more upcoming dates, see her website.