Fangirl Friday: Hayley freakin’ Kiyoko, y’all

I’m still on a music kick.

Which isn’t anything new. It’s just that I feel like talking about it. Last time I talked about music on Fangirl Friday, it was about my angsty goth-ridden past and the music of some of my formative years, when I haunted indie record stores and hid out in the import bins.

Well, these days it’s hella easy to get tunage; I stream off Spotify quite a bit (and yes, dammit, I have a subscription) because I can make my own playlists there and I write to music so when I’m in my office doing my writing thang, there is music.

But I also really like to dance. Another Andi secret some of you probably didn’t know. HA! Lookit me! Coming out as someone who still likes to dance!

Regardless, I dig dance music of all kinds and last week I finally listened to Hayley Kiyoko’s “Curious” (just released last month), which is a super-danceable poppity tune with much ghey because Kiyoko identifies as a gay woman (her phrasing), and she fills her songs and videos with ladies of the queer variety and each of her videos tells a unique story, set to the lyrics of her songs.

Hayley Kiyoko, off her Instagram, June 2017

That shit is important.

Because Kiyoko, who has been involved in music and acting most of her life, is a visionary multi-talented performer and artist telling queer stories through her media, and she’s setting them to an infectious pop/dance beat.

I bring Kiyoko up because I’ve been following her music — mostly because I like it and her stories and it makes me dance around the house and sing along — but also because I believe in supporting queer art, especially if I dig it.

And also because she herself, as a queer woman of color, is important representation not only for young queer women, but young women and men of color, who identify in a variety of ways. Her videos are further rep, and tell overt f/f stories with a variety of characters.

I’ll say it again. That shit is important.

Especially for young queer people struggling with who they are, who might be isolated in rural communities. Maybe they run across one of Kiyoko’s videos, and maybe it’s the first positive queer rep they see, against a drumbeat of anti-LGBTQ bullshit that every one of us has to deal with. Even one damn video is a lifeline for a young person in those circumstances. Literally a lifeline.

And Hayley, 26, puts a lot of her heart and soul into her art, whether she’s waxing serious, playful, or maybe a bit challenging, as she does here, in “Curious.”

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Some of you may not know Kiyoko from music, but rather from some of her acting turns. Let me drop some Hayley triv on y’all.

She’s been acting since childhood, mostly commercials. She started playing drums early, too (age 6) and by 11 she was writing drum tracks and selling them to music stores. She clearly has music in her veins. She’s a prolific songwriter and plays guitar and keyboards and in high school, she created and choreographed the Agoura High Step Team that is officially sanctioned by the school and placed 3rd in a national competition. As an aside, Kiyoko’s mom is Sarah Kawahara, a renowned Canadian figure skater and choreographer and her dad is an actor and comedian.

She created a garage band she named Hede, after her grandfather, in 2007 and released a few songs on MySpace (remember that platform back in the day?). The band didn’t last long, but Kiyoko also worked with former pop star Vitamin C and with pop group The Stunners. She also did more acting. She portrayed Velma in the Scooby-Doo live-action film on the Cartoon Network Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins (2009) and its sequel, Scooby-Doo! Curse of the Lake Monster (2010). Also in 2010, she took a turn as an evil wizard in Disney’s Wizards of Waverly Place.

The next few years saw her engaging with a variety of projects, both acting and music-related, including as Gabi in The Fosters and Raven Ramirez in CSI: Cyber. In 2013, she released her debut EP, A Belle to Remember, but she went right back to work and started writing more music in London.

She released her second EP, This Side of Paradise, in 2015. She co-directed the video for the first single, “Girls Like Girls,” which is a story about a high school girl crushed out on her BFF whose boyfriend freaks and attacks her when he catches her kissing her friend, the MC, who wasn’t having any of that and hauls his ass off her friend and whales on him.

See it here:

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She freaked out the night before she released that video, because it is explicitly F/F.

And it went viral.

“I had never gotten a million views on any of my videos,” she told Complex.com in April, 2017. “I started to see the support, and I started to see there was a space for me in the industry to sing about girls. It was very freeing to be able to sing about what I was actually feeling as opposed to sugar-coating things, or trying to have my songs be more vague so people didn’t get confused.”

Since then, she’s released another EP, Citrine (2016), for which she directed a video for “One Bad Night” that featured trans activist Erin Armstrong as she walked down an LA street facing a barrage of violent interactions, capturing a sense of what many trans women deal with in their daily lives. Armstrong is eventually pinned down by two men who beat her up when another young man intervenes and drives her to a diner for some food:

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There’s a particularly moving scene when Armstrong comes to full consciousness in the car (a convertible) her rescuer is driving that’s whisking her to safety and she realizes that she IS safe, at least for a moment, and the expression on her face of exhausted relief and lightness isn’t just about that moment, but about her experience in this world as who she is. It’s profound, that one instant, and captures so much about this woman’s life and the circumstances that brought her to that instant.

Kiyoko, who suffered a fall in 2016 that left her with post-concussion syndrome and set her back a bit, directs most if not all of the videos she releases, and mad props to her. She has a storyteller’s eye and a musician’s sense of vision for each one. And at long last, her first full-length album, Expectations, will drop March 30. “Curious” (my current fave tune) is off that album. As is “Sleepover”:

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So now that you know Kiyoko is immensely talented in all kinds of ways, she’s also bringing change with her art. She is deliberately and overtly injecting F/F relationships and interactions into her videos because, as she told Elle Magazine last year, “That’s my life!”

For me, every music video is a hurdle. Every time I do a music video, I’m constantly fighting to get my point across. As a gay woman, that’s also a big hurdle. I remember when I did my last music video for “Sleepover,” I had pitched the concept and someone said, “Is it gonna be another music video about two girls?” And I was like, “Well, yeah, it is, because that’s my life!” There’s only allowed to be one? All these other artists are singing about guys every single video. Why can’t I sing about girls more than once? Why is that a special thing? Obviously, every video is gonna be different, but why is that something that I can’t do?

— Estelle Tang, “Hayley Kiyoko Talks About Her Insecure Guest Role” (Elle, Aug. 14, 2017)

She went on to note that it’s a great example of her having to drive home her point of trying to normalize girl-on-girl relationships, because, as Kiyoko points out, people think it’s “obscene.” It’s not obscene, she says. It’s her life. And because she’s still at the beginning of her career, she doesn’t have as many resources as other artists might, so she has to work with lower budgets and she has to be creative with using what she’s got to make her videos look like they’re more expensive than they are.

I’m very proud of every video, because it’s a lot of hard work. I’m working to get these stories out, because it’s important. They’re not just music videos with glitter and fancy moves. There’s meaning behind it. I’m trying to push things forward in our society, and it’s hard.

— Estelle Tang, “Hayley Kioko Talks…”

Kiyoko sold out her latest tour — not bad, for a relatively new music artist, yes? — but, as Complex.com noted, her personality and willingness to share what’s going on in her life have won her the most intense fan love. “I’m meeting all these young girls that are so inspired by my music,” she said. “I’ve created a blanket of comfort where they can listen to music and know that that’s 100% what they’re going through.”

And she knows because she’s been there, and that’s what she puts in her songs and videos.

So here’s to Hayley Kiyoko, using her art to tell stories that resonate with us all. In these times, we need them.

Happy Friday and may the odds be ever in our favor.

And dammit, dance.

Kiyoko at the Bunbury Music Festival, June 2017 (via Instagram)


Find Hayley Kiyoko:
Website
Instagram
Twitter
Facebook

Other articles about Kiyoko:
Victoria Brownworth, “Hayley Kiyoko Brings All the Girls to the Yard”
Billboard, “Hayley Kiyoko Talks ‘Feelings’ Music Video & Lesbian Representation: ‘People Are Starting To Get The Picture'”
Crave, “SXSW 2017 Interview: Hayley Kiyoko Reveals the One Thing You Don’t Know About her”
Teen Vogue, “Hayley Kiyoko on Casting a Girl as the Love Interest in Her Music Video”
NewNowNext, “Hayley Kiyoko Is Your ‘Lesbian Jesus’ And She’s Here To Save Pop Music”
Status, “Hayley Kiyoko: Electric Love”
Elite Daily, “Hayley Kiyoko On Her Hit ‘Girls Like Girls’ And Queer Representation In Music”

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