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Hayley Kiyoko On Making Space For Queer Stories In Mainstream Pop

Hayley Kiyoko's debut album, <em>Expectations</em>, is out now.
Amanda Charchian
Courtesy of the artist
Hayley Kiyoko's debut album, Expectations, is out now.

Hayley Kiyoko's fans call her "lesbian Jesus," a title she's says she's never felt comfortable with but appreciates nonetheless. The L.A.-born singer started out as a child actor, appearing on Disney Channel and Nickelodeon, then got into music with the short-lived girl group The Stunners. But in 2015, she seemed to find her true voice with the single "Girls Like Girls." Now, after three EPs, her debut album, Expectations, is out today.

"My journey has really been trying to normalize girls loving girls," the singer says. Kiyoko has identified as gay for many years, but says she had trouble finding representations of women in love growing up. "The only films I saw with girls loving girls always ended in suicide; it was very depressing. I really wanted to create a story that ended in hope."

Though she says she's always had a knack for hooky melodies, Kiyoko says it didn't feel like a foregone conclusion that the vessel for her stories would be shiny pop music.

"I thought I would be in a band like Arcade Fire, or be like Fiona Apple — but pop just made sense to me," she says. "I grew up hip-hop dancing; I've always wanted to create music that I could dance to. And my dreams have always been on these big stages, really bringing people together."

Expectations includes a few more introspective songs as well, rooted in her personal battles with depression and post-concussion syndrome. By portraying both the highs and lows of being young, Kiyoko says, she hopes to give her fans a little hope.

"Being young is so hard. You're surrounded by judgment and fear," she says. "Every incident that happens in our life is so intense during that time in your teens. So I really try to bring intensity to their life in a positive way."

Web intern Stefanie Fernández contributed to this story.

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Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.
Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.