The pop singer and songwriter Hayley Kiyoko‘s fans call her “lesbian Jesus,” and she’s become known for boldly and unapologetically putting every facet of herself into her artistry. That wasn’t always the case, however.
“Growing up I would write music in my bedroom with a guitar on my bed, or in my journal,” she said, “and I would use he/him pronouns, and it took a long time for me to obviously speak my truth, lyrically.”
Kiyoko, 31, was born and raised in Los Angeles, and expressed her interest in music and performing at a very young age, acting in commercials, then in films and on TV. In 2007, she joined a girl group called the Stunners that also included the R&B singer Tinashe. After its 2011 split, she started carving out a solo career. Her 2015 EP “This Side of Paradise” provided a breakthrough moment with the electro-pop track “Girls Like Girls,” which was also a coming out of sorts. Kiyoko directed its video her, a queer teen love story depicting a girl with a boyfriend falling for her best friend her, which has 147 million views on YouTube.
For her second album, “Panorama” (due July 29), Kiyoko said she’s presenting a more refined version of herself sonically, melodically and lyrically — the result of some crucial emotional spring cleaning. “You have a lot of stuff in your room and it’s like, do you really need all of that?” she explained. Part of the process involved taking down the walls she’d built as a young songwriter who was trying to mask what she was actually trying to say. “Hey, I’m comfortable with myself,” she said she realized. “I love myself and I’m at a place in my life where I don’t need you anymore.”
For “Panorama,” Kiyoko brought back a few collaborators from her first album, “Experience,” (the writers Nikki Flores and Brandon Colbein) and introduced some new ones (the producers Danja, Patrick Morrissey and Kill Dave). The album’s first single, “For the Girls,” is a bass-boosted anthem of empowerment that arrived with a queer “Bachelorette” parody music video, featuring a cameo from the real-life “Bachelor” contestant Becca Tilley. (Kiyoko and Tilley have been dating for four years.) On the mid-tempo thumper “Deep in the Woods,” Kiyoko softens her voice to describe meeting someone and feeling like you’ve known them forever. And on “Luna,” a love letter to a crush, Kiyoko jumps octaves as she sings, “You get me wild you know/I’ll chase your shadow.”
“We spent a lot of time making sure that everything that you hear and experience is as close to and true to my experience,” she said.
On a phone call from her studio at home in Los Angeles, Kiyoko shared a list of the things that continue to inspire her. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
1. “The Voice of Knowledge” by Miguel Ruiz I recently started reading and I’m not going to be ashamed to say that, because it’s just the truth. I fell in love with this book. It really supports you and helps you find a way to navigate those voices in your head, what is reality and what is your 5-year-old self afraid of, or your past trauma, or fears. It’s really helped my mental health a lot.
2. Arcade Fire’s “Ready to Start” If I’m having a hard day or not feeling inspired I’ll go for a walk and listen to “Ready to Start” and it is like what that title is: It’s a reset for me. It invigorates me and inspires me to keep going. It validates my fears and my sadness. Arcade Fire is one of my favorite bands and I listened to them a lot growing up, so I think I find a lot of comfort and nostalgia listening to Arcade Fire, but then that song specifically, I really resonate with the lyrics.
3. Her own fragrance, Hue Growing up as a queer kid in the closet, I had a really hard time having conversations with cute girls. My only way of having conversations with cute girls was when I smelled good. I would put on perfume and go to school and they’d be like, “Hey, you smell really good” or “What are you wearing?” It was a conversation starter and also boosted my confidence when I felt really insecure, so I wanted to create a perfume that could give my fans confidence and was gender inclusive. I think I’ve always struggled with my femininity and masculinity and which box I fit in, so I wanted to create a perfume that kind of symbolized and represented both my masculine and feminine energy in one bottle. It has this really nice balance of fruity floral and musk.
4. “Friends” I probably watch three episodes every single night. Jennifer Aniston is like my safe space. I can always laugh and just decompress watching that show. I remember going through a hard breakup and I was living alone and I would just turn on “Friends” and felt like I was with a bunch of friends. I feel like I can watch that show and see little bits and pieces of my friends and family in the characters, so it’s just ever-evolving.
5. Monopoly Deal It’s basically like a more convenient Monopoly but you can play it faster and you get your properties at random. It’s one of my favorite games because each card is worth millions of dollars. I used to play it all the time during the pandemic. I love playing it with my friends because you can charge your friends $11 million and they have to give it to you. I bring it with me everywhere in my purse.
6. Journaling I have so many journals. Growing up, aunts, uncles or random parental friends would gift me journals and I’d be like, “What am I going to do with this?” They would just sit on my desk and then I began to love writing in them. It’s so incredible just to have a dialogue with myself for therapy. I also like to go back and read my journals because it reminds me of the things that I’ve overcome, especially during the dark times. It helps me feel centered in where I’m at, that I can keep going and that I’m resilient and strong. If I’m on a plane for six hours I’m not watching the TV, I’m journaling.
7. Fried eggplant Growing up, I hated Japanese nights because my mom would make this fried eggplant and we’d have spinach and rice and ginger and all these things. There were so many plates. The soy sauce plate, the ginger plate, the edamame plate. Every time after Japanese night, my mom and dad would be like, “OK, kids, you guys can do the dishes.” And I remember being like, “No, I don’t want to do the dishes!” Now looking back, it’s one of my favorite meals and it’s a meal that I probably have once a week to comfort myself. If I’m stressed or just needing to feel love I’ll make that meal and I don’t complain about the dishes anymore.
8. Premiere Pro I’m going to shout out Premiere Pro because as an artist, I became a director out of necessity. Wanting to be a storyteller and learning how to edit and having to kind of do everything myself, I was really grateful for Premiere Pro because it was a way for me to be able to tell my stories and have my stories come to life visually. It gave me the courage to be like, “Hey, I can direct, and I can do this.”
9. Acupuncture Acupuncture has been a huge part of my healing process: taking care of my body and making sure that my blood circulation is good. I think I struggled with meditation, and acupuncture helped me get to that point of being able to practice meditating because when I go to acupuncture I just lay and I’m able to just be. It’s such an incredible reset for my body and my mind.
10. Claude Monet I have always been inspired by color and I want to say a lot of that has to do with really connecting to Claude Monet’s Impressionism. My mouse pad is the sunrise painting and I have big Claude Monet paintings all over my apartment. Color has just always created a sense of ease, calm and safety. I think that translates in my music videos and directing — wanting to create a world where the color palette feels inviting, warm, safe and nostalgic. When I write music, and when I was working on “Panorama,” I always see color. I listen to a song and I’m like, “OK, this is like dark purple or this is like purple and lime green.”