Hayley Kiyoko (PHOTO: Amanda Charchian)

Even lesbian Jesuses get swept up by the grandeur of the Statue of Liberty.

Ive never seen it before! Its huge! Oh my god, its huge!enthuses a giddy-as-ever Hayley Kiyoko, proclaimed the lesbian Jesusby her adoring disciples. The unapologetic pop fixture cant help but check out of our conversation to soak up the moment, her driver cruising over a bridge in New York City. Its on my left. I had to, like, gasp. Oh my god, its so cool.

The 27-year-old singer is doing a string of press calls to tout her debut album, Expectations, and though Ive understandably lost her to a colossal Neoclassical monument, Kiyoko eventually remembers why shes on the phone in the first place: oh, right, music.

Kiyokos DIY solo music career launched in 2013, when her partially crowdfunded debut EP A Belle to Remember was released. This Side of Paradise followed in 2015 and featured Girls Like Girls.The singles video, which has amassed more than 92 million views on YouTube (collectively, her self-directed videos have eclipsed 180 million views), took a hard, unflinching look at the challenges of facing same-sex desire.

Kiyoko released her third EP, CITRINE, in 2016, which included single Gravel to Tempo; in the songs video, she leaves a group of mean girls speechless with her seductive dance moves. Curious,a single from her first full-length, released in March on Atlantic Records, is as brazenly sensual as any straight pop stars lustfulness. And the newly dropped video for the latest single “What I Need,” a duet with Kehlani, features the two photogenic, budding pop stars on a Sapphic road trip à la Thelma and Louise.


While taking in the historic NYC views, Kiyoko opened up to me about letting her music tell her queer story (even when it came to coming out to her grandma) and the gentle and vulnerable and emotionalbond she has with her fans.

[Editor’s note: Fans can catch Kiyoko (with Panic! at the Disco) at The BB&T Center in Sunrise on Tuesday, July 31.]

Your 94-year-old grandma recently discovered youre lesbian thanks to one of your music videos. What was that like?

[Laughs.] Its funny: Ive just been gently sending her videos Ive been directing, but I dont know if shes been watching them or not, because that was the first time she responded directly about my music. I still dont know what video she watched, but with every video, its very obvious that I like girls, so I feel like the cats out of the bag — finally.

Which videos of yours would be a good gay conversation-starter for grandmas to watch?

[Laughs.] I feel like Girls Like Girlsis a good introduction.

Tell me how you came to be so open about your sexuality as a pop musician.

Its just been baby steps. I did the Girls Like Girlsmusic video, which was the introduction; still, people didnt really know where I was at. Then, I released Gravel to Tempo.Every video Im wanting to challenge myself and tell a different story and [show] a different perspective on a situation that Ive experienced.

Now, obviously, looking back at all these videos, it tells a very solidified story. I like girls, and I was never… as you know, its a difficult thing to want to be open about because its very personal. Its something you dont feel like you need to share, but Ive connected with so many people through it.

Ive kind of had to really own it and feel confident about it because I realize there arent a lot of people who do that. So, you have to lead by example, and thats the best way to help normalize those feelings. Thats always been my goal: just to normalize things and not have it be a conversation. I always told my manager: I dont want to come out. I just want people to watch my art and take it for what it is.

Talk about some of the queer themes on this album and how your life inspired those songs.

I have a song Hell Never Love You (HNLY).It talks about a situation I was in where this girl wanted to be with me but was too afraid to own her sexuality, so I had to let that person go. It was always a frustrating situation because I knew how she felt, but you cant encourage anyone to love themselves. Thats a journey on their own.

When, as a public figure, did you first feel 100 percent comfortable being open about your sexuality?

Probably the music video after Girls Like Girls,” “Cliffs Edge.You cant argue with whats going on in that video. [Laughs.] So, that was definitely a moment where I was like, Im gonna own this and Im gonna own who I am, because, to be honest, Ive always known who I was. But sharing that with the world is another level of pressure, I would say.

How would you compare how you felt about your sexuality during Girls Like Girlsversus Cliffs Edge?

I almost didnt put Girls Like Girlson my EP. It was a very last-minute decision. And then I was seeing the reactions, and I didnt know what my next step was. I didnt really know where I was going with my career and what my message was. I made Girls Like Girlsin a very honest place, just like every other video I do. But after you do something [like that], its like, what do I do now?


How did you gauge what was next regarding your queer music narrative? Do you have a team of queer people who are guiding you?

No, I dont think thats a reality. [Laughs.] I mean, I dont know. Im just being myself, and I really dont consult anyone. I just put it out.

But a lot of pop acts have a team working with them.

Oh, yeah. No, no, no. My team is my manager and my day-to-day. I have my team, but theyre all straight [laughs] and they cant relate. So I go, This is what Im doing,and then we do it.

Theres nothing contrived or manipulated with what I do. Its really: Write a song; OK, I wanna shoot a music video; we create a music video; I do whatever I want with it, and then I decide when I wanna release it, and then I put it out on YouTube.

Thats really the process. Im sure its different for other artists, but Ive always been extremely controlling with my art. And when I signed to Atlantic they knew that, so they let me do whatever I want to do.

That control has probably been one of the reasons youve been able to connect with all these fans who call you their lesbian Jesus.Could you describe the connection you have with your queer fans?

I think the connection is very gentle and vulnerable and emotional. Sometimes kids will say things to me that theyve never said to anyone else. Its really an open space, and I think that they know Im accepting of them.

Are you the lesbian pop star you wished for when you were a struggling queer teen?

I dont know. I guess I dont think about it that much. Im not really looking at myself all the time in the sense of, look who I am. Im like everyone else, just trying to get through life day to day. And I really want to get to a point in my career where people are just listening to my music and giving me an opportunity and a platform, so I dont really reflect, because I feel like I have so much to share.

As a young person you were pretty hungry for representation, though.

Oh, yeah, 100 percent. And there were some great acts out there that I loved, like Tegan and Sara, for example. I love them. But I didnt have a person where I was like, She knows exactly what Im going through, and we are connected.I had icons and idols but not someone that I really connected with.

I read in The Guardian that Katy Perrys I Kissed a Girlinfluenced you.

It did? I mean, I wouldnt sayI dont think I said it was an influence. They asked me what I thought about that [song], what my take on it was, because a lot of people were saying negative things.

I have nothing negative to say. It reminded me, OK, theres Katy Perry singing about experimenting and kissing a girl, and thats great and I support that. Im gonna be someone who likes girls all the time and sing about that. So, I thought it was a positive thing. I thought it was a step toward what I was gonna do down the line one day.