Hayley Kiyoko On ‘Expectations,’ Collaborators & Breaking New Ground: Interview
Hayley Kiyoko has come a long way since recording her debut EP in her parents’ basement. The 27-year-old’s sound started to crystallize on The Other Side Of Paradise and was fully formed by the time Citrine dropped in 2016. The breakout star picks up where she left off on Expectations (out now), but takes it even further — delivering bigger hooks and chunkier beats, without skimping on the emotional intimacy and vulnerability that made her such an engaging storyteller in the first place.
I recently spoke with the “Curious” hitmaker about her debut album, specifically how she chose her collaborators and clicked with Kehlani in the studio. Hayley also explained the meaning behind album highlights “Want To Be Missed” and “He’ll Never Love You,” and revealed how she navigates questions about her sexuality in interviews. We also talked about breaking new ground as an out female pop star and her authentic and effortless connection with fans. Get to know the breakout star a little better in our Q&A below.
Last night I was listening to your early EPs and the growth is staggering to me. Do you ever think about how far you’ve come?
I’m definitely aware of how far I’ve come. It’s been a very slow build and climb, and learning patience, and understanding the process, and knowing that things are just not going to be easy. So it’s been a very, very long journey, and I feel like today is a reset of beginning a new journey, and a new chapter.
One of the things that really stands out about Expectations is that you have embraced a bolder, bigger sound. Was that a conscious decision?
I don’t know. I’m sure you’re just hearing growth, but every time I get in the studio, my goal is to make a bold sound and to be as honest and vulnerable as possible. And I really just wanted to share, I did make a conscious effort to share different parts of my life that people may or may not know, and different sides of my sensitivity and confidence, and so I made a conscious effort to really make sure that the album represented that.
Let’s start with “Curious.” I still can’t get that song out of my head.
When you were recording it did you realize it was a big song?
Yeah, to be honest. When it was finished and recorded, I was like this is what we are looking for. This is what we were missing, is something that’s still honest but really has that backbone of strength, and undeniable hook.
How did you end up in the studio with Jack & Coke?
It was a blind date, to be honest. I hadn’t met them before, but they’re beyond talented, and you definitely can hear the strength in the production. You can tell I’m very specific and picky with who I work with. I mean, I had John Dorr and Cecil Bernardy produce the whole album with myself, so there’s only a few guest producers on the album. So it’s a very tight-knit group.
There were a couple of new additions to the crew though. I believe you worked with the Futuristics, Jonas Jeberg and Chloe Angelides. How did you choose those collaborators?
For “Want To Be Missed” and “Curious,” for example, those just happened to be random setups. I had basically finished the album. And it was more just like, “Okay, what else? What else can we get? Let’s add a couple of sprinkles here and there that sound a little different.” It’s really just about the song. If the song is great then it’s going to go on the album, so that’s kind of how that went down.
You have writing credits on every song, but have you ever been tempted to accept a big song that someone has pitched to you?
I think for me, I have a very specific perspective on life, so I would say it’s very hard for someone to pitch me a song that’s just finished, and I would record it and be, “Yeah,” because it wouldn’t feel like me. I want it to feel like my perspective. And also a huge part of what I love to do is songwriting, and creating. And that’s awesome. So I don’t think that will ever go away.
The album is called Expectations. Do they weigh on you at the moment?
I’m having no expectations going into the release, just because you just never know what’s going to happen. So I don’t want to do that to myself. But I had expectations for myself for this album, and I exceeded those, and I feel like that’s the win, and I’m happy with everything. Every choice, every song. So how other people react to it, I have no control. So it’s kind of out of my hands. Now it’s just up to everyone else to decide whether they like it or not, I guess.
What was it like recording with Kehlani?
It was a really amazing dynamic. We’re so different, yet so similar, and it was really wonderful to work with someone who has that drive and work ethic, and we both really respect each other and so we really went into it with open minds. I don’t know if every feature or collaboration is going to be like that, where we literally were just so excited to collaborate fully, and give to one another. So it was a really cool experience.
I think my favorites on the album are “Want To Be Missed” and “He’ll Never Love You.” Can you give a bit of background to those songs?
Yeah, definitely. “Want To Be Missed,” I wanted to have that common experience of almost just feeling needy. Even if you don’t like the person, in the sense of I’m going to marry this person, you want to be missed. You want to be loved, and you want that attention. And I feel like all of us get to the point where it’s like, “I just need attention.” I want someone to be thinking about me. And obviously, when you break it down, you do want someone that you care about as well, but that song specifically is tackling that moment of neediness.
And then “He’ll Never Love You,” that was a really personal song. I tackle verbatim what went down between this girl and I, and I was really proud of that song because, again, I felt like it was something very relatable for other people. The situation of hanging out with a girl who is definitely into girls, but is not comfortable with herself, and is not making it with dating men, and just being in that situation of knowing a girl, but you can’t change the person and you can’t teach them how to love themselves. It expresses that frustration of, you’re making a mistake but there’s nothing I can do about it. And you’re missing out.
I’ve been reading a lot of your interviews, and so many of them are focussed on your sexuality. Do you embrace that or would you just like to talk more about the music?
I would like to talk more about the music, to be honest, but I also understand that there are growing pains of people understanding who you are and why you do certain things, and so talking about me liking girls tends to be something that needs to be talked about, so I understand that side. I do feel like I have good interviews, and sometimes interviews that feel a little offensive, and it’s that fine line where they don’t even know that they’re being offensive. So it’s something that I have to navigate as an artist, and know that it is a big part of my life, and I think that my true fans really know that it’s about the music for me, and that’s just a part of it. And so, I really do enjoy talking about the art, but I know a lot of the art has to do with who I am, which is I like girls.
Most of my favorite gay female artists are in rock bands or acoustic singer/songwriters, so I think of you as something of a trailblazer in pop.
You can call me a trailblazer. I don’t want to call myself a trailblazer. But I do think that there is this conversation of the fact that there aren’t a lot of female pop artists that like girls only in the mainstream. Yeah, I think that I agree with you. The people that I looked up to growing up, they were not necessarily mainstream pop. So it is definitely a conversation.
You seem to have a really authentic connection with fans. What’s your secret?
I have no idea. I’m figuring out as much as anyone else is. I think, I don’t know. I’m just, I’m a very honest person, so I like to respond, I like to listen, and so I honestly just put my best foot forward and as much effort as I can to really share when I’m going to, and that it’s not glamorous, and that I am just a kid with a dream that wanted to have the opportunity to release music, and have people listen to it. So it’s a, I feel like it’s a very relatable thing.
But I think also too, my fans have been a part of that journey. It’s not like they’re meeting me and like, I’m number one. They’ve literally been there when I had two likes and forty views. You inevitably build a strong connection with people that have been by your side for so long.
Thank you so much for your time. Good luck with the album.
Thank you, Mike for your longevity and support. I appreciate you, so have a good rest of your day.