“Don’t tell me, tell me what I feel / I’m real and I don’t feel like boys.”
Above are lyrics from Hayley Kiyoko’s breakout 2015 single, “Girls Like Girls.” Listening to the song for the first time the June it was released, I felt such a rush of emotion. As a young and closeted lesbian growing up in a pseudo-liberal suburb, I have to work so hard to find media to relate to. I flip through library catalogs in secret and clear search histories constantly, and more often than not, I do not come up with more than a couple of books or movies with women who loved women that I could connect to. Then there is Hayley Kiyoko, with her unapologetic love for other girls, her agency over her sexuality, and her electropop songs that don’t feature sad or dead gay girls.
You may know Hayley Kiyoko from her roles in classic 2000s kid TV shows or movies: Stevie in Wizards of Waverly Place or Velma in one of the many Scooby Doo reboots. With the release of her 2015 EP This Side of Paradise and her 2016 EP Citrine, she’s been making leeway in creating a name for herself. She has dedicated fanbase on Tumblr and Twitter especially, composed of a lot younger girls who love other girls -like myself and a substantial amount of my friends – and it is not difficult to see why. Her songs, like the aforementioned, “Girls like Girls,” are fun and sound like 80s classics so many of our parents raised on. Which is a major contrast to the prevalent tropes about LGBT women and people in media today, which seems to be nothing but sadness and Bury Your Gays. Hayley Kiyoko being an East Asian woman also gives gay/bisexual women of color much needed representation. Too often, white people are the (incorrect) default for LGBT representation and media. As a gay woman of color myself, it makes me ridiculously happy: she is someone I can relate to in all aspects.
This Side of Paradise features songs such as “Girls like Girls” and “Cliff’s Edge”, with accompanying music videos portraying girls being attracted and in love with other girls in a non-sexualized and positive way, which is indescribably reassuring to girls like me. Kiyoko’s follow-up EP, Citrine is just as amazing and positive towards girls loving girls, if not even more. Featuring songs like Pretty Girl and One Bad Night – with an upbeat tone and lyrics that perfectly capture her feelings of attraction to other girls. However, it might be “Gravel to Tempo” – the single released from the EP, which hits home the hardest, as Hayley Kiyoko said in an interview with Refinery29:
“From the beginning of writing that song, I envisioned myself in front of all the girls I had crushes on in high school. …I remember so well what it was like to idolize other people and look for validation from them. But then I grew up, and I realized: The only validation I need is from myself.”
Hayley Kiyoko is a singer who needs to be given a lot more credit, she is a force and an inspiration to many girls who feel alone because of who they love and who they are. Her lyrics, music, and presence are enough to convince us that there is someone out there like us, and that no matter what mainstream media keeps telling us, we deserve to live good and beautiful lives.