June 13, 2018
Stepping into The Underground for a sold-out show on a Monday night was like stepping into a wave of the future. The buzzing crowd’s beautiful, proud representation of the gender and sexual spectrum bounced together in anticipation of 20GayTeen’s “Lesbian Jesus,” aka Hayley Kiyoko. The iconic 27-year-old actress, dancer, musician, director (the list goes on) released her first full-length album, Expectations, this March which received wide positive acclaim for its straightforward LGBTQ+ content wrapped snugly in bright, honeyed pop.
Opener Gavin Turek whirled about the stage easily channeling the style, sass, and confidence of a Paula Abdul and Janet Jackson dream-combo. The polished disco-influenced sound was as vibrant as the singer herself as she twirled gracefully in neon green, topped off with an infinite, massive grin. Before launching into “Good Look For You” she tells the crowd to hold up their flags but no one seemed to understand. Trying again, Turek shouted out “Did you not hear me? I said let me see those flags!!” and with a crack, white stage lights illuminated the audience which erupted into a rainbow sea of frantic colors blending into one another, painting the crowd’s faces in a colorful glow. Turek took this moment to go around the room, pointing to as many sections as possible while expressing with all the love in her heart: “I see you. I see you.”
Hayley Kiyoko is an important pop star. After dealing with an intense period of depression on top of years of being worried about the judgment she’d face over being out, she emerged in 2016 ready to use her voice, her experiences, and her unashamed messages to break down the stigma of lesbianism as seen (primarily) through the male gaze, especially in the capitalistic grasp of pop culture. Her sincerity creates an unprecedented form of empowerment for those who’ve been overlooked one too many times, marginalized and not taken seriously by the predominantly white male music industry, an attitude that inevitably trickles down into local scenes. Pop music has always been in the hands of young women. From The Beatles to Harry Styles, it’s that free, wild teenage fandom that creates lasting superstars. Why is it then that these young, feminine voices are also the most discarded when it comes to having discussions about music? Instead of loyal fans, they’re flippantly labeled groupies, a term used to hush and slut shame. The youth and, in this progressive trajectory, queer youth, finally have someone to declare that “We’re important and we’re going to do this our way.”
Screams from the audience were deafening when Kiyoko sprung onto the stage to the beginning distorted scratches of “Under the Blue/Take Me In” off Expectations. Kiyoko stood at the edge of the stage and the haze of smoke felt like it’d lift you right up to the ceiling. Kiyoko danced and rolled her hips in the brazen way that’s normally only accepted from male rock stars. Crashing into her newest hit “What I Need,” which features Kehlani, Kiyoko played with the crowd, making intense eye contact with front row fans and holding the microphone out for the hundreds of voices to hurl the chorus back at her like a beach ball in the summer air. One of Kiyoko’s most well-known tracks, “Girls Like Girls,” was an astonishing display of the magnitude of love. Every hand swayed from left to right with the irresistible melody to a song whose chorus provides real representation in a nonchalant and normalized phrase: “Girls like girls like boys do, nothing new.” This sincere and simple statement is exemplary of what Kiyoko’s about – giving agency that it’s not just OK but it’s fucking rad to fall in love and be able to express it proudly. Taking a moment to collect herself, Kiyoko addressed the adoring audience and urged us to have fun: “I love you all too. We deserve this night, we deserve this. Forget all the stress and enjoy being yourselves here.” Screeches overtook the quiet intro of “He’ll Never Love You (HNLY)” which turned into a sun-kissed sing-a-long precursor to “Ease My Mind” from her 2016 EP, Citrine. Serene orange and pink-lit fog filled the venue to brighten it alongside the radiant track and dancing only halted for a quick few seconds until the chorus came around and it was time to shout out again.
Throughout the entire set, it was apparent that Kiyoko was unendingly grateful and revived by her fans. The entire night’s atmosphere felt open, alive and free. Kiyoko again took to the crowd and said, “Thank you for validating me. I once felt alone and scared, but now I know you’re all out there too.” Sultry “Wanna Be Missed” dipped against the electronic drums, newly positioned on stage for Kiyoko to show off her multi-instrumental talents. During “Pretty Girl” Kiyoko swept her hand as the last verse rang out, “I just wanna tell you that you’re really pretty girl,” and it was hard to not think that she was speaking directly to you. “Sleepover” had her back on the drums to rapturous approval and the venue vibrated with a sugar high. That high was nothing compared to the exploding roars once the sly bass of “Curious” started up. The band stepped back as Kiyoko used an extended part of the song to take a dance break while the crowd basically broke apart at the seams chanting and urging her on. After “Feelings” she held up bras and notes that had been thrown to her from the crowd, some of the notes ranged from the sweet (“You’re supportive like a bra”) to the sincere (“You’ve helped me so much”).
Probably the most lyrically raw of her songs, “Mercy/Gatekeeper” rounded out the evening, sending a message of intention, a road map for navigating this life. The track floats in, sleepy like a child before falling into an industrial, distorted monologue about how even though it’s easier to hide yourself away, you will gain more control when you accept yourself as who you are.
Hayley Kiyoko uses her platform to inspire life and hope into thousands of people. Her honesty and acceptance are a radical and beautiful way to defy oppressive perspectives. When the house lights came on, I was able to take in how young the crowd really was. They stood around, chattering with giant smiles, not wanting to leave the warm promises this night had shown them. Being at this show was an enlightened peek into the side of a future founded on love and acceptance.
Check out the remaining 2018 tour dates for Hayley Kiyoko.