A few of us remember Hayley Kiyoko as the girl who played the edgy Stella in Disney Channel’s “Lemonade Mouth.” However, the singer has come a long way since her Disney days. On March 30, Kiyoko, also known as Lesbian Jesus to her loyal fans, released her debut album “Expectations,” where she explores topics ranging from her experience in California to her sexuality.
Kiyoko is one of the few current singers who openly and unapologetically address queerness and female love, and her recent release does not shy away from these topics. “Expectations” opens with a beautiful overture that combines Kiyoko’s vocals and synthetic orchestra, as an enchanting welcome to her record. “Feelings,” one of the album’s singles, follows the overture as the second track of the album. Here Kiyoko lyrically details issues of communication in romantic relationships, and with lyrics such as “I over-communicate and feel too much,” “I just complicate it when I say too much,” and “I get too attached, they don’t even know me,” Kiyoko expresses her difficulty with affection and fondness in previous relationships.
“What I Need” is the upbeat third track of the album and features Kehlani, a queer-identified singer. The track can be compared to Halsey and Lauren Jauregui’s “Strangers,” which discusses a crumbling relationship between two women. In “What I Need,” Kiyoko and Kehlani sing verses about needing their partners to embrace their sexuality. Kiyoko sings “When we’re all alone, girl, you wanna own it/ When we’re with the fam, you don’t wanna show it,” and urges her partner to accept her sexuality, even though Kehlani and Kiyoko then sing that they are no longer together. “Sleepover,” the first single released from the album, follows in its lead and deals with a similar topic. The synth-pop track contains verses and lyrics related to unrequited love and crushes on friends that can never be revealed.
The two most personal songs in the album are probably “Mercy / Gatekeeper” and “Molecules.” The first is an buoyant track where Kiyoko sings about her personal experience of getting a concussion, being diagnosed with Post-Concussion Syndrome, and her healing process. She describes her illness and depression with lyrics like “When the city sleeps, I’m awake / Caught up in the dreams I can’t create.” “Molecules,” on the other hand, is a slow track which addresses loss and is dedicated to a friend who lost her brother in very sudden and unfortunate circumstances, illustrated through lyrics such as “All that’s left is molecules of you / Tried to rearrange / Did you feel that everything was strange?”
“Under the Blue / Take Me In” follows with a signature synthetic rhythm, and stands out with extravagant lyrics like “I could fill my diamond pool in a summer that’s too cruel.” But it’s “Curious” and “He’ll Never Love You (HNLY)” where Kiyoko takes the most unapologetic approach towards her former lovers. “Curious” is the third single for the album, and tells the story of two women dating and the pressure of societal expectations. Not wanting to reveal her love for another woman, they decide to date people of the opposite gender, keeping their true feelings to themselves: “Calling me up, so late at night / Are we just friends? / You say you wanted me, but you’re sleeping with him.”
“He’ll Never Love You (HNLY)” is a dance and upbeat track that follows a similar storyline, which Kiyoko says is also inspired by personal experience. This track chronicles Kiyoko understanding that her former partner will never get over her, as she sings, “I left a mark on your neck / I know that you won’t forget / Yeah, I know, yeah, I know, I’m the best you’ve ever had.”
The album is divided by “xx,” the interlude which gives way to “Wanna Be Missed,” a dream-like song where Kiyoko sings about her desire to transform simple infatuation to a serious relationship. The song stands out because of its lack of percussion in comparison to the other songs, while standing its ground.
“Palm Trees” and “Let It Be” are the last two songs of the album. The first one is a groovy and bass-heavy ode to California and her desire to make it in the Golden State: “Star, stars / I’ll make it to the top / I’m shining like their cars and rings / The palms see everything.” “Let It Be” is a heartbreaking song with a triumphant finale, its chorus following an anthem-like rhythm which guarantees its legacy.
Overall, Kiyoko’s debut album does not disappoint as it contains the dreamy and synthetic sounds that the singer is rightfully known for. Needless to say, Kiyoko succeeds at surpassing all “Expectations.”