Even in Honey Hi -- the swanky type of Los Angeles eatery that sells $12 bottles of tiger-nut horchata and attracts millennials looking for an avocado fix -- Hayley Kiyoko, with her gold-bleached hair and shock-pink denim jacket, stands out. The 26-year-old is accustomed to being an outlier, in and beyond the Echo Park neighborhood: She’s an openly gay, half-Japanese music star with a Disney Channel pedigree who’s unapologetic about her explicitly queer strain of synth-pop.
"Basically, I’m an extreme minority," says Kiyoko with a laugh, picking at a grain bowl medley of quinoa, farmers-market cauliflower and a gooey turmeric poached egg. Since her first EP, in 2013, Kiyoko has gradually embraced her outsider status, as have 2.9 million monthly listeners on Spotify and 700,000 Instagram followers who lovingly refer to her as "Lesbian Jesus" on social media, superimposing her face onto images of J.C. And while the name is obviously tongue-in-cheek ("I’d like to thank lesbian jesus for correctly naming this year and blessing it for all of us," tweeted one fan with Kiyoko’s signature hashtag, #20GAYTEEN), as a lesbian singer who speaks directly to the woke generation, Kiyoko is a rare figure in pop, setting a still-radical example.
"I think she’s going to be spearheading a movement for a lot of young artists coming after her," says R&B singer Kehlani, who also sings romantically about women and features on album cut "What I Need." "Age plays a big part in it -- I don’t know if there are a lot of young people who are being so openly straightforward. It’s not an agenda, it’s just her being herself. She’s going to open a door."