Hayley Kiyoko on Being Open With Her Fans, Her Impact on the LGBT Community

Asher Moss
Hayley Kiyoko

In one way or another, Hayley Kiyoko has been in the spotlight since she was a teen -- from roles on the Disney Channel to starring in the Scooby Doo movies. But Kiyoko has really made a mark in the pop world, first starting out in an all-female pop group with Tinashe called The Stunners (you may have once caught them opening for Justin Bieber on tour) and then transitioning into her solo career.

Since 2013, Kiyoko has released three EPs -- each one more representative of who she is than the last. Anthemic pop tracks like “Girls Like Girls” from This Side Of Paradise and “Pretty Girl” on CITRINE have allowed Kiyoko to open up about her sexuality and encourage her fans to be their truest selves. Earlier this year, Kiyoko once again continued using her platform as an artist for the greater good with the release of an L.A. noir visual companion to her track “One Bad Night,” exploring themes of trans-violence and the human connection.

Now that Kiyoko’s One Bad Night tour has ended, she’ll be focusing on what everyone wants to hear about: new music. We caught up with her about activism, moving past the Manchester terror attack and her forthcoming debut album.

When you were setting out to be an artist, did you always want to use your platform to empower and help the LGBT community, or did that just come with your career?

For me, I never set out to do that. I wasn't like, “I’m going to be a musician, and this is going to be my message.” I did think that as I continued to grow as an artist I would be in the public eye. I didn't think that I would have as much meaning and purpose, though, so that’s been an amazing gift. It’s given me purpose. Not only can I write music I love, but I can help people get through life and promote that positivity in there.

You’re obviously a pop singer. With everything that happened in Manchester... a lot of your fans are teen girls. What advice would you give to teens that might be shaken up and scared to go to shows since then?

Seeing what happened was horrible, and I think all of us are heartbroken over it because it’s terrible. But, I do think we can’t live in fear, and we have to continue on with our lives. We need to continue to do things that make us happy, feel good and escape because if we don’t, then they win. I would just tell everyone to continue to live your life to the fullest and do what you love. That’s all you can do because you can’t control what happens. That’s the really shitty part of this situation.

As an artist and as someone who has been really open about their sexuality and experiences, what’s the most meaningful reaction you’ve ever gotten from a fan?

I think the most meaningful reaction is when I go on tour and see 12-year-old girls at my show being proud of who they are and with their parents at my shows. When I was 12, I was like, “I’m never going to be happy until I’m 30,” because I was struggling with my sexuality. Seeing everyone be 15 or 16 and seeing this community of support has been really meaningful because it shows progress and change within our generations. We still have more to go, but to see that has been awesome.

With the CITRINE EP, it seems like you went in a more polished direction. How do you feel like you’ve grown from your last EP to this one?

I grew immensely as far as being free to sing about whatever I wanted to lyrically. I think my first EP This Side Of Paradise I was trying to figure out where I fit in, but CITRINE was 100 percent me. It was fun and flirty, but free and vibey. I can see what you’re saying about it sounding more polished because I think it was more focused when I wrote the CITRINE EP. I think I knew what I wanted it to sound like. Before then, I was shooting in the dark trying to figure out who I was, really.

The “One Bad Night” video was incredibly impactful. Why did you decide to bring light to trans violence with the video?

I always try to use my art to cover topics that people don’t really do or are scared of covering. I also loved the challenge of listening to “One Bad Night” and trying to take a 360-spin on the lyrics and what it could tell and create. I think it’s important to not be afraid to talk about real life -- trans violence is a real thing that happens all the time. The main focus that I loved about “One Bad Night” is that it’s about human compassion for each other. Especially in times like now in the world we’re living in, it’s important to show human compassion. If you see something, it’s important to stand up for your neighbor even if they’re a stranger and not walk away. We’re all neighbors within one another. And it’s about finding hope in one another. At the end [the two characters] smile at each other and doughnuts -- it’s about enjoying the simple things in life and those simple moments. I really wanted to come across those simple acts of kindness in the video.

I know your album got pushed a bit, but what can fans expect from it? Are they going to be surprised by anything?

I think they’re really going to like it. I’m finishing the album right now and we’re in the mixing process. I think what they can expect is to hear an album that feels visual. I really love the visual element of music, so you’ll really see things that really tell a story.

Is it a concept record or just a lot of themes running throughout it?

The name of my album is the concept, and it flows through every single song. For me, this album is 100 percent me: every track is dedicated to a different part of my life or what I went through. It’s not a heartbreak album. When you listen to the album, my fans will know me a lot better.

Do you ever regret being so open in your music and with your fans? Have you felt like you over-shared at all?

The only thing I regret is not being comfortable with myself earlier on and sharing those stories. I think people are afraid to share because they’re hoping that maybe they’ll change. I think the only thing I regret is not being more confident with my sexuality at an earlier age. I love being open and sharing my stories because it inspires other kids to hopefully be more comfortable with themselves at a younger age. School, growing up and life is hard. If all of us can be brave and stand up, hopefully fewer people will have struggles and have better lives.

What were you listening to while making your album?

It’s funny: the past couple of EPs I was listening to a ton of music, and in writing this album, I kind of took a break. I made what I wanted to make. I think this is the first time creatively where I wasn't trying to match a vibe: I was literally creating my own vibe. Like, if this sounds good and feels good to me, then this is me. I’m so excited for people to hear it!

One thing that’s really cool about you is your style. What inspires your style, and how does it inform your music?

I just really like color: color is everything. I see color when I listen to my music. As far as my style is concerned, I loved color -- I’m not the kind of person that wears black on black on black. If I’m going through a mood, I’ll dye my hair. You can always tell how well I’m doing by what color my hair is. My hair is very therapeutic for me. When I’m back to blonde, I’m content and coasting.

Gay Pride Month 2017