Hayley Kiyoko Talks 'Feelings' Music Video & Lesbian Representation: 'People Are Starting To Get The Picture'

Hayley Kiyoko
Josh Paul Thomas

Hayley Kiyoko

Multi-platform star Hayley Kiyoko's newest release, "Feelings," is taking the internet by storm -- and not just because it's an absolute bop. The new video follows suit with Kiyoko's tradition of placing her own narrative as a lesbian woman in front of the camera, pushing forward to normalize same-sex couples in the music industry. 

Kiyoko recently premiered "Feelings" on MTV's Total Request Live, and soon saw an overwhelming positive response -- the video is already nearing 2.5 million views following its Oct. 19 release. The clip, which the singer both directed and starred in, was shot in a single take, with a Steadicam operator following Kiyoko's pursuit of another beautiful woman in the middle of a dimly lit street. Kiyoko's signature dance moves are back for this video, except this time they're coupled with a cockier, bouncier mood than previously seen, in videos for hits such as "Sleepover" and "Girls Like Girls." 

Recently, Billboard had the chance to talk representation and "Feelings" with Kiyoko. When asked about her own role models, Kiyoko was quick to point out Tegan and Sara, but of course they were separated by a few degrees of age and style -- parallel, but for sure not a mirror. Kiyoko added to her point, "I didn't really have that, so that's why it's really exciting to be able to share that with my new fans. More and more, people are starting to feel more comfortable with who they are, and my fans have made me feel super comfortable with who I am. It's all thanks to them, really." 

Watch "Feelings," and read through Hayley Kiyoko's conversation with Billboard on everything from the behind-the-scenes aspects of her video, to representation and advice for other LGBTQIA creatives, below. 

What was the inspiration behind “Feelings”?

Well, it's a loaded question, there's a lot. Firstly, the song. It started off with me just being frustrated with having people make me feel like I needed to be ashamed of feeling. Kind of like, enjoying this single life, dating world. As soon as you feel it's like, "Oh gosh. You can't feel. How dare you?" And I was like, "Wow. That's really messed up." And I wanted to write a song about that, because if you listen to the lyrics verbatim, it's exactly how I feel. I over-communicate, I feel too much. That's who I am. Why can't I just be myself, and why do I have to be ashamed of that? So that's kind of where the song grew from.

Then, as far as the music video is concerned, I've always wanted to do a music video of me just kind of following this cute girl down the street, and having it be very playful and consensual. But I also wanted to do it in a fresh way, and so that's why I decided to do it in one take, and really give myself a massive headache in figuring out how to do that. It was a crazy challenge, but I'm really happy with how it turned out. And I'm really all about color. When I listen to music, I see color, so visually I'm just really pleased with how it ended up turning out. 

What was it like to both star in and direct this particular video?

It was very complicated. It normally is just a lot of communication -- just with any of my videos -- but this one especially, because there's just a lot of moving pieces. How we had to do it was I had a stand-in for myself, and then the DP was working on the lighting. I was directing the Steadicam operator, and then the choreographer was focused on my other lead actress.

So we all kind of had our station, and there was a lot of pre-production involved, lots of rehearsals and choreographing it and adjusting it. But we had to plan the camera work days in advance and, you know, by the time we were actually on location, we knew exactly what we were shooting and how we were going to shoot it. It was definitely a lot of teamwork. 

In an interview with Elle you’d mentioned that for “Sleepover” you were asked, “Is it gonna be another music video about two girls?" Was there the same sort of resistance this time, or are people maybe starting to get that this is real life, and that it’s not changing?

I didn't get that resistance this time. I feel like people are starting to get the hang of it, that I'm going to always like girls and there's always going to be a girl involved in the video. There's multiple ways of telling those stories, and you know, if I do my job correctly I should be able to tell those stories every time and have it be fresh and unique because there's so many different parts of relationships. The before, the after, during. But I feel like people are starting to get the picture. 

In the “Feelings” video, you definitely take on a more assertive pursuit of the other female lead -- it’s sexy, not quite aggressive, but definitely cocky, kind of like the stereotypical straight guy in a music video. Did you aim for that to be the attitude that came across from the start, or did it kind of happen naturally when you started shooting?

Yeah, I definitely had that in mind going into it. My whole thing is, we see men pursuing women down the street all the time and calling a girl out and being like, "Hey, you cute. I want to date you." You know? Like, "Whatchu up to?" Why can't I do that? I'm a girl, why can't I be that as well? That's how I feel inside, so it's like, why can't I show it? That was the whole point of doing this video, is showcasing that -- but also showcasing it in the way that I would do it. 'Cause I'm not being a dude, I'm being myself. I'm being a girl in the video, and I'm just pursuing another girl down the street.

In a lot of my videos I'm very upset and vulnerable. No one likes me, and I'm like, [screams] "AGH," just so sad. So I also just wanted to show my cockier side, and more of my confidence in this video. That moment when you see a cute girl and you're like, "Damn, you cute." Like, "Imma try to get you." I wanted to show that side of myself in the video. Also, I just wanted to be playful and not in a creepy way; in a very kind of fun way.

Then obviously, as the video ends, I don't get the girl. But it's kind of one of those things where it's like, "Hey, that was fun". It's like anything, if you go to a festival or a party and you meet someone and you flirt, maybe it doesn't go anywhere, but that was really fun for that moment. "You make me feel good and vice versa, and that was really fun. I appreciate you. I appreciate your beauty, thank you so much. That was fun. You have a good night." I guess that's kind of like the vibe.

How did you choose the female lead for this video?

My friend actually recommended her. I was really trying to find a triple threat and someone who really could knock this out of the ball park. She had to be able to hit the marks and really just sell it. My friend had recommended me to her and she was over visiting her family at the time, and the walk was really important, [so] she sent me her walk on the balcony at her house. 'Cause I was like, honestly there's so much walking in this video. You gotta be able to have a really good walk. So she sent me a video of her walk, and I was like, "Okay, this is going to be great."

So you hit two million views on “Feelings” already -- what has the fan response been like for you?

It's been crazy. I've never had such a big response to a video before. I think every video, I'm just growing and growing and growing, and this is another video where we continue to grow. I have never hit two million views in a week. It's amazing. I'm so thrilled and excited that people are watching the video and they're loving it. It's one of my favorite videos I've done, and it was one of the hardest videos, and there was a lot of work that went behind it. It feels great that people are actually watching it.

I think it's fun for my fans too, because it used to take like, weeks, for me to hit even one million. So it's a climb. I'm still emerging, I'm still trying to get in there. It's a fun journey to be a part of with my fans because it's a long journey. It's not like I'm just like, "...aaand now explosion. I'm at the top!" It's been a very slow build and climb, and we're still climbing, but it's starting to really pick up momentum, and it's really cool to see together.

Have you had any standout moments with fans regarding the impact you’ve had on their lives?

I could talk about that a lot. I think you start really seeing the impact when you meet the parents that bring the kids to your shows, and think that's what's really beautiful, is seeing parents telling you their stories of "I didn't understand until my kid showed me your video, and now I wanted to bring her to your concert, and we listen to your music together." Stuff like that. That just really messes me up. Messes me up to the core. Honestly I didn't enter the music industry thinking I was going to make people happy. I just thought I was going to make music. There's just something really magical about it. 

I just did the Voodoo Festival this past weekend, and being onstage and just seeing this magic in peoples' eyes and smile... they just feel safe. There's this comfortability, there's this halo of comfort that starts to surround them. That just really warms my heart, 'cause that's something I didn't really have growing up as a teen. So it's just really, really cool that I can share that with people that I don't know. Because it's like, we're all just friends, and we're all a community and we're all together. It's really cool. 

Do you have any advice for LGBTQIA individuals trying to make their way in the music industry?

I would say my advice is, if you're experiencing resistance, you're probably doing something important. That would be my words of wisdom. Every video I've done, there's always been resistance, and there's always been controversy and there's always been like, "Oh, I don't know about that." So, you know, that means that you're doing something that's different, and something that makes people uncomfortable, and so that's probably something that people need to see.