Hayley Kiyoko knew that coming into the music industry as a queer woman wasn’t going to be easy, but she did it anyway. “A lot of it was performing for men, and being attractive to men, and if you attract them, then they’ll sign you,” she says of starting out. “But I never compromised myself.”
Today, Kiyoko joins host and singer-songwriter Shea Diamond as the latest guest on Billboard’s Pridecast, the new podcast from Billboard Pride where the most influential LGBTQ names in music talk about how they got to where they are today, and what it means to be out in this industry.
For Kiyoko, the star says her breakthrough moment came with her 2015 video for “Girls Like Girls.” The video, which today boasts a whopping 122 million views on YouTube, served as the star’s official public coming out, where she declared to the world that she was in fact gay.
As she remembers it, “Girls Like Girls” came at a critical moment in Kiyoko’s career where she was down to her final financial reserves. “It was the last $5,000 I had, I was like ‘This is my last push, and then I have nothing to work off of,'” she recalls. “I remember thinking, ‘I’m gonna have to sing in front of all these male executives and try to convince them to see me and see my worth.’ But then, I didn’t have to do that.”
Just three short months after releasing the song, Kiyoko was signed to Atlantic Records for “being honest.” And just a few years later, she found herself making headlines around the world as a strong, LGBTQ pop star — or as fans would later call her, Lesbian Jesus.
To this day, Kiyoko says she didn’t really understand the impact of her nickname when she first heard it. “At first, I thought everyone was called ‘Lesbian Jesus!’ I thought it was a phrase!” she tells Diamond with a laugh. But the fact that fans are not only willing to accept her queerness, but celebrate her for it, is a career path she says was unimaginable at the outset. “Any time anyone validates your feelings and who you are as a person, it feels like this massive hug,” she says.
Check out the rest of Kiyoko’s interview on Billboard’s Pridecast, where the star discusses why she self-directs all of her own videos, what it means to struggle with depression in the public eye and much more: