“Nobody wants to be brave,” Hayley Kiyoko said through tears at Billboard’s Women in Music. “We’re all terrified. I am the artist that I am out of necessity.” On December 6, 2018, Kiyoko took the stage at the annual celebration to accept the Rising Star honor in front of industry executives, fellow artists and her friends and family. The Billboard award capped off an incredible year for Kiyoko — one her fans and the media declared #20GAYTEEN in homage to the rapid rise of publicly queer musicians in mainstream music, led by Kiyoko. From the launch of her debut album to her VMA win and world tour, 2018 was a whirlwind of growth and recognition for the 27-year-old and solidified her spot as one of the most important rising stars in music.
Beyond colorful pop and energetic live shows, Kiyoko is beloved for giving her fans something she didn’t have as a child — relatable stories and a proud role model. “I just remember feeling alone growing up,” Kiyoko told Billboard. “And not having anyone that was similar to myself.” With the love and support of her parents and her intrinsic determination, Kiyoko turned her loneliness into creativity and confidence through music. At age 5 she started experimenting on the piano, writing her own songs and corralling her friends and family together for living room performances. “We never had a coffee table,’ her parents laughed, “because it was where she rehearsed.” They noticed her love of dancing and rhythm and bought her a drum set and eventually a sound studio in their garage where she created music throughout her early life.
In 2015 “Girls like Girls” became Kiyoko’s breakthrough single and forever changed the course of her career. The video quickly went viral and caught the attention of LGBTQ teens around the globe for its raw portrayal of a lesbian relationship. The video also marked Kiyoko’s first directing credit, a role she would take over on all of her future music videos. “The music video was inspired by my life,” Kiyoko said. “Growing up, I didn’t see a lot of things that ended with hope — and I grew up with a lot of heartbreak and wanting to have hope, so I wanted to create that.”
Kiyoko’s music and videos quickly became notorious for fearless self-expression and LGBTQ advocacy. Her fans declared her “Lesbian Jesus” and quickly spread the gospel to other pop fans. Her debut album, Expectations, caught the attention of critics and landed her a Coachella slot and a world tour along with accolades from MTV and Billboard. “Obviously, looking back on my life, I am who I am because of the struggles that I went through and feeling alone… and writing songs about it,” Kiyoko said. “I think the main thing is to not lose hope and what’s so exciting about this generation at this time is that we’re able to expose that hope and share that hope.”
At Billboard’s Women in Music she accepted her award from close friend Lauren Jauregui and thanked her friends, family and fans for their years of support on her journey to this moment. “I hope that being brave and bold with my choices encourages people to be brave and bold with theirs,” she told Billboard.” I think it’s as simple as that.”
Looking forward to her next project, exploring melodies and genre-blending are at the top of Kiyoko’s mind. But, as her new music comes together the production of the album remains an open-ended question and not a concept that can be tied to one genre or influence. “What inspires me the most is to be relentless, to continue to dream and reach for things that maybe feel unachievable.”