Features

Hayley Kiyoko: a gay icon

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Catie Byrne
  Feature Editor

Glancing forlornly from against a locker, stealing glances at five girls, Hayley Kiyoko breaks out into dance in front of and against the five girls, Jasmine, Blake, Olivia, Sienna and Angie, in her Aug. 5 music video debut, “Gravel to Tempo,” off of her new EP, Citrine.

Kiyoko began as an actress in 2010, playing Velma in two Scooby Doo live-action movie adaptations, and then starred in the 2011 musical Disney movie, “Lemonade Mouth.” Kiyoko emerged on the music scene in her 2015 viral music video, “Girls like Girls,” and again in her 2015 music video, “Cliff’s Edge.”

Like “Girls like Girls” and “Cliff’s Edge,” Kiyoko’s latest video, “Gravel to Tempo,” is inspired by Kiyoko’s personal experiences loving women.

Refinery29 columnist Arianna Davis writes that in an interview with Refinery29, Kiyoko said of the video, “From the beginning of writing that song, I envisioned myself in front of all the girls I had crushes on in high school.”

Indeed, the video stars a high-school-aged Kiyoko trying to impress and show off to the five girls representing her high school crushes. The opening lyrics, “Catch my name for kicks, thinking I would be right by your side; I don’t feel adequate, thinking I’m a monster in disguise,” reflects Kiyoko struggling to make sense of her feelings for women, both romantically as well as in social standing with the girls she admired and had crushes on.

The girls of Kiyoko’s affection and conflicted feelings, Jasmine, Blake, Olivia, Sienna and Angie, all have varying reactions to Kiyoko’s attempts to impress them. Jasmine and Olivia remain mostly skeptical to Kiyoko’s flirting throughout the video, Angie and Sienna appear intrigued, while Blake, dubbed as “headphones girl,” has been the subject of memes for her visible reciprocated interest in Kiyoko throughout the video; most prominently at the end of the video, where Blake leans into Kiyoko, smiling, as she pulls Blake’s headphones close to her face.

The video is also about, as Kiyoko elaborated to Refinery29, inspiring her fans to not idolize people and to be their own person. “I remember so well what it was like to idolize other people and look for validation from them. But then I grew up, and I realized: The only validation I need is from myself. My goal is to inspire my fans to find happiness in themselves earlier on, so they don’t have such a tough time growing up… The world is a hard, difficult place right now. But it can feel a little bit easier if you believe in yourself,” said Kiyoko.

Finding validation within oneself is shown throughout the video, as Kiyoko steadily gains the confidence to confront the girls she likes and idolizes, without expecting them to like her back or think she’s cool. Kiyoko’s unorthodox dancing is a theme in both “Cliff’s Edge” and “Gravel to Tempo,” however in the latter; it is less about a performance, and more about letting loose and being flirty.

In Gravel to Tempo, Kiyoko dances in front of the girls as well as around their pictures as she watches them burn.

The effigies Kiyoko creates of each girl compliment the chorus — “I’ll do this my way,

don’t matter if I break, I gotta be on my own. Lost in this feeling, don’t never need a reason, I gotta be on my own” — to represent Kiyoko breaking free of her anxiety bound up in seeking these five girls’ approval.

The reaction to “Gravel to Tempo,” while more quiet than “Girls like Girls” and “Cliff’s Edge,” has been overwhelmingly positive.

Although the song has not been as widely popular to the general public, the song has exploded within Kiyoko’s lesbian and bisexual girl fan-base. The portrayal of Kiyoko’s struggle to understand where she stands in relation to other girls socially and romantically, has been praised as a highly relatable feeling and experience among girls who like girls.

While “Girls like Girls” and “Cliff’s Edge,” are also about experiencing attraction to other women, both reflect different facets of what it is to be a woman who loves other women.

“Girls like Girls,” for example, was about reaffirming to young girls that it is okay to be a girl that likes girls despite violent homophobia, while “Cliff’s Edge” inserts Kiyoko and actress Sonya Esman, in a rocky relationship expressing the highs and lows of being in a romantic relationship with a girl, as well as the sexual side of this relationship.

“Gravel to Tempo,” however, tackles a more complex and subtle topic regarding internalized homophobia, and how this translates into interacting with women when one is a woman who loves women. This topic may not translate perfectly into something as packaged and consumable as Kiyoko’s first two videos regarding her attraction to women, but it is an important and rarely discussed problem for young lesbian and bisexual girls struggling with their attraction to women.

Kiyoko, while still a relatively unknown to the general public, is gaining ground as an inspiring icon to lesbian and bisexual girls.

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