When it comes to inspirational celebrities, Hayley Kiyoko is towards the top of my list. She’s an out-and-proud lesbian who openly sings about girls. For me and many others, she’s a revelation. Hell, there’s a reason she’s known among fans as Lesbian Jesus. She’s making young lesbians and other Sapphic girls feel comfortable in their pejoratively gay skin.
However, despite being in the business since her 2011 Disney Channel debut in the film Lemonade Mouth, she’s only released EPs and singles. That is, until this year. And, naturally, Expectations was one of my most anticipated albums of the year. And, not only did it exceed expectations (pun entirely unintentional), it blew me away. This album is all I’ve listened to since it came out. Unapologetically gay, this album is undoubtedly one of the most important albums of 2018.
The genius of this album begins at the title itself. The word “expectations” holds different meanings based on the album subject matter. Hayley has expectations on how relationships should be; the girl she’s with feels the pressure to live up to the expectations of a heteronormative society. The amount of thought and meaning put into every aspect of this album, from the title to the story it tells, is astonishing.
Besides that though, it’s one of the best pop albums I’ve heard in a long time. Musically and lyrically, it’s both catchy and authentic. Hayley’s vocals are sweet and plaintive. I already know, without a doubt, that this album will be on my Best Of list at the end of the year. And now, here’s a track-by-track review of Hayley Kiyoko’s highly anticipated debut, Expectations:
- Expectations/Overture: This brief intro is more for atmosphere than anything else. It also sort of serves as the musical theme for the album. It starts out slow and lowkey and then builds. The end is almost frantic, reflecting her troubled emotions later on in the album. It’s a nice way to start the journey this record takes you on, as it sets the stage really well.
- Feelings: When I describe this album as pop perfection, know that this song is the cream of the crop. Though mid-tempo, it’s got an irresistible underlying beat that pushes the song forward. Lyrically, Hayley talks about how she often falls fast but she’s not ashamed of her feelings. So much of modern dating is about disguising how you feel, but Hayley’s not about that life. Vocally, this is her best performance on the album. Everything about this song is peak Hayley. So, it should come as no surprise that not only is this song a favorite, but it’s my most favorite.
- What I Need (feat. Kehlani): Despite Kehlani’s R&B-leaning voice and Hayley’s pop-leaning voice, these two sound really great together. The song chronicles a relationship Hayley had with a girl who wouldn’t acknowledge it publically. This is Hayley calling her out on stringing her along and getting her involved in personal drama (i.e. not knowing who she is or willing to come out). On top of that, it’s just a bop. It’s another easy favorite.
- Sleepover: This mid-tempo song finds Hayley stuck in a situation where she has feelings for a girl who does not reciprocate. Despite how close they are, it’s not the kind of relationship Hayley really wants. However, she comforts herself by saying she can at least imagine and fantasize. Hayley even acknowledges she has a habit of falling for girls who don’t feel the same way, showing she’s remarkably self-aware. As a lesbian, this song is deeply relatable.
- Mercy/Gatekeeper: A mash-up of two different but intimately related songs, this track is about depression. It’s one of the most atmospheric songs on the album, slow and gloomy. There’s even a spoken-word portion. However, the majority of “Gatekeeper” is upbeat. The track reflects the complexity of depression, the inner struggle and the outer presentation. As relatable as it is gorgeous, this song is another favorite.
- Under the Blue/Take Me In: Another two-song track, this one talks more about the fame game and how Hayley feels about it. She doesn’t care about the competition or the ugly side of fame, but she wants the recognition and success. It’s another very atmospheric track, this one almost disconnected in its mood. It’s an interesting track, to be sure.
- Curious: Another song about a girl who strung her along, this one is one of the poppiest on the album. In this instance, the girl in question has a boyfriend but keeps telling Hayley she has feelings for her. Hayley brings out her sassy and flirty side for this one, unabashedly calling out this girl for hiding who she really likes. This song is another definite favorite.
- xx: This interlude changes the vibe of the album slightly, the muffled refrain of “Why’d you do that” letting you know how this situation inevitably winds up. A breeze runs through the track, guiding you calmly toward the resolution and conclusion of the arc Hayley has created. It’s a very clever, effective tool.
- Wanna Be Missed: Though mid-tempo, this song has almost a dance-y feel to it. Hayley glides over the high notes, singing about how she wants to be loved by someone special. She wants a world-bending, life-changing love. This song is the most frank and vulnerable on the album, baring her inner desires for the world to see. It’s incredibly relatable and another favorite.
- He’ll Never Love You (HNLY): The third song in this album’s narrative trinity, this song is more blunt that “What I Need” or “Curious.” It’s the most autobiographical, providing details like “I left a mark on your neck.” Even though the crux of the song is how the girl’s boyfriend will never love her like Hayley does, the real point of the song is getting the girl to admit she likes women. She’s been playing games with Hayley, but right now Hayley cares more about the games the girl is playing with herself. It’s a really fun, upbeat track and another favorite.
- Palm Dreams: This tropical bop is another song about Hayley’s journey in show business. She reflects on how she’s been trying to achieve the level of success she has now for years, showing her perseverance. It’s the kind of song you listen to while cruising in the car with the windows down. Hayley somehow manages to make her long odyssey sound fun. Personally, it’s another favorite.
- Molecules: This song, the only true ballad on the album, was inspired by a friend’s brother who passed away. It’s a song of mourning, a thumping bass drilling in the pain. Her speech patterns reflect the flashes of memory we have when we lose someone, whether through death or just a break-up. It’s a powerful song, and one of the most universally relatable on the album.
- Let It Be: The closing track to the album, this is one of the most hopeful break-up songs I’ve ever heard. It’s fairly upbeat, and Hayley’s love for her ex is still very evident. This song acknowledges that sometimes good things come to an end and that moving on is the best thing you can do. You’ve just got to let things be as they are. It’s a very mature outlook and another favorite.
On a more personal note, Hayley Kiyoko means a lot to me as a lesbian. It’s so nice to see a mainstream artist be so open and unapologetic about their sexuality. Hayley is ushering in a new era of artists, full of people of all sexual orientations, races, creeds, and more. And I can’t wait to see where it goes. I’m so glad I was here to witness the rise of Hayley Kiyoko.