This Easter season, “Lesbian Jesus” gave us the wonderful gift of her debut album. For those who don’t understand the preceding sentence, Hayley Kiyoko dropped her first full-length album “Expectations” March 30. The album is another amazing piece of work from the trailblazer working to forge a place for queer artists in the mainstream.
Most will probably recognize Kiyoko from her role in the Disney Channel Original Movie “Lemonade Mouth.” Before the film she was in pop girl group The Stunners. The group also featured R&B singer Tinashe, but failed to gain any traction.
Since debuting as a solo artist, Hayley Kiyoko has released three EPs. Her breakout single, “Girls Like Girls,” helped her find her own voice and established her as a leading outspoken artist for the queer community.
Kiyoko is a major creative force behind her music. She co-writes all the songs on her album (with the minor exception of “xx,” a 50 second interlude) and co-directs her music videos. This input translates into her art as sincere authenticity, a reason her fans have connected with her so deeply.
“Expectations” is a solid debut album. Over 13 songs Kiyoko constructs a loose storyline, but also is successful in constructing a solid image for herself.
The opening track is a wordless overture that sets the atmosphere. While establishing the dream pop genre early, it doesn’t feel like it really adds much to the album beyond superficial texture.
The overture transitions into one of the album’s lead singles, “Feelings.” The track is one of the albums highlights. “Feelings” is about how open Kiyoko is with her emotions. She contrasts it with what has become normal behavior in society: pretending you’re not interested and not seeming too available. The production on this track is tight and sits in that wonderful mainstream EDM meets R&B space Justin Bieber and Fifth Harmony have capitalized on.
“What I need” boasts the only feature on the album. Songstress Kehlani, also an out member of the LGBT community, lends her voice to the track. It’s a bop about making sure you’re ready to commit. Kehlani’s presence almost overshadows Kiyoko’s performance, mostly because the song could fit so well in Kehlani’s catalog.
Over the course of “Sleepover” Kiyoko admits how much she thinks about her friend in a romantic and sexual way. But, at the same time she knows it will never go anywhere. The dreamy reverb on the chorus vocals gives this song an ethereal quality that pairs well with the lyrics.
After a strong opening, the album hits a wall with two almost six minute tracks.
“Mercy/Gatekeeper” is an ambitious track but it falls flat like many two part tracks do. Throughout the song Hayley Kiyoko is trying to talk about her experience with post-concussion syndrome and depression. While the verses are raw and honest, the chorus is lyrically disappointing. While “All I wanna do is cry / that’s all I wanna do” does get the point across, it leaves something more to be desired. The melody isn’t all that great either.
“Under the blue/Take Me In” is another misstep. It has some catchy hooks, but beats them to death. The about face in production that leads into “Take Me In” is an interesting trick, but not as impressive as it was probably intended to be.
“Curious” is definitely the strongest song on the album. In the song, Kiyoko is trying to determine whether what this girl is claiming to feel is genuine. Especially since she has a boyfriend. The chorus feels uniquely anthemic, and is the epitome of exactly where pop music stands right now. I could see this song easily as the underdog in the competition for Song of the Summer. It’s a certified bop that will make you want to dance and give some side eye.
After the sonic climax that is “Curious,” the rest of the album drags. “Wanna be Missed” and “He’ll Never Love You (HNLY)” are both pretty good, but fail to shine even close to as bright.
As for the album’s overarching story, it draws to a close with a break up. “Let It Be” is a melodramatic break up song that feels like it’s trying way too hard to be positive about splitting ways.
Overall, “Expectations” is a pretty good pop album. It has a strong front end, which is typical of pop albums. It’s obvious the Kiyoko put a lot of thought and a lot of herself into the songs. While it’s not perfect, it has many great moments that point to Hayley Kiyoko being an artist to keep your eye on.