“Expectations” by Haley Kiyoko – Review
Review by Dakota Arnold
Anybody that knows me knows that any chance I have to hype up any WoC (woman of color) I will absolutely take it, especially a queer WoC such as Hayley Kiyoko. I, like many other wlw (women loving women), got into her music following the “Girls Like Girls” music video (which features the burgeoning romantic love between two friends) and have been in love with her and her music ever since. Kiyoko’s much anticipated debut album Expectations follows 3 EPs and meets my expectations (pun intended) a fantastic pop album, navigating the complexities that wlw often face, as well as Kiyoko’s own struggles throughout her life and her rise to stardom.
Kiyoko’s music has always given off a modern 80s synth pop vibe, a genre known for its facilitation of queer and gender non conforming performers like David Bowie and Annie Lennox of Eurythmics. The use of this genre fits perfectly for Kiyoko and this album specifically, in which she often talks about her journey to accept herself and flourish in the world as a young lesbian. She talks about her interactions with other wlw who cannot accept themselves. In the songs “Curious” and “What I Need” (featuring Kehlani, an amazing wlw WoC artist), Kiyoko is speaking to a girl who can’t accept her feelings towards Kiyoko. In “Curious,” this girl is denying the relationship they ever had through her current relationship with a man. In “What I Need,” however, the girl she’s speaking to is a lover that can’t be comfortable in their relationship bc it is a same-gender one. Kiyoko also tackles the subject of struggling with the acceptance of her own feelings.The pop anthem “Feelings” (my favorite single from this album) touches on being overwhelmed by feelings of infatuation and feeling high on the emotions from pining or just a simple crush. “Sleepover” is the inverse situation: this song talks about crushing on a straight friend (whoops) and uses the instrumental to support the contrast of heartbreak with a cynical acceptance of the fact that she and her friend will never date outside of her daydreams.
Expectations succeeds in many ways, instrumentally, lyrically, and emotionally, with songs that are indicative of the wlw experience as well as Kiyoko’s struggle with depression, specifically in “Mercy/Gatebreak.” Its shortcomings, however, lie in the stylistic choices. Pop, in general, is a very socially structured genre where people don’t tend to move out a specific set of chords and lyrical arrangement. About half of Expectations is affected by this, especially after the first listen a lot of the songs started sounding the same, and if you asked me to pick out songs from the back half of the album I probably couldn’t, barring “Melody,” the pop ballad that pulled my attention back into the album. It’s extremely unfortunate because much of the album is original in its content and its sound, but it’s being dragged down by the genericism that is almost inescapable in pop.
Regardless of these shortcomings, the album is still a fun synth pop album. Kiyoko is a very talented lyricist and her voice meshes extremely well with the music backing her up. Not only is this album important musically, but culturally as well. As mentioned before, this is a WoC in the spotlight who is singing about her experiences as a lesbian navigating that world and her own personal demons, which is something that hasn’t been widely accepted in the mainstream before her music. What Expectations lacks in much of its back half, it certainly makes up for in the uniqueness of the first half and the last two songs, as well as the significance of the material in what is, overall, a very fun album.
You can follow Dakota on Twitter @ay__arnold . This review was edited by Stevie Priller of the WPTS Editorial Board.