When Hayley Kiyoko set out to make new music in 2021, she was struck by just how queer her lyrics had become since she started back in 2013.
“When we wrote [“Chance,” Kiyoko’s latest single] and recorded it, I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is so gay,’” she says with a laugh. “But it’s for everyone! But my personal experience when I listen to the song is like … it just feels like me from beginning to end.”
Kiyoko sat down with Billboard staff writer Stephen Daw as a part of Billboard’s “Inclusivity and Coming Out Stories” video series, presented by Capital One, to discuss her new music, finally getting to perform live again, her coming out story and much more.
For her “next chapter” in music, as Kiyoko calls it, the 30-year-old singer says that she wanted to help refresh her fanbase, especially after the year and half they’ve spent in quarantine. Part of that includes a return to live performances, which Kiyoko kicked off during Pride Month with her performances at iHeartRadio’s “Can’t Cancel Pride” event, as well as OUTLOUD: Raising Voices.
“I’m just so excited to have that human interaction,” she says. “It is going to be a little scary — the social anxiety of, ‘Oh, we don’t have to be afraid of one another’ is gonna be something that I’m working through. We have been through a lot. But I’m also just so excited to feel that energy and share that energy in person. There’s just nothing better than experiencing that in person.”
Taking it back to her childhood, Kiyoko says that she was stuck in a position, especially as a queer woman of color, where she was left with remotely no LGBTQ role models to look up to. “There wasn’t someone who looked exactly like me or had the same experience — granted, we all have such different journeys, but there wasn’t one person like that,” she says. “I was so grateful to so many artists, all for different reasons. Like, I always bring up Tegan and Sara — even if they were saying ‘you’ in a song, I knew it was a girl.”
But Kiyoko also adds that artists such as Robyn and The Killers, who are not LGBTQ themselves, still helped her feel seen as a queer person, even if they were coming from straight voices. “Music and art helps us get through things, and they can be used and support you in ways that maybe it wasn’t meant to support,” she says. “That’s what so awesome about music in general.”
That being said, Kiyoko is a strong believer in accurate, wide-ranging representation in music, as she has tried to always exemplify since publicly coming out with her 2015 single “Girls Like Girls.” In the intervening years since releasing her breakthrough single, Kiyoko says that she’s seen a groundswell of support and representation for the LGBTQ flood into the music industry, even if there is still a lot of work ahead.
“I’ve seen just a shift in the presence of queer artists in the industry, and it’s been really cool to see so many queer artists winning, you know?” she says. But in order to continue fostering that kind of talent, Kiyoko emphasizes that it will be a group effort to do so. “I think it’s just teamwork — everyone needs to focus on something, and try to make a change with it, try to improve the world for future generations.”
Check out the full interview with Hayley Kiyoko for Billboard’s “Inclusivity and Coming Out Stories” series above.