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Hayley Kiyoko Shares the Stories Behind Her Five Most Memorable Songs

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Hayley Kiyoko’s latest album has been a long time coming, and the singer is finally ready to share the journey she’s been on since 2018’s Expectations. In fact, Kiyoko says she named her upcoming album Panorama as a nod to celebrating the highs and lows in life and “learning to love yourself along the way.”

“When you’re climbing a mountain, you can become so goal oriented and focused on the end results,” she tells Glamour. “It’s so important during that journey to take a moment and enjoy the view at every point. That’s what inspired this album: sharing my journey.”

It’s fair to say that Kiyoko—who’s an actor as well as a musician—has been on a roll, professionally, since she started acting and making music. After her 2015 song “Girls Like Girls” became a viral hit, fans have dubbed her “Lesbian Jesus” and have continued to have sacred experiences with Kiyoko’s subsequent EPs, Citrine and I’m Too Sensitive for This Shit, as well as her debut studio album, Expectations.

Expectations was for queer people,” she says. “A lot of the time, we’re always having to come out multiple times and we’re also having to catch up with our present self. Expectations was me sharing stories and experiences from my past and getting to share my authentic truth with the world.”

Panorama is an opportunity to share another side of Kiyoko. “What’s exciting about Panorama is that it embodies my present self,” she says. “It’s a more refined, bolder version and way of sharing who I am. When you listen to the album, there’s a lot of clarity—sonically, lyrically, melodically—threaded throughout because I’ve gotten a lot of clarity on myself. Obviously, the past couple years have been really hard for a lot of people, but there have been some gifts of being able to sit with ourselves and learn more about who we are and fine tuning that. You know, getting rid of the white noise and putting your energy and intentions into the things you want to put your energy into. I think that comes across when you listen to Panorama.”

It’s also been a time of big personal changes for the musician. Earlier this year Kiyoko went public with her relationship with Bachelor alum Becca Tilley when she dropped the music video for her single “For the Girls.” The video, a cheeky Bachelor parody, featured Kiyoko as a Bachelorette and Tilley as one of her romantic prospects. “I launched her acting career, truly,” Kiyoko jokes.

“Music video shoots can be very stressful and chaotic, and we shot that entire music video in one day,” she says. “I basically had Becca set for about 10 minutes. I was like, ‘Hey, babe,’ and then put her in the shot, and she had like two takes to get it right. And then I was like, ‘Okay, see you at home.’ She did an amazing job. I was so proud of the contestants. We had 15 queer contestants and it was such an incredible experience. I hope people feel the joy and the humor when they watch the music video.”

To celebrate the release of Panorama, Hayley Kiyoko took Glamour through the personal stories behind a handful of her most defining songs for the latest installment of 5 Songs, 5 Stories. Read on.

“Girls Like Girls”

I remember being so terrified the night before seeing the song and the music video. No one wanted to premiere it because it challenged a lot of, I don’t know, stereotypes. That was discouraging for me because I loved the song. It was also a vulnerable moment for me because I was sharing my truth as a lesbian. But when I released it, it was like coming home. It was finding my community that I always was searching for and yearning for. I found so much support sharing my authentic truth, and I’ll never forget that moment. It was so special, and it will, I think, continually always be as special throughout my entire life.

“Gravel to Tempo”

“Gravel to Tempo” came about in an interesting way. I was in Ojai recording and working on my EP; I was walking on gravel, and I was walking on beat, so I recorded it with my iPhone with the voice memo app. That’s the intro that you hear on the song: me walking on gravel. I literally named the song “Gravel to Tempo” because that’s what inspired it—I never sang “gravel to tempo” in it, but that is what it is. Lyrically, this song is about reminding yourself that sometimes we have to navigate things on our own, and we have to be our best advocates. A lot of times we seek support and community, but we’re also strong enough to navigate things and handle things on our own if we have to. The song celebrates those moments where you really wish you could have other people help you, but sometimes in life you have to just do things on your own. You can do it and you’ll get through it.

“What I Need”

Collaborating with Kehlani on this was just meant to be—it was one of those experiences where we were DM’ing and were like, “Let’s do a song together.” We got together in the studio and wrote the song in an afternoon, and she recorded her part and went home. I texted her a couple weeks later and was like, “If I direct a music video, would you like to be in it?” She said, “I’m so down.” We actually also went to Ojai—it’s one of my favorite places—and shot the whole music video for two days. She was such an amazing support and also a really great actress in the video. I’m very grateful because as artists it can be challenging to find your allies. I was so grateful that Kehlani believed in me as an artist and that belief, support, and collaboration will never go unnoticed. We’ll always be friends, and I hope we work together again. I love working with her.

“Demons”

The inspiration for this was me battling depression. Or not battling, but navigating depression. I wrote this song in Joshua Tree, and I was really going through a bad mental health spell. The lyrics say, “Please forgive me. I’ve got demons in my head. They’re trying to tell me things that aren’t true about myself.” 

As human beings, it’s really hard because we have all these voices in our head that are trying to convince us of other realities that aren’t really reality. It adds so much self-doubt and confusion and cloudiness, and I think just acknowledging that we all have these demons in our head and we’re all navigating trying to find joy and happiness and contentment and normalizing it—that is what makes the song fun. I wrote the song starting with the synth, like bum, ba bum bum. And then we built the song from there. I was so appreciative that Kate Herron put it in Loki in the opening sequence of the show [in episode 3]. It was so amazing to have that support from a queer director as well, and I’m so glad that “Demons” had its moment.

“Underground”

I wrote this song in Topanga in early 2020 and was also going through a mental health struggle. I remember that day very vividly because I did not wanna write music. I was just too depressed and didn’t have it in me. My producers, Pat Morrissey and [Kill] Dave were like, “Hey, come on down, let’s just talk about it.” We started talking about it, and that’s kind of where the song was born. We wrote that song that day as I just worked through my feelings.

That song was also special to put together because I had this vision, production-wise, to have this interesting offbeat, onbeat percussive kick during the chorus. During the verses, it kind of feels like two songs in one; it also turns into a journey as you listen to the song at the end, taking out the percussion and leaning into the sadness of the lyrics. We have live violin strings that come in, and it takes a life of its own. That’s one of my favorite songs on the upcoming album because it feels like my soul is sensitive but it also has this really intense, passionate driving beat that doesn’t give me an option to give up. I really connect to that song. I hope my fans enjoy it as well.

Originally Appeared on Glamour