Search The Line of Best Fit
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Hayley Kiyoko landscape Image
Nine Songs
Hayley Kiyoko

Following the release of her second album Panorama, the actress, singer and songwriter talks David Cobbald through the pivotal songs in her life

14 October 2022, 08:00 | Words by David Cobbald

Hayley Kiyoko is all smiles. Having finally gotten back on the road in the summer with a tour supporting boy wonder Lauv, she's relieved and overjoyed she's been able to perform the songs she’d been listening to on her own for a long time.

“It’s been overwhelming,” she tells me. Her fans turned up and gave her everything and Kiyoko couldn’t be happier. As she sang on stage, with everyone screaming the lyrics back to her, she dreamt of a headline tour in the near future where she gets to play not just a snippet, but the full vision that her second album Panorama deserves. “They always show up for me, and I hope to always show up for them” she says. “I'm very grateful for the community and the love that we share. We have a beautiful connection.”

Reflecting on touring with Lauv, she’s equally as positive about their experience on the road together. “We went paddleboarding on our day off in Richmond, Virginia, and we really enjoyed ourselves.” Kiyoko explains they took time at the start of the tour to really engage with each other, to make sure the vibes were right, and the mood was set. “That's what Panorama is all about, too” she tells me. “It's about enjoying the view at every point in your life, not waiting to get to the top of the mountain to take it in. Trying to be as present as possible, even if we’re struggling to find our rhythm and our way in life.”

Finding her way in life is a theme in Kiyoko’s Nine Songs selections, with each song providing a link to a formative moment in her growing up. Being a closeted member of the LGBTQ+ community for so long leaves life-long repercussions, and even now as an out and proud member, they affect not only herself, but others in the same situation.

Kiyoko found solace in these Nine Songs, and each one inspires her music just as much as it helped her grow as a human being.

“What was really exciting about working on Panorama is that I was able to take down those walls that I felt were hiding part of me – and protecting myself from really telling the truth to myself,” she explains. Having learnt to hide so many aspects of herself in her previous songwriting, it’s been a long process of unlearning and discovering who she really is in her music. Beginning with 2015’s “Girls Like Girls,” she begun to chip away at the black and white layers she put over herself, and now in 2022, Kiyoko is almost full colour.

“With every song and every record I release, I'm getting closer and closer to my authentic self. Panorama really brought me to my present self, and it was very empowering in the whole process of knowing that I am celebrating who I truly am” she concludes. “I'm really learning to love myself through the highs and the lows. The journey is the destination, and that's what Panorama is all about.”

“Yellow” by Coldplay

I started writing music when I was five, and music was very therapeutic for me. I grew up feeling like an outcast and not feeling like I was able to communicate my feelings or needs – so I would do that through songwriting.

I have a vivid memory of being in my garage - in my quote-unquote ‘music room’ - blasting “Yellow” and being so inspired by Chris Martin and his songwriting, the wall of sound and emotion that he would create, and I would sit in my garage and write music.

I always thought my music would go in more of the Coldplay direction. It didn't end up happening, but a lot of the times in the beginning of my career I wrote music on the piano, and Chris Martin was a huge inspiration for me. With this song specifically, I could envision myself being in an arena and playing my music, hoping to connect with people in the way that song connected with me.

“Yellow” is a great song and a marker in my life, because it inspired me to dream, to continue to write music, to communicate my feelings and communicate my stories.

“I Kissed a Girl” by Katy Perry

I think that this song is very controversial for our community, because in a lot of ways it moved the needle forward, and then for some people it didn't.

For me, the comment I’d make is when that song came out, and I heard the word ‘girl’ and I heard a female singing that word on the radio, it didn't matter what else was happening in the song, I was so excited it was allowed.

It opened this neural pathway of ‘Oh, maybe one day they'll be ready for me. Maybe one day I'll be able to sing she/her pronouns on the radio, in my authentic truth and experience’, and to me, that was important. On the other side of the coin, going to gatherings and having that song blasted through [the speakers], I would look around the room and I would see which girls were screaming the lyrics really passionately, hoping to maybe be able to locate a fellow lesbian in the room.

So, for me, there were some positive markers for that song, and it helped me feel like maybe one day there would be space for me in the pop industry.

“Paparazzi” by Lady Gaga

I love this song because it's very pop but there's a sadness to it. I think for me in my songwriting I have a lot of pop instincts, but there's also this sad layer to a lot of my music. It really resonated with me, and I loved this era for her. I loved how high concept she was and how bold she was with her choices.

Growing up, being closeted, and feeling ‘other’, I was always inspired by people who really walked and talked with their head held high. That was something I always wanted to be like, I wanted to be able to walk around with my head held high being, ‘This is who I am, take me or leave me’, so Lady Gaga really inspired me in that sense.

The balance of this song is really interesting, like one of my songs on Panorama “flicker start,” the lyrics are really quite sad, but the production is progressive – it moves you forward and the juxtaposition of those two emotions into one record is something that I love.

I had a really challenging time finding love and being loved for who I was, so there is a deep sadness within all my records, even if there's moments of joy. That feeling, that push and pull, is something of a red thread through my work. I'm in a place in my life where I celebrate that sadness, where I see those really hard times and moments in my life that helped me become who I am and made me stronger as a person today.

It's about giving love and kindness to ourselves and cultivating that compassion. It's like watering a plant, right? It’s taking that huge moment of sadness, feeling different, society trying to invalidate you constantly, and watering that plant saying ‘No, you belong, you're okay, you should be here’, and continuing to honour that.

“Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol

2006 was a massive year for me. I fell in love and I got my heart broken, and it inspired “Girls Like Girls”, the music video. This song specifically is very important to me, because I was on the dance team and I had a huge crush on my best friend. We were a dance partners and I choreographed this whole performance to “Chasing Cars.”

It was a way for us to potentially grow a deeper relationship, but it was also a very important moment. I remember performing that song at the talent show in high school with my crush on stage doing partner work, and I remember thinking ‘This is the coolest thing ever!’ Eventually I got my heart broken but that song, every time I hear it, it reminds me of a pivotal moment in my life.

This song will forever be a time capsule for my 16-year-old self, yearning to be loved, to potentially have a girlfriend and that feeling of being so close, yet so far from finding that validation from both myself and from someone else – so “Chasing Cars” definitely holds that emotional space for me.

“Hide and Seek” by Imogen Heap

I remember when this song came out, I was like ‘This is me, this is my soul, this is it’. I remember leaving school early and waiting in line at 3pm to see Imogen Heap perform. She had these fake flowers and really intricate hair, and literally did everything live. She had her vocoder, she had all of these pedals, and I remember watching her and being so inspired by her as a performer and as a songwriter. I studied her, I would see her in concert and think ‘How does she do this?’.

I’ve always been a big fan of hers, but that song specifically is a great example of incredible lyrics, incredible melody, and simplicity, yet complexity, all at the same time. There's so much space for you to feel and I've kind of taken that influence into Panorama, learning where to leave space and creating that space for moments that a listener can expand on.

On “Panorama,” the last track on my album, it's my voice and one other thing, then there's an explosive wall of sound for the chorus. I love the simplicity of just hearing the melody, hearing the lyrics and letting that speak for itself. There's definitely some inspiration there.

“The Story” by Brandi Carlile

Brandi’s voice is such a powerhouse. I was so inspired by the lyrics, and it really captured a piece of my heart of yearning, wanting to find love, wanting to be understood and wanting this feeling so badly.

I remember listening to this song in my bedroom thinking ‘This is a perfect song’. A song like this captures an overwhelming amount of emotion – it's 360°. I’ve always gravitated towards music that makes you feel in so many layers and ways, and that's the type of music I hope to create for my fans and for myself.

This song feels like a journey, and if you listen to my first album Expectations, a lot of the songs there feel like journeys, and I've always loved music that makes you go on one. Otherwise, what's the point?

“One Headlight” by The Wallflowers

My Dad loved this song, it was on heavy rotation on his playlist. He was always making cassettes at the time with fades, where he would be a DJ and remix bass on tape cassettes, and he loved music, he was always playing it. I think that was a big influence for me, chasing my dreams and loving music, as well as it being an escape or therapy.

The Wallflowers’ “One Headlight” was one of my favourite songs and I’d be screaming it at the top of my lungs in the car driving to school at seven in the morning. It's a very important song for my journey and my life – being able to share the passion of music with my Dad, and also the song is incredible. It’s a great driving song and when I look back at my music as well, a lot of my songs are really good driving songs. So I'm curious if there's a connection there as well.

That driving element and that pulsating feeling in the song definitely inspires my music to this day. It's fun to do this interview, because looking at the songs I’ve chosen there's feelings in each one that I think that I've always carried with me in my songwriting, of wanting to feel a similar way once I finish a song.

“Combat Baby” by Metric

I love Emily Haines, and I've always been a massive fan of Metric. Specifically, it’s her lyrics. They're so colourful, playful, visual, and sometimes confusing, in the sense of ‘What is she actually trying to say?’, but in a good way. I would listen to Metric 24/7 because I felt like she created a world with her music and was very creative with her word choices. I would listen and think, ‘Okay, I need to be more outside of the box’.

Metric was a big influence for me to really have fun with lyrics and rhythms – on this track specifically there’s a drum loop that leads you through the whole song. There's a whole lot of interesting rhythms in Metric’s body of work and “Combat Baby” was one of my favourite songs that I would listen to growing up.

They were so creative, I loved seeing them perform at Coachella and seeing what kind of synths they were using. Coachella was my homework. I would go and watch bands and singers and see what kind of equipment they would use, see their setups, how many people were in the band, and what kind of lighting they used. Then I would go home, write music, and be inspired. I'd go to Guitar Center and try to buy that pedal I saw and try that out. I've studied music since I was very young, and I've always been inspired by live music specifically.

I think that our biggest enemy can be ourselves, and we can hold ourselves back so much out of fear of trying something different. Seeing music live and being inspired by other artists generates endless possibilities and a belief that there's other ways of doing it. It helps you to keep going, to find your sound, find your path of where you belong and where you truly love yourself.

“Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley

Gnarls Barkley are so cool. When this song came out, I instantly knew it was so cool, so pop, and I felt very validated, because growing up I always felt crazy. I made myself feel crazy a lot and invalidated my feelings. I didn't trust my gut, and I’d create all of these scenarios in my mind and say things weren't true, even though they were.

So lyrically I really connected to the song. I would play the song over and over again, and it would make me feel less crazy.

Sonically as well, the beat, the heavy kick, it's such a cool song. I play bass live on tour, I gravitate towards funky basslines and rhythms that lead the charge of a record, so I think that's influenced my music as well. It's honestly one of my favourites, and it’s such a timeless song. Every time it comes on, you love it.

Panorama is out now

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