Remember the guitarist from Lemonade Mouth?
From playing Stella on Disney Channel’s smash hit original film, to playing Velma in Cartoon Network’s live-action Scooby-Doo! Curse of the Lake Monster and Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins circa 2010, Japanese-American Hayley Kiyoko has bloomed into one of the most prominent pop singers in the LGBTQ+ community.
Fondly referred to on Tumblr as the “Queen of the Gays,” Kiyoko’s musical career first exploded when she released her music video for her song “Girls Like Girls” in 2015 starring Stephanie Scott and Kelsey Chow (which Hayley co-directed, by the way). The video with the mantra “Girls like girls like boys do, nothing new” emotionally connects its viewers to the quiet romance between a girl and her best friend – while featuring a lousy boyfriend as their story’s villain. The production tackles internalized homophobia in its lyrics and physical abuse in the climax scenes, but ends happily, unlike many and unfortunately most fiction under the category of LGBTQ+.
I loved the idea of how all these guys always are stealing other guys’ girls and I was like, ‘There’s no female anthem for a girl stealing another guy’s girl,’ and that is the coolest thing ever. — Hayley Kiyoko
The singer’s powerful video along with its song struck a chord with queer girls, and she quickly developed a passionate fanbase known as the Kiyokians. Five months later, Kiyoko released another music video depicting a sapphic romance that she fully directed — “Cliff’s Edge.” This video provided a sexy but not so sweet glimpse into girl/girl relationships, shattering the stereotype that they are all rainbows and happiness and none of the toxicity that can arise in relationships.
“Gravel to Tempo” is all about self-acceptance as a queer girl in a high school environment – starring Hayley herself as she tells that the production is heavily based on her experience growing up. Unrequited love is a common and well-discussed theme among young women-loving-women, but this video covers more than that – it’s the aching desire of finding yourself, weighing out the classic queer girl debate of “Do I want her or do I want to be on top of her?”
From the beginning of writing that song, I envisioned myself in front of all the girls I had crushes on in high school. I remember so well what it was like to idolize other people and look for validation from them. But then I grew up, and I realized: The only validation I need is from myself. — Kiyoko to Refinery29
“One Bad Night” stars trans Youtuber Erin Armstrong a.k.a. “Grishno” and expertly tackles the issue of trans violence, with a twist of heroism and unexpected friendship. The video, discussed among fans, is said to hint specifically at violence against sex workers as well. Sometimes all we need to see is a quality bond between two people, with no unnecessary and forced plot-device romance.
But Kiyoko did not stop there. After another five months of shows and touring, she bounced back with another video – and this time to make girls everywhere swoon with domestic dream-like visuals and feel the pain her character feels. “SLEEPOVER” is a tale of unrequited love starring its singer and Christina Santini. Lyrics like “You wanna be friends forever / I can think of something better” and “At least I got you in my head / Sleepovers in my bed” hit home for many closeted women-loving-women, especially Kiyoko’s teenage fans.
Many say the videos Hayley Kiyoko produces are the most beautiful and intense of their kind. However, one thing is for certain — her art has impacted the LGBTQ+ community in a unifying way. She continues to rack millions of views on Youtube and does not plan on stopping her music and directing anytime soon.