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Hayley Kiyoko puts out full-length studio album, “Expectations”

Hayley Kiyoko arrives at the LA Premiere of

Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP

Hayley Kiyoko arrives at the LA Premiere of "Insidious: Chapter 3" held at TCL Chinese Theatre on Thursday, June 4, 2015, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

Jared Duroe, Staff writer

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Hayley Kiyoko is a 27-year-old singer-songwriter who’s also performed as an actress and dancer. Following three EP’s released from 2013 to 2016, she finally released her debut full-length studio album, Expectations, on March 30. Despite her lack of mainstream popularity as a pop musician, she has amassed a sizable following over the years, including over 450,000 followers on Twitter, 500,000 likes on Facebook and 940,000 followers on Instagram.

She also openly identifies as a lesbian and does not shy away from directly referencing her sexuality in her music. Many of her followers refer to her as the “lesbian Jesus.”

While much progress has been made in recent history when it comes to LGBTQ rights, there is still a widespread lack of visibility when it comes to LGBTQ people and the unique issues they often face. That’s where a figure like Kiyoko comes in; many fans are hoping she will break into the mainstream and continue to normalize same-sex relationships for all of society. Musically, this album sits comfortably within the realm of pop music. Largely inhabited by direct, uncomplicated beats and energetic basslines, the music on Expectations is often breezy and catchy. Synthesizers are employed quite well throughout these songs, usually serving as bookends for Kiyoko’s verses and as cushions/backdrops for her choruses, both of which are almost always well-sung.

Her voice can sometimes sound nearly on the verge of childish, but it’s not due to a lack of skill. Rather, it’s due to the lyrics and how she pronounces them. One of the best examples of this can be found on the album’s 11th track, “Palm Dreams,” in a refrain where she sings “star, stars” in an unfortunate tone that conjures up images of a bratty child complaining. Her vocals on this record usually vary in-between pleasant and feathery to lively and even a little biting. There’s sometimes a slightly sour edge to her voice that can take some getting used to. However, she typically utilizes her voice well here. If I heard her on an anonymous track in the near future, I would know it was her, and this is a good thing.

The lyrics throughout this album are a mixed bag. There are times when they’re efficient and detailed, like on the standout single “Curious”. In arguably the catchiest chorus on the album, she sings, “did you take him to the pier in Santa Monica? Forget to bring a jacket, wrap up in him cause you wanted to?” This little detail provides context for the entire song and alludes to the depth of the connection Kiyoko shares with the girl the song is addressed to. The lyrics are also strong on several other songs, including “Under the blue/Take Me In” and “Molecules”. Other songs are not so strong. On the ninth track, “Wanna be Missed”, Kiyoko sings one generic line after another, resulting in a forgettable song that didn’t need to be included on the album. It doesn’t help that the song also employs a run-of-the-mill electropop sound.

On lead single “Sleepover,” the weak lyrics are redeemed by the dreamy production, which includes a softly propulsive beat, a mesmerizing bassline on the chorus and vocal melodies worth getting lost in. On album highlight “Under the blue/Take Me In,” pretty lyrics serve their purpose but ultimately take a backseat to the production, which is unexpectedly nuanced and beautiful while still retaining a sense of urgency that drives the song forward. There is an emotive quality to this track (particularly the “Under the blue” section) that only appears a couple of other times on the record.

Overall, this is an adequate pop record that stands very well as a debut. While not being particularly innovative or unique, the producers (including Kiyoko herself) have done a fine job here of molding the music around Kiyoko’s voice, bringing out her strengths while also distracting from her more annoying qualities. A more powerful and memorable album would have been produced here if two things were different. First: Kiyoko’s lyrics, which are sometimes intriguing, but too often, fall into the categories of basic or cliché. Second: the music itself, which frequently seems too content with mediocre compositions. You can have an electropop or synth-pop sound while still being inventive. While this album is full of promise, one wishes that this music could be a bit more inimitable.

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Hayley Kiyoko puts out full-length studio album, “Expectations”