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Album Review: Hayley Kiyoko ‘Expectations’

Former Disney star is still trying to hone her beginning pop star self.

Robyn McDonald

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Hayley Kiyoko’s sensual debut Expectations is forming by giving her a start in the industry going solo. It’s best when it’s raw and real, but the former Disney star is still trying to hone her beginning pop star self.

Kiyoko, the 26-year old former Disney star, is one of pop’s few openly gay female artists. Fans have taken to calling her “Lesbian Jesus.”

This timid sounding album speaks to the representation of the quiet, shy people who haven’t embraced their true selves yet, and gives those people a voice in the world, among the different fan base rather than mainstream.

The fans who located Kiyoko’s earlier music videos, which proved representations of relationships and flirtations between women. It seems now Kiyoko now has to balance their interests with her own identity, in addition to the pressures of the mainstream that she (and label Empire/Atlantic) apparently want her to break into. The label most likely wants increase in revenue and expected Kiyoko to break out big like Kehlani, Cardi B, or Queen Naija to generate revenue for tours, radio/talk shows, and publicity. Expectations seems like a particularly explosive title, and Kiyoko seems eager and content throughout.

Her opener, “Expectations (Overture),” a two-part song — with an interlude called “xx” — has a relaxing sound of the sea and far off, distant, birds that add a sense of relaxation and reality. It gives a rough, yet inspiring type of idea of a closed off world, but not much more. Kiyoko has a beautiful crescendo landing on a flat foot, with the line, “I’ve never felt nothing like that,” as if waking up from an anesthetic.

The last song on the album, “Let It Be,” ends the driving, tempting, and lingering emotions felt through the album. The strongest songs on the album are, “What I Need” ft. Kehlani, “Wanna Be Missed,” and “Palm Dreams.”

The writing on “What I Need” might not have the same standard as one would write themselves, have a songwriting team, or a ghostwriter, but the duet with Kehlani, makes it a Bisexual Bop (meaning same sex interaction with a catchy rhythm) inspiration. It had the utmost potential to be a legit hit if the label was wanting to attempt to push a queer love song into mainstream logic.

“Wanna Be Missed” is a more of a forward pushing, hypnotizing jam. This song would’ve been a great local city, radio station song.

“Palm Dreams,” is about the beat more than anything. This is a good song to drive along the highway listening to. It’s easygoing, and not too complex. It sounds like you’d hear this song in Orlando, or Los Angeles under the palm trees and endless parties.

This is a good starting debut/project for Kiyoko,  she can get her feet wet with being an artist. I think if she collaborates with more well known artists, (not just from the pop genre), such as, Cardi B (hip hop), Ariana Grande (pop), maybe even Ella Mai (R&B). That’ll help boost not only her spins on the radio, her live performances, but her overall sales and revenue featuring the popularity of other superstars.

Halsey and Lauren Jauregui’s song, “Strangers” hit the 100 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, so I wouldn’t underestimate the chances from us not hearing anything from Kiyoko again. Don’t believe Ms. Kiyoko will give up on trying to gain a spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart anytime soon.

Kiyoko’s album won’t blow past anyone’s expectations, but it peaked interest and separation to establish herself for more chances. It’s a solid first project, and I have no doubt we’ll hear something even better in the future for sure.

If you obsess over singers and bands, and are one of those people who make a playlist for every occasion, join CMN’s Music Journalism Course and get real-time experience, intense feedback on your writing, exposure to music industry insiders, and a great place to display build your portfolio. Get all the details on the Music Journalism Course here.

Robyn "RJ" McDonald is a musician from Paducah, KY, living in Nashville, TN. She began playing drums, keyboards/piano by the age of seven, and studied Videography/Journalism throughout, starting in middle school through high school, and going to SAE Institute of Technology for two Associate's degrees in Audio Engineering/Music Production and Music Business.

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