Jake Borelli + Cup­cakKe + Paris Hil­ton + Wanda Sykes

Gay Times Magazine - - CONTENTS - Pho­tog­ra­phy Jack Alexan­der Fash­ion Dark­wah Kyei-Dark­wah Art di­rec­tion / re­touch­ing Ross Gee­lan Words Lewis Cor­ner

On 1 Jan­uary 2018 at 6:17pm (lo­cal time), Hay­ley Kiyoko hit ‘send’ on a tweet that would de­fine her year. “It’s our year, it’s our time,” she wrote to her huge fol­low­ing. “To thrive and let our souls feel alive.” It read like a prophecy from Les­bian Je­sus her­self. And then came the hash­tag that ce­mented the tweet as leg­endary. #20GAYTEEN.

“I had no idea that it was go­ing to catch on and that peo­ple were go­ing to con­tin­u­ally post about it and talk about it,” Hay­ley tells us, re­flect­ing on its un­de­ni­able pop­u­lar­ity in LGBTQ in­ter­net cul­ture. “It’s al­most be­come the mantra of the year. It’s been a fun year. Ob­vi­ously the world is go­ing through hard times, so it’s been nice to have some light­heart­ed­ness with my fans and be­ing able to share that mantra with them. It makes them feel good and proud of who they are.” For ev­ery in­cred­i­ble, em­pow­er­ing, and hu­mourous LGBTQ mo­ment in 2018, a re­sponse in­clud­ing the #20GAYTEEN hash­tag would fol­low shortly after, declaring it the re­sult of a year the queer com­mu­nity ruled supreme. And while LGBTQ rights and peo­ple have been threat­ened in very real ways in to­day’s cli­mate of di­vi­sive pol­i­tics, in pop­u­lar cul­ture it feels like queer voices are ris­ing up and mak­ing ex­cit­ing, en­gag­ing and, quite frankly, much more ex­cel­lent art com­pared to our het­ero­sex­ual si­b­lings.

At the fore­front of that rev­o­lu­tion has been Les­bian Je­sus – the moniker her fans have lov­ingly given Hay­ley Kiyoko. But she hasn’t been given that ti­tle just be­cause of her prophetic dec­la­ra­tions, but also be­cause she is a di­vine force in queer pop.

Hay­ley’s full-length de­but al­bum Ex­pec­ta­tions was re­leased a few months into #20GAYTEEN, but re­mains a glis­ten­ing jewel as it comes to a close. “This bril­liant de­but al­bum is a kind of fe­male com­pan­ion piece to Troye Si­van’s Wild and Years & Years’ Com­mu­nion: a cool, con­tem­po­rary main­stream pop record which ex­plores in­her­ently queer themes, some­times sub­tly and some­times more overtly,” we said in our five-star re­view of the record ear­lier this year. With sin­gles as in­fec­tious as Cu­ri­ous, as free-spir­ited as What I Need, and as wist­ful as Feel­ings, it will go down as a stand-out queer record.

But it’s Mercy/Gate­keeper that Hay­ley names as the mo­ment on the record she’s most proud of. “That was a song that was a jour­ney for me, and a dark time for me,” she re­veals. “For any artist it’s ex­cit­ing and in­spir­ing to feel that feel­ing and em­u­late that son­i­cally. I didn’t re­ally know what it was go­ing to be at the time un­til I fin­ished it. I feel like a lot of the songs I’m ex­tremely proud of.”

We’re tak­ing the op­por­tu­nity to look back at the year #20GAYTEEN dur­ing our time with Hay­ley to re­flect both on her tremen­dous suc­cesses, but also a few other LGBTQ mo­ments we’ve cel­e­brated in the past 12 months.

Although Hay­ley is still busy tour­ing her de­but al­bum Ex­pec­ta­tions, the im­pact of her mu­sic is al­ready be­ing felt. Ev­ery time I’ve sat down with young queer fe­male mu­si­cians this year and

con­ver­sa­tion in­evitably turns to their in­spi­ra­tions, Hay­ley Kiyoko’s name has con­tin­u­ally popped up. “I think it’s amaz­ing that, first of all, peo­ple know who I am and can find in­spi­ra­tion and courage to be them­selves,” Hay­ley says when I tell her that fact. “I’m thank­ful that I’m able to in­spire them and kind of give them that ex­tra push. I’m re­ally just here to give ev­ery­one that ex­tra push to be them­selves, and to go for it. I’m their cheer­leader so to speak.”

All you have to do is scroll through the replies to Hay­ley’s tweets, or com­ments un­der her In­sta­gram posts to see that she also has a sim­i­lar im­pact on her

LGBTQ fans. “I get a wide spec­trum of com­ments and mes­sages,” she says. “I think that the thing that re­ally con­nects with me are mes­sages about not be­ing able to re­late with their par­ents. Hav­ing them not un­der­stand who they are, and not hav­ing that di­a­logue. I think that’s the hardest thing some­times is when you don’t un­der­stand one an­other, how do you even be­gin that con­ver­sa­tion? You need com­mu­ni­ca­tion to be able to build that bridge.”

Hay­ley en­joys her po­si­tion as a role model to LGBTQ youth, ready and will­ing to in­spire a new gen­er­a­tion of kids to love and live as their true selves. She also ac­knowl­edges that it’s about vis­i­bil­ity, us­ing her plat­form to ed­u­cate and pro­mote em­pa­thy. One of the more mem­o­rable mo­ments of #20GAYTEEN was Hay­ley’s cin­e­matic mu­sic video for What I Need, which saw her em­bark on a road trip with fel­low queer mu­sic artist Kehlani.

“I just wanted to tell a story that maybe par­ents or adults could re­late to when they watch the video with their kids or their friends,” Hay­ley ex­plains. “To be able to be like, ‘Wow, that’s what I feel.’ That open­ing scene in What I Need is re­ally two peo­ple not un­der­stand­ing eye-to-eye. It doesn’t mean that they don’t love each other, they just don’t un­der­stand. I re­ally wanted to just show the re­al­ness of how it is some­times. When that hap­pens you seek hap­pi­ness in other places and hope within friends. Friend­ship is so im­por­tant to dis­cuss your ev­ery­day lives, so ev­ery­thing just kind of started build­ing up through those con­cepts and ideas.”

Hay­ley has di­rected all of her mu­sic videos since 2014, com­ing up with sto­ry­boards that usu­ally cen­tre around a queer nar­ra­tive. “With my mu­sic videos I re­ally just try to val­i­date those feel­ings that we all feel,” she adds. “We all have as­pi­ra­tions and dreams of fall­ing in love, and get­ting the girl or boy or who­ever we want, and so I try to show­case that.”

To say th­ese videos em­power Hay­ley’s fans to be loud and proud about who they are is an un­der­state­ment. In fact, read­ing through the com­ments un­der one of her videos is like the on­line equiv­a­lent of get­ting glit­tered up and un­apolo­get­i­cally cel­e­brat­ing your queer­ness dur­ing a Pride pa­rade. “Be­ing straight has left the chat,” one fan put un­der the What I Need video. An­other added: “I didn’t think I could get any gayer but this made me 173727% more gay.” Oh, and there is the oblig­a­tory “Les­bian Je­sus come through!”

“I love them,” Hay­ley laughs when I read a few out to her. “I’m al­ways crack­ing up. I’m like, ‘Who is writ­ing this?’ There’s so many dif­fer­ent Twit­ter ac­counts and com­ments and again, life can be so hard some­times – well, most of the time quite hon­estly – so it’s just nice to have a mo­ment to laugh and get to share those ex­pe­ri­ences. Some­times be­ing gay can be such a dark feel­ing for a lot of peo­ple, so to be able to make light of it and be like, ‘I’m gayer than ever!’ and laugh about it is re­ally healthy.”

Of course Hay­ley is able to en­joy this as an openly gay artist, us­ing her queer­ness to cul­ti­vate a fan­base that is truly in­clu­sive and cel­e­bra­tory. “It’s re­ally em­pow­er­ing. It makes me emo­tional,” she says. “We all go through tough times ac­cept­ing our­selves and to be able to know so many peo­ple ac­cept me for who I am – I just feel like we all want that val­i­da­tion and to be able to love your­self. You’re wanting peo­ple to ap­prove so then you can feel free to be who you are. My fans are able to give me that, and I try to give them that en­ergy straight back to them – give them that space to love them­selves, and to feel open and free.”

Her fans also gave her an­other gift this sum­mer when they voted in their droves for her to win her very first MTV Video Mu­sic Award – an ac­co­lade all pop stars worth their salt dream one day of achiev­ing. “This val­i­dates any queer woman of colour that you can fol­low your dreams,” she said at the show, before declaring them the “VMGAYS!”

“It re­ally meant a lot to have ev­ery­one come to­gether and be like, ‘Hey, this is some­one who is re­ally im­por­tant to us so recog­nise her.’ That’s a part of what that win meant,” she elab­o­rates now, re­flect­ing on the mo­ment. “The other part meant that you can be what you’ve al­ways dreamed of. It’s been my dream to suc­ceed, win a VMA, and be recog­nised for my work. My fans were able to ac­com­plish that for me.”

#20GAYTEEN also saw Hay­ley Kiyoko em­bark on a world tour, tak­ing Ex­pec­ta­tions across North Amer­ica and Europe. “Tour­ing is ob­vi­ously ex­haust­ing, and I’m not used to the cold so I’ve learned to wear ap­pro­pri­ate cloth­ing,” she laughs. “But I’ve re­ally en­joyed it. It’s been so amaz­ing to meet fans who have been there since day one, and be able to con­nect to them on a per­sonal level.” This op­por­tu­nity to meet queer kids in dif­fer­ent coun­tries al­lowed her to speak to them about the ad­ver­sity they still face. “I think the bi—est chal­lenge is their par­ents lov­ing them and ac­cept­ing them for who they are,” Hay­ley ex­plains. “Peo­ple for­get that although times have changed and pro­gressed, they haven’t changed im­mensely for a lot of peo­ple. So I meet a lot of kids who have been kicked out of their homes and their par­ents don’t speak to them any­more. It’s re­ally about cre­at­ing a com­mu­nity of love, and re­mind­ing peo­ple that there’s a place for them. We need to re­mind them of un­con­di­tional love. I think that’s been hard for a lot of peo­ple to ex­pe­ri­ence.”

As we speak about ac­cep­tance, talk turns to the power of al­lies to help change at­ti­tudes and con­trib­ute in the fight for true equal­ity. One of those al­lies is some­one Hay­ley ac­tu­ally got to per­form with in front of 70,000 peo­ple back in July in what she de­scribes to me as a “godly ex­pe­ri­ence”. Hay­ley Kiyoko was in­tro­duced on stage to per­form Cu­ri­ous with Tay­lor Swift as part of the lat­ter’s Rep­u­ta­tion sta­dium tour. “This is some­one whose mu­sic I’m ab­so­lutely ob­sessed with,” Tay­lor said dur­ing her in­tro. “This is some­one who I think is one of the most ex­cit­ing new artists out there.”

Hay­ley ad­mits that she had no idea Tay­lor was go­ing to in­tro­duce her with such praise. “I hadn’t even met her and she was just so gen­uine with her words,” she says. “It was a re­ally touch­ing mo­ment to have some­one of her sta­tus to val­i­date my work, and give me a stamp of approval.” In terms of Tay­lor’s po­si­tion as a vis­i­ble ally fol­low­ing her pub­lic po­lit­i­cal sup­port for LGBTQ rights in the run-up to the US midterm elec­tions ear­lier this year, Hay­ley agrees that it’s vi­tal we ap­pre­ci­ate those who use their plat­form to el­e­vate our causes. “It’s so im­por­tant to have al­lies,” she says. “It’s im­por­tant in gen­eral as an artist to speak up and be brave for your be­liefs and what you be­lieve in, be­cause once one does, ev­ery­one else fol­lows. I think it’s re­ally im­por­tant to try to bet­ter the world.”

But as we’ve wit­nessed time and time again,

pop­u­lar cul­ture re­ally does have the power to change the world. As part of our look back at #20GAYTEEN we high­lighted a few break­through mo­ments that re­ally cap­tured the spirit of that mantra.

It goes with­out say­ing that Love, Simon – the first ma­jor stu­dio rom­com to fea­ture gay lead char­ac­ters – was a wa­ter­shed mo­ment. “I loved Love, Simon,” says Hay­ley. “I just loved the whole cam­paign. It was just a great big ro­man­tic com­edy that felt real, au­then­tic and gen­uine.” She adds that the idea of “wanting to feel nor­mal” as teen is what res­onated with her the most in the film. So, would Hay­ley Kiyoko like to star in a les­bian rom­com in the fu­ture? “Yeah I think I could,” she says. “I would like to direct one.”

Next on the list is FX’s ground­break­ing se­ries Pose, which took us back to the ball­room scene of 1980s New York City. Ryan Mur­phy as­sem­bled the largest cast and crew of trans talent for this fierce tele­vi­sion se­ries. “Rep­re­sen­ta­tion is ex­tremely im­por­tant, and hav­ing the op­por­tu­nity [to tell your own story] is ex­tremely im­por­tant,” Hay­ley says of the se­ries. “There’s an au­then­tic­ity about this show specif­i­cally, and I think that is in­spir­ing for peo­ple to be able to look up to.”

No con­ver­sa­tion about the year #20GAYTEEN would be com­plete with­out men­tion­ing Net­flix’s re­boot of Queer Eye. “I’m a big fan,” Hay­ley im­me­di­ately says when I men­tion the show, adding that she has cried “way too many times” while watch­ing it. “It’s an im­por­tant show be­cause it re­minds peo­ple to love one an­other, and to get along and not judge each other based on stereo­types.”

Fi­nally, I bring up the de­crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion of ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity in In­dia, which has to be the ul­ti­mate #20GAYTEEN mo­ment. “It’s in­cred­i­ble to see the progress and growth that we’ve had, but across the world there’s so much more to do to con­tinue to help peo­ple be who they are, have equal rights, and be treated with re­spect for just be­ing hu­man,” Hay­ley re­marks. “I think there’s still a lot of room to grow in a lot of coun­tries. Ob­vi­ously what hap­pened in In­dia was re­ally in­spir­ing and gives hope that things are start­ing to change.”

And with that, Les­bian Je­sus gives a call to arms for the en­tire com­mu­nity to rally to­gether and fight for the rights of ev­ery LGBTQ per­son from ev­ery na­tion. “Ev­ery­one has a re­spon­si­bil­ity to stand up for our neigh­bours, and our strangers as hu­mans,” she says. “As peo­ple we all have hopes and as­pi­ra­tions, we all wanted to be treated equally. That’s still not the case. Whether it’s gen­der, race, sex­u­al­ity, there’s still so much room to do more. So we have to stay aware and vo­cal. If you’re vo­cal and brave, then some­one else will also be vo­cal and brave. We need lead­ers, and we need peo­ple to stand up.”

So as #20GAYTEEN draws to a close, the hash­tag may fade but the spirit won’t. Hay­ley is back on tour in Europe in Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary, and there’s prom­ise of brand new mu­sic in the near fu­ture. “I’m just go­ing to try keep cre­at­ing. For me, I just want to do bi—er and bet­ter things,” she says. “I’m just go­ing to con­tinue to spread the word. Peo­ple still don’t know who I am so I’m go­ing to con­tinue do­ing my thing.”

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