The screams of thousands of fans could be heard echoing throughout the halls of Los Angeles’ famous performance venue, the Wiltern, as Hayley Kiyoko stood center stage — owning her “artist moment’’ during a tour stop in May promoting her sophomore album, Panorama. There would be various breaks for lengthy applause scattered throughout her hour-long performance, leaving individuals like me in absolute awe of the love Kiyoko’s fans have for her. The relationship between Kiyoko and her fans is special, about more than a simple love for her music as she continues to actively represent the LGBTQ+ community — a community that happens to include a lot of her fan base.

With the nickname “Lesbian Jesus,” Kiyoko has embraced her role as a queer trailblazer and continues to tell her story through every possible lens of entertainment, providing inspiration to many of her fans who may be struggling with their own sexuality. Her debut novel, Girls Like Girls, based on her popular single of the same name, is Kiyoko’s latest work that explores young queer love and the difficulties that come with it. Like all her previous art, the novel pulls a lot from Kiyoko’s own experiences. The artist does not shy away from being personal and honest with her fans.

Simply put: The hype around Hayley Kiyoko is very much well deserved. Whether she’s singing, acting, directing, or writing, Kiyoko has made it a point to be authentic, and that very authenticity is what fans are drawn to. In a world full of technology and social media, she has chosen to remain true to herself, unapologetically fighting for everything she believes in.

Shondaland caught up with Kiyoko to learn more about her creative process, her new single, “Greenlight,” and what the LGBTQ+ community means to her, and the special love she has for her fans.

SAMUEL LAO: With the tour, the release of your debut book, and your latest single, it seems like you’re always running around. How have you been feeling, and how do you navigate that process? It seems like so much all at once.

HAYLEY KIYOKO: It does feel like that movie Everything Everywhere All at Once. I’ve been doing well. I’ve been really wanting to share the expansion, Girls Like Girls, for years now. I can’t believe that the book is here. A lot of this stuff has been a long time coming.

I mean, with my headlining tour — I hadn’t toured in four years — so being able to be on the road, doing meet and greets, and connecting and doing Q&As, and just being back has been so rewarding. It’s taken a long time to be in a place where things are starting to pick up again. I’m so grateful to be busy and finally share my art, like my new single, “Greenlight.” I’m just really getting to share right now, and I think the last couple years have been like the “not sharing part,” where you’re just trying to make it happen. So, I’m very grateful that it’s all happening.

SL: That’s so amazing to hear! I bet so many people feel like that with the pandemic. By doing so many different things, like acting, singing, directing, and dancing, how do you find a way to balance having multiple projects at once in different realms of entertainment?

HK: I try to compartmentalize! Even though I do a lot of things, I can’t really do two things at once in the sense of something creative. I’m not taking on any other creative outlets while I’m doing one other creative outlet. So, that’s kind of how I do it. I just hop from one to another, like having many children and trying to tend to all their needs! You know, I’m trying to do my best to show up for those yearning feelings I have to express myself.

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SL: At your show in L.A., when you were talking with fans, you said you felt like there wasn’t really a place for you in this industry, and that was something that you were really worried about. How does it feel now, not only having a place in the industry but really becoming one of the faces of the LGBTQ+ community? Does it ever get overwhelming being the “Lesbian Jesus?”

HK: Well, thank you. I struggled finding a space for myself growing up because I didn’t feel like I had that representation. I’m just very grateful that I’ve been able to continue to chase my dreams and demand space in the industry as a queer woman of color, as a pop artist. It’s not easy at all, but it’s something that has been very rewarding. My heart and my gut instinct is I need to help people feel loved and comforted in a way where it’s reminding them that there’s hope for themselves. For me, when you lose the hope, that’s when it gets really dark.

I think we’ve all felt the weight of the horrible things that have gone on in America the last few years. Even as I’ve been on this headlining tour, I think there’s a lot of incidents where it’s just devastating, how behind we are in this country of supporting our queer members in our communities. It just inspires me to keep climbing and keep creating art that can hopefully comfort someone in devastation or when they’re feeling lost so that they can show up for themselves, and hopefully that’ll make the world a better place.

SL: With the amount of time that you have spent in this industry, how do you feel about the representation of the LGBTQ+ community in 2023 compared to your younger days?

HK: I definitely feel like it’s grown. I know so many queer artists, not even just know, but I am seeing queer artists thrive. Growing up, I didn’t have that, and if they were [queer], they were more underground. They definitely didn’t get the support that they deserved. Everyone has their own stories to tell, so we have to keep going. The more we can continue to share our stories and normalize our experiences, the better!

SL: It’s nice to see the change happening! Something that I just fell in love with when I got to see you on tour was the amazing relationship you have with your fans. Being such a role model for them, have you had fans interact with you and share their queer journeys with you?

HK: Yeah, every interaction has been taken to the heart and is very special to me. I’m very grateful to have such kind, vulnerable fans that share their stories. I have many people coming to my shows that met at a concert four years ago, and now they’re married. Or they were, at the time, struggling with their sexuality, and now they know who they are and are out and proud. So, it’s been really wonderful to be a part, a small part, of their journey and see everyone evolve and grow into their true selves. I’m very grateful to be a part of that!

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Hayley Kiyoko is pictured during a photoshoot.
Trevor Flores

SL: For Pride Month, you have a new web series coming out called Love Stories. What led you to want to do this project?

HK: Well, Webtoon reached out to me, and they were doing a Pride series and wanted to develop a comic with me inspired by one of my songs. We worked based on my song “Forever,” off the Panorama album, and it’s a really sweet story. It’s just a good reminder that even if you’re not surrounded by safety now, or if you’re not feeling confident in who you are walking this world as yourself, that there is a community out there that loves you for who you are, waiting to celebrate you and share love together. So, it’s a really sweet, fun collaboration. I’ve never really done something like that, but it was really cool!

SL: I think we’re all so excited about all your projects. What would you, as 2023 Hayley, tell the Hayley who first started in the industry?

HK: I probably would have a lot to say! But I would tell her to just kind of trust timing, to not give up, and keep going. It’s interesting when I look back at my journey and where I started. I feel like every year of my life since I chased this dream of pursuing storytelling and music, I’ve just tried absolutely everything. I think for me, I’ve always just wanted an opportunity to be in the big leagues and to be able to share my stories.

So, I would tell her to keep going, things will work out, and she will feel loved and celebrated for who she is. And that queerness is an amazing thing, not a flaw. I started off in the industry carrying a big weight of knowing I had this massive “flaw” that really isn’t a flaw, but that’s how society taught me, you know, what being a lesbian was. I would definitely give her a big hug and comfort her!

It’s definitely been a wild journey. I feel like I’m still trying to play arenas and break the glass ceiling. I feel like I just gotta keep going. I’m just so grateful to my fans for showing up to the shows, reading Girls Like Girls, and supporting me along this way to be able to continue to share my truth and authentic self. It really has been special.

Samuel Lao is the Editorial Assistant at Shondaland, writing stories about various topics like music, lifestyle, and wellness. Follow him on Twitter @sammlao and on Instagram @sam.lao.

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