Photo credit: gigantic
When an ex-child star embark on a music career, you often cannot help but feel some nagging apprehension as the squeaky-clean, factory line production pop can lack any sense of individuality or authenticity. Nevertheless, Hayley Kiyoko has created something entirely her own: a niche of queer pop that has smashed its way through to the mainstream.
The first thing I noticed when I joined the queue outside the 2300-capacity O2 Kentish Forum was the audience itself – young, most female and embellished in rainbow flags and glitter. The rainbow colours, the excitement, the buzz in the air made the venue feel more like a pride event than a concert, even though it could be considered as one. Kiyoko is an out-and-proud lesbian artist that performs queer music unapologetically for her adolescent audience, which is why she’s affectionately called ‘Lesbian Jesus’ by her fans.
The show opened with an electric set from Holland-based artist, Naaz, who effortlessly took charge of the stage and did not seem out of her depth in the venue’s size. After her performance, Kiyoko’s appearance for her opening track, Under the Blue, sparked a deafening chorus of screams, which was on a scale usually associated with boybands. The hysteria continued through the second and third tracks, What I Need and Girls Like Girls, the entire venue getting swept up in the huge hits. Girls Like Girls was a poignant moment for so early on in the show, the audience echoing the lyrics of the queer anthem back to Kiyoko word-for-word.
Throughout the show, Kiyoko was backed by two male dancers, who joined her in performing some highly choreographed pop-and-lock style numbers. While the crowd, of course, went wild for every gyration and thrust, these dance sequences were able to showcase Kiyoko as more than just a singer but an all-round performer; her vocals stayed strong throughout these increasingly complex and energised sequences. As an ex-Disney star, one expects Kiyoko to have both dance and singing abilities, but she clearly brought all she had to this encore tour as she took time to show off her multi-instrumental skill. Later on, Kiyoko took a break from the singing and dancing by jumping on both the guitar and the drums during her set.
The raw energy of songs such as He’ll Never Love You (HNLY) and One Bad Night was met by far more sombre tracks such as Feelings and Molecules. While these tracks were there to show off Kiyoko’s more sensitive and vulnerable performance style, I did feel that they did not translate as well in a venue of that size. Songs such as those may well be better suited to a more intimate venue where the audience can perhaps engage with the track on a one-on-one level. In a sense, these songs felt swallowed up by the venue itself and the energy in the room reflected this.
When Kiyoko finally played Curious, a heart-pumping, all-pop, LGBTQ+ anthem and, arguably, Kiyoko’s most popular song, she gave it all she had in every dance move and lyric, with the crowd’s energy responding ten-fold. As the dust settled, and the show ended on a high, the lights on the stage lit up as a Pride flag. This simple imagery, while super "Instagramable", reminds us how it important a show like Hayley Kiyoko’s is.
Representation, visibility and openness is what LGBTQ+ youth need in order to feel accepted and valid and at that show, in that space, they have it, unconditionally.
Edited by Dimitrina Dyakova, Deputy Digital Editor