Most people either remember Hayley Kiyoko from her performance in the live-action Disney flick “Lemonade Mouth” or from her catchy hit single “Girls Like Girls.”
Soon they’ll know her better from her new debut album “Expectations,” with its bouncy pop tracks balanced out by euphoric instrumental interludes between each song.
Earworm beats are plentiful on the album, but there is a lingering desire for more power in her vocal performance.
The album opens with a dramatic cinematic introduction where Kiyoko’s harmonization with orchestral production sets the tone for the album.
The second track, “Feelings,” quickly brings up the energy as she sings about the overwhelming feelings of infatuation backed by a groovy 80s throwback beat. The track is a strong start showcasing her lyricism.
Kiyoko teams up with Oakland native Kehlani on “What I Need,” another upbeat track that shows off Hayley’s higher vocal range as the two sing about their need to receive the same effort they put in to their relationships from their partners.
Kiyoko’s vocal style isn’t as strong as the performer the singer struggles to portray, but she still makes it work to complement her lyrics and energetic music.
“Sleepover” fully brings out the theme for “Expectations.”
The drowsy mid-tempo beat and guitars mesh well with Kiyoko’s lyrics about the heartbreak of unrequited love from a person of the same sex. Her lyrics go a long way in representing and normalizing the feelings experienced in LGBTQ relationships to the mainstream audience.
These kinds of themes are not typically heard in mainstream music, with few exceptions like Sam Smith.
When it comes to pop music in particular that thrives off being relatable, lyrical themes typically focus only on heteronormative relationships.
Kiyoko’s music makes it clear that she’s representing relationships that don’t fall into the typical heterosexual lens.
The confidence with which she portrays her experiences in her relationships makes the album, and herself as a singer, unique and enjoyable.
“Mercy/Gatekeeper” brings the tempo back down along with Kiyoko’s vocal range as she sings in a lower key. This track may be overlooked as its electronic tones and minimal lyricism blend into the next track “Under the Blue/Take Me In.”
Both songs sound like an intermission for the album.
“Curious” shows off her distinct musical style in this standout track. The strong dance elements stand out from the other offerings on the album despite keeping the same general sound.
She sings to the girl who left her for a guy and wonders if her ex is serious about her new relationship despite being told the contrary. This is one of her personal experiences she sings about throughout the album.
“Wanna Be Missed” takes the album to a darker atmosphere with a distinct ambient sound that makes it another favorite track.
Kiyoko continuously experiments with new sounds throughout the album. The sounds range from the ska inspired “He’ll Never Love You (H.N.L.Y.)” to the funky homage to Los Angeles “Palm Dreams,” with its strong bass and horns.
Hayley concludes her debut album with “Let It Be.” The song lyrically mirrors it’s placement in the tracklisting as Kiyoko accepts the demise of her relationship and finds closure.
The song’s addictive melodies and strong harmonies make for a memorable closing track for “Expectations.” Kiyoko’s debut is a successful showcase of her unique artistry.