A few weeks ago, I saw Hayley Kiyoko perform in Detroit. That’s right, I followed Lesbian Jesus to queer heaven and got baptized from her voice.
As you may or may not be aware, I love Hayley Kiyoko. You can read all about my love for her debut album and music video directing skills in a blog here. And then after that, you can read about how I saw her DANCE! IN! PERSON!
My friend (an honorary gay for the evening, AKA best friend who puts up with all my bullshit and understands all the gay stereotypes, especially the “gays can’t drive” one) and I pull up to this line of people that wraps around the block, and the amount of gay radiating from this line was like being struck with the end of the rainbow. We had it all: flannels, undercuts, piercings, the Lesbian Haircut, the Bisexual Haircut, glitter makeup, bowties, cuffed sleeves, button-ups tucked into high-waisted shorts or jeans, those baggy mom jeans with rips in them, and so, so many pairs of Vans. I’d never seen so many queer girls in one place in my life, and it was so beautiful.
As soon as we got the security and ticket check cleared, I got in line for a shirt, which I wore to GR Pride the next weekend. After the opener–and waiting in a legit icebox; they had the AC up so high at this venue that I was actually sore from clenching all my muscles because of how cold it was in there the entire night—the band played a beat that matched the rhythmic snap of lights before screams of anticipation matched the bridge of “Gatekeeper.” The screaming only grew louder when the song broke into the interlude, “And live with content, free from fear / I choose my actions.”
When she emerged from the lights and the smoke, I stretched on my tip toes to see her as best I could. Maybe you’re familiar with that feeling that Hayley must be the coolest person to exist? Yes, can confirm. She waved at us while making an effortless transition into “Under The Blue.” Sometimes the switch between songs onstage sounded as smooth as the album versions. Sometimes she stopped to talk to us instead.
Somewhere between the first few songs, she welcomed us to the tour and picked up her “warm welcome” that someone left on the stage. The bra hung loosely from her fingertips as she raised it up for us to see, laughing with along with the crowd.
She danced a lot in “What I Need.” Kehlani’s parts of the song gave her the perfect opportunity to put all her energy into dancing. As a basic white bitch who can’t dance, the ability to carry your body fluidly, rhythmically, and confidently with the music never fails to captivate me. Slap that weakness on Lesbian Jesus herself and I was damn near hypnotized. When Kehlani’s voice rose above Hayley’s in the chorus, Hayley threw her arms in the air, and the crowd carried the song away from both of them.
The crowd really is what made the show so special. Don’t get me wrong, Hayley Kiyoko was beyond what I imagined, but that energy in the room. Before the show even started, I saw at least a dozen girls holding hands or kissing each other and just being publicly intimate, which is already double what I’ve noticed my entire life. (To be honest, I don’t go out much, but I also don’t live in the friendliest of places.)
In the several months I spent walking around different cities in the U.K. and in Midwestern America with my girlfriend, I’ve never seen another couple like us holding hands. So this was a surreal change of openness and it was absolutely everything. When Girls Like Girls came up, a complete wholeness happened. My late teen years shattered me into fragments of a person. Since then, I’ve been slowly rebuilding myself. And this night–hearing the hall chant our battle cry “I’m real and I don’t feel like boys!”–I think the final pieces came together. It’s one thing to find your community online (which is legitimately helpful and was a critical part of my self-acceptance process), but it’s another thing entirely to be completely immersed into that culture in real physical person.
Next, Hayley performed “He’ll Never Love You (HNLY)” and the amount of sheer confidence radiating from this woman nearly knocked me flat on my gay ass. She put down the mic for a dance break before the outro, arms rising and descending with the drums, hips swaying as we keep up the chant for her, “He’ll never, never, never, never, never, never, never.” And just from watching the swing of her hips, it’s pretty clear that she was right–no boy could ever reach her level.
“Molecules” made an emotional mess of me, which carried through “Mercy.” So when those lines “All I want to do is cry / That’s all I want to do” rumbled through the crowd, I really felt that. “Ease My Mind” was an unexpected change of pace, which came with more dancing. The lights flickered yellow and green, a mirage of the Citrine EP cover art.
She told us that there was a point in her life when she wasn’t as confident as now. A time when she was much less sure of herself. I think maybe I knew that feeling. Maybe everyone in the hall knew that feeling. Maybe they lived with that feeling outside these walls. But not tonight. Tonight, we were sure. Tonight, we knew confidence. Tonight belonged to us. She shared “Side of Paradise” unlike I remembered it. Her voice, strong and slow, muted the beat and instruments. The track became a ballad; a Past-Hayley spilling her old fragmented pieces onto the stage. I hadn’t felt like this is a sad song before, but listening to it like this, it became a sad song, for a moment. I felt my fragmented pieces too. But we’re whole again. Together, we found a wholeness. I spent a lot of time wondering why I’d ever need to tell anyone I was queer, but this is it. This belonging and making others belong. There’s power in visibility. There’s understanding in togetherness.
Honestly, no better song could follow up the rendition of a fragmented Hayley than “Palm Dreams.” That cool factor that Hayley has? The one that makes my knees weak, my heart race, my eyes cry?? It’s all packed into this song. You can hear it in the roll of the drums and feel it in when your head bops along. If you close your eyes, you can see Hayley wearing a Hawaiian shirt like she’s a dad on vacation, yet that perfect line of chill, confident, and gay, that lets her get away with looking like a dad on vacation. This song wraps up her entire Cool Factor and puts it on a different level. Like, so high up, that nobody else gets to even use the word “cool” anymore. It’s only Hayley’s word now.
With that Cool Factor she has, it comes as quite the shock to me that so many of her songs are about girls fucking around with her but not committing to actually wanting her. Like, I’m sorry but Hayley is top tier, so how is she singing about how she wants to be missed and somebody out there ain’t following through with that?? And she’s so cool that the level of desperation in “Wanna Be Missed” is completely forgivable (not to mention relatable af).
I’ve heard her talk about wanting to write songs about girls before, but not feeling quite able to. It goes without saying that we’re all glad she’s passed this point in her life. She shared a story with us onstage about how one of her dreams was to be singing onstage to a room full of hot girls, and that now she’s doing just that. It was no surprise that the follow-up to this story was “Pretty Girl.” Before she rolled up with the last chorus, she stopped to say, “God there’s a lot of pretty girls in here.” If she said more than that, I couldn’t hear or see it. Everyone screamed over the song and arms flew into the air, completely blocking my view of the stage. But it’s okay because I was one of them too.
I could feel us nearing the end of the night, mentally counting the number of remaining songs I knew she would still be singing. The first on my list came up next, “Sleepover.” The crowd started strong with this one, building up into the last line of the first verse, “Sleeping here right next to me / But will you ever mess with me? No.” With that last line, she had the audacity to pick up a pair of drumsticks, and with that single moment, I screeched. She sang sideways into the microphone, standing in front of a drum set, bounding into a rhythm, swaying to the beat she created, and made me lose my fucking mind. I have yet to recover from watching her perform this song.
She sped it back up with “Curious” and let us sing the rap lines that we all had memorized since the song’s release, and also letting us pick up every sexualized “yeah” break after each line of the chorus. Dare I say she even looked proud to hear us all chant those lines after her simple, “DID YOU” lead-in. This song was also blessed with a dance break that I have also not recovered from. At this point, “mesmerized” can’t be used to describe how entranced I was. The world could be ending all around me and I still wouldn’t have taken my eyes off her moves.
She kept up this quick and flirty energy with “Feelings.” As the most personally relatable track on the album, I’d been waiting for this one big time. And girl was I! Hooked! On! All! These! Feelings! The lights behind her flowed into new colors, shifting into new fragments of rainbows every few seconds, recreating a neon color and dark night contrast from the music video. Once again, flawless moves.
Before her last song, she talked about how sometimes when a lot of things are going right, she gets ready for “the bad thing” that comes to ruin a good time. Like that paranoid feeling of when things go a little too right for a little too long, and you’re preparing for the catch. She asked us if we know about that feeling. We did. Hayley told us that the reason good things are happening is because we “fucking deserve it” and that we need to let it be. To stop waiting for the catch and enjoy the happiness. Then she sang “Let It Be” and I got a little more emotional than I expected. Especially when she pulled the goodbye wave and the, “Thank you, Detroit.”
I panicked a little bit, realizing she never sang “Gravel To Tempo,” despite seeing videos of her performing this song at earlier tour dates. But, with her and the band offstage, shoes touched gravel, and the tempo began, then Hayley returned onstage with a Pride flag around her neck. Like with “Girls Like Girls,” pieces came together, parts of us healed, we became more than people. We were an experience, we were stories, we were whole and alive and felt and understood, maybe for the first time. “I’ll do this my way / Don’t matter if I break / I gotta be on my own.” I remember so vividly the feeling of breaking, of crumbling, of shedding my skin and standing completely exposed, yet also violently guarded. “Lost in this feeling / Don’t never need a reason / I gotta be on my own.” She swung the flag around her head like a lasso as we bounced up and down, hands in the air. Maybe this was never about visibility for Hayley, or for any of us. Maybe this was about unity.