Hayley Kiyoko is the perfect example of a 21st century 20-something. Her first love might be music—she started kicking ass on the drums at just five—but in her 24 years she's worn many different hats. Most of them simultaneously, (which means she must have a really warm head. Sorry, not sorry!). Perhaps you recognize the LA-native as Raven from CSI: Cyber, or the sassy bestie in Insidious 3, she was also a key player in the recent Jem and the Holograms reboot, alongside Juliette Lewis ("She's just the coolest person ever! She's a rock star!). We're primarily interested in Kiyoko not because of her acting skills, but thanks to this year's This Side of Paradise EP, which offers up such pulsating synth-pop tunes as "Cliffs Edge" and "Girls Like Girls" (which should find favor with fans of Halsey and Lorde alike). It's leagues ahead of her 2013 release, A Belle to Remember. With This Side of Paradise Kiyoko says the EP isan exercise in self-exploration—songs she built from the ground up, songs she confidently stands behind. Moreover, Kiyoko recognizes the power in pairing a killer song with some top-notch visuals.
Take most recent single "Cliffs Edge" (below) as an example. It's the second video Kiyoko's directed and this time she's starring in it too, splicing choreography in a freezing lake, some dance sequences in what looks like a church parking lot and some palpably sexy scenes featuring Kiyoko falling for the video's love interest, before the whole thing implodes.
We called up Kiyoko—who happened to be speaking with us from the set of CSI Cyber—to find out more. Plus, she goes through her old photo albums to chart her musical and style evolution. Happy #tbt!
Noisey: So "Girls Like Girls" is pretty unsual in the pop landscape in that the story's explicitly about a romantic relationship between two girls. Tell me about the inspiration for that song and where it came from.
Hayley Kiyoko: Females never really sing about stealing other guy's girls. It's a self-confident girl anthem, so that's kind of where it stems from. When I wrote that song, I was like, I have to do an amazing music video, and I don't know how I'm gonna do it, you know, being indie and doing it all on my own. At a certain point I was like, fuck it, I gotta do it, go big or go home. It's a really glossy video, it doesn't look like you did it on a shitty budget and you clearly called in favors from actors you've worked with previously, so that works to your benefit. [The video stars Stephanie Scott from Insidious 3.] What kind of responses have you had from fans?
It's been amazing. I feel like there isn't a lot of content that shows a relationship in that situation in a positive way, where there's a happy ending, and so that's kind of what "Girls Like Girls" was made for: for young girls or guys or whoever. It really goes beyond your sexual orientation, it's more self-acceptance and loving yourself and fighting for what you want. And sometimes it gets a little dirty. Everyone who worked on that video really did it because they believed in this story and my music. So now I've kind of created this fan base where they just fall in love with stories and I love telling stories. Plus, I got this director bug, so that's when I shifted into directing "Cliffs Edge," and then put myself in the music video too. I would prefer not to be in my videos, but people have to know what I look like at some point! [Laughs.]
How was it—putting yourself in front of the camera and in those intimate scenes?
Very intimidating. I've never directed something and been on camera at the same time, it seemed like way too much work. Some of my close friends really convinced me to do it, they were just like you can do this, you just need to have a really strong crew. It was a very ambitious shoot once again—shooting in a freezing cold lake, in Lake Gregory, right by Lake Arrowhead. Doing water shots isn't ideal—it was cold—but I love dancing so it was nice to showcase a little bit of dancing,and also highlight the dancers.
How does the story in the video relate to your lyrics?
The lyrics are very sexual: it's pretty much just about being turned on by someone, and the cliffs edge is a reference to always leaving you hanging. But then when I started figuring out the music video concept, I was like well, it needs to be more than that, so it ended up turning into this tumultuous relationship where you love someone one minute, and then you're yelling at them the next. You're with this person who's constantly leaving you on the edge, where you don't know if you're gonna be together with them tomorrow or not. The water symbolized feeling like you're drowning in your emotions in this very heightened relationship. Then at the end of the music video she pulls me out of the water, and it leaves an open-ended question: do they stay together or do they break up? Who knows, but at least they're willing to try and willing to take a breath and feel that sea breeze and at least come to the surface.
I heard that you cast the girl randomly—like you met her at a party?
I had just decided, OK, I need a love interest, how do I find this person? I was at an event with my makeup artist and she was like, what about that person? And I was like, yeah she's cute! Turns out she was a fashion blogger and she was a massive fan of "Girls Like Girls," and so I told her to check out my other music videos and she freaked out. She actually had it bookmarked on her phone, she showed it to me, which was like crazy.
How would describe your style these days? Are there any artists you whose style you admire?
I loved Gwen Stefani growing up, I thought she was badass and cool and I love Rihanna's like streetwear style, but I tend dress really casually. I live in my sweatpants. [Laughs.] I'm always being told to dress up. [laughs] So, I like to be comfy cozy with my style. And then my mom forces me to show some skin every once in a while.Yeah, my mom's always like, you're never gonna look better than you do now, you gotta show it off!
You split your time between acting and music, but which do you prefer?
The goal is to be a touring musician, to release albums, write my music, perform, have a clothing line, and then in between if I want to shoot a movie I can, you know? That's the dream. I was lucky where I broke into acting first. Now I'm really finding my place in the music world, I'm looking forward to focusing on that the goal since day one. But it takes a long time, you know? It's a hustle.
So you mentioned a clothing line, what's the aesthetic for that?
It's gonna be called Rich Youth based off my song. I've already started doing doing lots of apparel when I tour with Rich Youth on it— cool sweatpants and pretty much everything I wear but just way doper. So that's what I'd like to do, and then, I'd like to have a men's—I mean, we could just talk for hours! I'm gonna have a watch line, I'm gonna have a fanny pack line, it's just gonna be madness. But first I just want people to listen to the music and that's honestly been the most exciting part: when people actually listen to it—that's awesome, you know, 'cos it's tough. This is me when I was 3 years old and I’m pretty sure those sunglasses changed how I viewed life. I saw love, adventure, and attitude. I guess you could say I did most of my deep thinking on the toilet.
This is probably one of my favorite photos. While my brother and sister were in the other room signing up for gymnastics, I was doing karate determined to kick some ass. I took life VERY seriously at the ripe age of five. The profile shadow says it all. I really took tis seriously. I'm pretty sure I carried this picture in my wallet because I was so proud.
This was my second drum set. I fell in love with the drums and I am so thankful for having patient parents who listened to me practice at all hours of the day. I would play Avril Lavigne covers and started transcribing my own charts in my spare time. I’d like to mention that I also never took that tie-dye shirt off.
In high school I formed my first band Hede named after my Grandpa. This was our very first "band photoshoot." I was so excited about this photo. I thought it looked very professional. lol. This was one of my favorite times in high school hanging with the boys and playing shows. This was in high school and the music was very like Arcade Fire-y. I did like some autoharp and mandolin, just very pulsating music that felt like it was constantly moving and building. And I loved it. It was so much fun.
In 2012 I did a pledge music campaign and my fans raised funds to help record my first EP. It was that time as an artist where I needed to discover my sound and who I wanted to be. Up until then, I had only written music on my guitar and recorded on my 4 track Korg.
In 2014 I had found new management and started all over again. Flew myself out to London in January to write with this guy, James Flannigan. Three months later, he flew out to my parents house in Thousand Oaks to produce my second EP with me (in the garage). This was the photo we took in my parents backyard after finally finishing the EP, This Side of Paradise, after two weeks of zero sleep and no showers.
I saw Kimbra play Bardot school night a couple years back and she had blew my mind. So this show was a step in the right direction when I got to play school night at the end of 2014. It was the first time I played This Side of Paradise and I remember the room being packed and getting chills.
That summer I finally got the courage to co-direct a music video for my song "Girls like Girls" on minimal resources and released it soon after. This was the very first scene we shot for the video and so we took a lot of time getting the vibe right.It was very important for my actors to know what was happening frame by frame before we started shooting. I want to say this was a big moment for me as an artist because it was the first time I had seen the creative vision of a song all the way through to the end. From writing the lyrics, to the music, to shooting/directing the video. It was a very fulfilling experience to have a vision, and to see that vision reveal its truest form.
Because of "Girls Like Girls," I got the confidence to direct my other music video for "Cliffs Edge," which I released a couple of weeks ago, and has had nearly three million views. I'm feeling the growth. It’s been amazing to see people truly connecting with my music and story telling.