Hayley Kiyoko is a star on the rise, and she’s not stopping until everyone knows her name. See, for Kiyoko, being mainstream means everything. It means being seen. It means being heard. Most importantly, it means being accepted. While general acceptance is important for any artist, it’s especially meaningful for Kiyoko. As a queer woman of color, Hayley Kiyoko’s quotes about "mainstream" success illuminate the ways she’s become an icon for the LGBTQ+ community in recent years.
"I equate ‘mainstream’ as acceptance, and so I just want to be accepted as an artist," Kiyoko says in an interview with Elite Daily. "I feel that as a kid, I always wanted that [acceptance] and that’s always been something I’ve craved and yearned for, just as a person."
Kiyoko says her goal is to create music people enjoy and can connect with. If you ask me, she’s already succeeded in that department; she’s built a strong fanbase that eagerly awaits any new music from her. Kiyoko’s fans admire her so much that they nicknamed her "Lesbian Jesus" for putting queer relationships at the forefront of her music.
Apart from promoting acceptance in her own songs and videos, Kiyoko also had a cameo in Taylor Swift’s "You Need To Calm Down" music video, which was praised for giving representation to the LGBTQ+ community. At the end of the music video, Swift urged viewers to sign a petition to support the Equality Act, which would help protect the LGBTQ+ community from discrimination. At the time of publication, the petition has reached half a million signatures.
Kiyoko feels the video created an opportunity "to continue the conversation for equality" by giving exposure to issues surrounding the LGBTQ+ community. "I think what Taylor did was amazing," she says. "I’m really happy for her and grateful to be a part — even a small part — of something that is a lot bigger than all of us."
Kiyoko is too humble when it comes to her successes, considering her collection of top-tier awards and accolades. In 2018, Kiyoko won an MTV VMA for Push Artist of the Year and a Billboard Women in Music Award for Rising Star. Then in August 2019, she was featured on the cover of Billboard’s 2019 Pride issue, along with queer artists Tegan and Sara, Big Freedia, Adam Lambert, and ILoveMakonnen.
The recognition doesn’t stop there. On Sept. 19, Kiyoko will receive the Facebook Songwriter Impact award at the City of Hope’s 15th annual Songs of Hope ceremony for promoting acceptance and equality in her music.
"A lot of times we measure success with charts and numbers, but sometimes your biggest and greatest impact has nothing to do with that," she explains.
But Kiyoko’s journey to get here wasn’t easy. She explains why, at the beginning of her career, she used to doubt if there was even an audience willing to listen and support her music. "I think, for me, the main struggle [was figuring out] like: Who were going to be my fans? Who was going to support me? Who was going to be interested?" Kiyoko says.
She’s taken what she’s learned, and is willing to do whatever it takes to help others in the same boat. "I think that, as a woman, it’s important to support other female artists trying to make it in this industry because it’s really hard."
That’s why Kiyoko wants to do her part in giving back by partnering with Bumble for their Empowered by Bumble Bizz program, which aims to support female artists trying to break into the music industry. The partnership has Kiyoko mentoring up-and-coming female musicians, who will then have the opportunity to perform at a major music festival in 2020.
As for the advice Kiyoko has for rising female artists, she thinks they just need to keep putting out great music — eventually, someone will listen.
"I really do believe that if you put out good work, people will find it," Kiyoko says. "It might take longer and you might have to push harder and work harder, but people will find it."
But Kiyoko says there’s one key element of support that a lot of up-and-comers never get: radio play. "There’s a lot of amazing artists out there that aren’t getting radio support and radio has a lot of power," Kiyoko admits.
Kiyoko knows radio can play a huge role in achieving mainstream success, but she won’t ever sacrifice herself and her authenticity to achieve it. "When you set a level of honesty [with your fans], it’s important to hold on to that," she says. "So I just try to be as honest and real with my fans as I possibly can."
Kiyoko is confident she’ll reach mainstream success on her own terms.
"I just have to keep being myself and being true to who I am and do what I love," she says, "and things will eventually come."
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