Remember Lemonade Mouth, the 2011 Disney Channel Original movie about a detention-born band that was released alongside an album that still slams to this day? Hayley Kiyoko, who played Stella in the film, has resurfaced in the music industry lately, ditching the rebellious rockstar persona she possessed in the film for pink hair and a new pop sound on her debut album, Expectations.
Kiyoko, who openly identifies as a lesbian, is often referred to as “Lesbian Jesus” by her fans, due to her outspokenness on LGBTQIA+ rights and inclusion of lesbian themes, lyrics and intimacy in her music and videos. Graduating from Disney Channel shortly after the release of Lemonade Mouth, Kiyoko first established her name in the music industry with “Girls Like Girls,” off her self-released EP, This Side of Paradise. The song, which featured pro LGBTQIA+ lyrics like “Girls like girls like boys do/ Nothing new,” came with a revolutionary video starring fellow Disney Channel actress Stefanie Scott.
The first single off Expectations, “Curious,” possesses the same theme as “Girls Like Girls,” but features a more pure pop sound, with a loud harsh bass that flows into an undeniably catchy electronic chorus. The production of the song is outstanding, though where Kiyoko’s music struggles for me is the discord between Kiyoko’s vocals (which sound like they would be more fitting in an alt-pop setting) and the classic pop sound.
Expectations opens with an “Overture,” something that I always appreciate on an album. It sets the sonic mood for the rest of the album, and tells you that the album relays a story, rather than acting as just a collection of songs. Shortly after comes the indisputable highlight of the album, “What I Need,” a duet with R&B newcomer Kehlani. The song is Top 40 pop at its finest, and if we were back in the golden days of 2009 when pop music reigned supreme and terms like “mumble rap” and “Ed Sheeran” were unheard of, it would have a guaranteed spot in the top 10, as Kiyoko and Kehlani’s harsh vocals blend together smoothly over a thumping chorus and the rhythmic claps that occupy the bridge.
Just before the midway point of the album comes “Mercy/Gatekeeper” and “Under the Blue/Take Me In.” Following the lead of tracks like Ariana Grande’s “Knew Better/Forever Boy” and Lorde’s impeccable “Hard Feelings/Loveless,” Kiyoko’s debut features two “two-in-one” tracks, each song separated by a transition. In the case of Grande and Lorde (and more obscurely 2000’s teen-pop star JoJo with “Honest” from her 2016 comeback album, Mad Love) these tracks are highlights of their respective albums. Kiyoko, however, may have missed the mark. For tracks like these to be worth it, a seamless, standout transition has to carry you into the latter half and simultaneously blow your mind. On Expectations, though, these songs are simply not memorable.
A transitional track, “xx” flows right into “Wanna Be Missed,” whose opening notes seem to be taken directly from a Tove Lo record. The song, along with “What I Need,” “Curious,” and the opener, “Feelings,” is one of few memorable tracks. Like Tove Lo’s work, it’s vibe can only be describe as “cool,” and it would fit right in on Tove Lo’s Lady Wood or its sequel, Blue Lips. On Expectations, though, it seems out of place, despite working perfectly fine on its own.
After “Wanna Be Missed,” Expectations crawls to its finale, “Let It Be,” which isn’t too exciting in itself, but works well at the back end of the album, mixing heavy acoustics with electronic notes and angelic vocals.
All in all, Expectations is nothing groundbreaking, but it’s a worthy effort from pop newcomer Kiyoko, who is in the process of finding her sound. Once she finds that sound, her career has potential to take off.