Album Review: “Expectations” by Hayley Kiyoko

With soulful lyrics and addictive melody, Hayley Kiyoko surpasses all “Expectations” in her debut album.

In a scene of tasteful refinery, Hayley Kiyoko lounges, comfortable but collected, her head tilted with a look of transfixion that one might expect from an observer of the room’s art. Rather, Kiyoko stares at what lays just before the camera, the curving — and abjectly nude — silhouette of a woman. The cover complements the album’s title: “Expectations.” Expectations are something that Kiyoko herself, now officially debuting after a steady stream of the pop singles and dreamlike music videos that earned her a devoted following and the moniker “Lesbian Jesus,” has a lot to live up to.

Kiyoko doesn’t only meet these expectations, she goes beyond them. It’s an album filled with the same sweet and smooth, yet undeniably catchy, pop which defined the 2015 release of “Girls Like Girls” that launched her into relevancy. Firmly in line with the image Kiyoko has built, “Expectations” is a confident breakthrough into the pop scene. Kiyoko sings about seducing women — and maybe falling in love — with all the self-assurance of the male artists of her genre.

The album begins with the overture “Expectation,” defined by a resonating electronic build, and ending with the chirping of birds before transitioning into the illusory “Feelings.” It carries only one collaboration: “What I Need,” a refreshingly fun interlude filled with rhythmic pop beats featuring fellow queer artist Kehlani.

Kiyoko generated excitement for the album with her earlier release of “Sleepover” as a single, but the song finds a new home nestled among “Expectations”’ other tracks, which complement the song’s tone while allowing it to stand out in its own right. “Sleepover” is a silky serenade to imagined “sleepovers in my bed” and the futility of impossible desire. Its ending — a sonorous blanket of singing birds — finds new context within the avian motif first introduced in the album’s overture.

“Sleepover” makes for an easy transition into “Mercy/Gatekeeper,” which opens with similar sounds of the night, and continues with an appropriate dream-like feeling, singing of an empty wanting, asking to “give me mercy / because I keep hurting.” The song then shifts into an uneasy static, a voice barely distinguishable between it all, before suddenly turning into a song much different than what it was before, faster paced and more upbeat. It quickly dissolves back into static, this time with Kiyoko asserting that “I keep what’s mine, I can have your soul / And live with contempt, free from fear” and declaring herself “the gatekeeper” before fading back into “Mercy’s” refrain.

The album continues to blend a sensual dreaminess with distinct pop flavor. “Under the Blue/Take Me In” employs a similar bait-and-switch technique to “Mercy/Gatekeeper,” moving from the airy “Under the Blue” to the deeper, distinctive rhythms of “Take Me In” within the same track. “Curious” is a pulsating inquiry into an ex-girlfriend’s current relationship, anxiously questioning whether “you let him touch you the way I used to,” and the album builds into a swelling conclusion with the resigned but triumphant “Let It Be.”

Overall, Kiyoko has met any expectations lobbed at her prior to the album’s release, but created quite a few more for her career to come. A tantalizing but tasteful tribute to lust, love, and self-definition, “Expectations” is an album sure to satisfy.

Grade: A
Release Date: Mar. 30, 2018