Girls like girls like Hayley Kiyoko at The Fillmore

Aslesha Kumar /Senior Staff

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Rainbow flags, spotted more frequently than 21+ wristbands, punctuated the populace of The Fillmore with bright swatches of color. Larger flags were tied around necks and worn as capes. Smaller flags stuck out of snapbacks. The crowd — largely underage, almost all women, almost all donned in flannels and slogan t-shirts — packed itself tightly together on Tuesday night, leaving little room for the many fans pushing toward the front of the stage, all hoping and praying to see their messiah.

Hayley Kiyoko, who embraces the title of “Lesbian Jesus,” knew the night’s mandatory apparel. For followers who failed to bring their own “out and proud” signifiers, rainbow flags with the hashtag “#20GAYTEEN” were sold and apparently frequently purchased, as if everyone in attendance were fighting to show, as brightly as possible, that they were here and queer.

And that’s the beauty of a Hayley Kiyoko show. The artist rose to prominence from a single titled “Girls Like Girls,” and her every subsequent release clamored to be just as explicitly gay. Kiyoko boasts an impressive repertoire of LGBTQ+-focused music videos, and all rack up millions of views because, in a word, they’re good, and in a sentence, they provide much-needed representation.

For a community where representation is sparse and good representation is even harder to come by, Kiyoko’s romantic odes to women are not only endearing, they’re instances of pure bravery. She’s doing what so many pop stars are afraid to do, openly dedicating her career to being true to herself and to her LGBTQ+ fans, and charismatically branding herself as the lesbian messiah.

While some LGBTQ+ artists remain adamant about their music being “for everyone,” in her performance last week, Kiyoko possessed a unique connection with her LGBTQ+ audience. Throughout the night, the singer paused, taking multiple interludes to flirt with fans and to reflect on her accomplishment of childhood goals.

“My dream was to be in a boy band. All I wanted was, like, hot girls screaming at me,” she said, greeted by deafening cheers.

But she wasn’t simply flattering her crowd — Kiyoko’s greatest fan service was her dancing throughout the night. She danced during “Feelings,” proudly singing that she knows exactly what she’s feeling in front of a rainbow lighting design. She danced with a rainbow flag in her encore, “Gravel To Tempo.” She danced in front of clips from her aforementioned music videos, which had been masterfully edited to highlight the love interest of each video.

Each gyration of her hips was beautifully on beat, every motion oozing the passion missing when Kiyoko merely sings into the mic — her dance moves get across what she can’t communicate through lyrics, creating a temporal space that tells her audience they are lucky to be in this time and place, to witness this dancing and to dance along themselves.

And her audience loves it. Of course they do. They sang the overly complicated chorus of “Curious” — a chorus praised by Lorde for its lyrical potency, wherein Kiyoko blurts a phrase of 23 words in five seconds to comprise the track’s emotional crux — without missing a beat.

Taking place not long after the release of her debut album, Kiyoko’s Fillmore show marked a rare time when she didn’t perform every song she’s ever released — after all, she went from 16 tracks to her name (of which, six were from her straight, Disney days) to 29 in the matter of a single album release.

Perhaps Kiyoko’s blossoming artistry paradoxically constituted the only negative aspect of her concert. Kiyoko went from performing on the tiny stage of San Francisco’s Rickshaw Stop to selling out The Fillmore, yet the ballroom’s lack of elbow room left the space feeling less like a community and more like a crowd of fans.

The attendees weren’t there to meet people, they were there to see and scream at and throw their bras at Kiyoko — and that’s fine, that’s great. But undoubtedly, early fans of the singer will miss the sense of community they used to receive at her concerts. Every subsequent show may become more and more isolating as Kiyoko unabashedly fights her way into the mainstream.

But maybe it was always about Kiyoko. A girl in a shirt with the slogan “No one knows I’m a lesbian” yelled, “Marry me, Hayley!” Maybe Kiyoko’s live artistry is simply transforming her from a messiah into a messianic love interest. And knowing Kiyoko, she’d be happy to marry us all, after all.

Caroline Smith is the arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected].