Hayley Kiyoko’s ‘Panorama’ disappoints with inconsistency, lackluster pop songwriting

Photo of Hayley Kiyoko's "PANORAMA" album cover
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Grade: 2.0/5.0

Hayley Kiyoko’s Panorama defines the kind of summer pop music that often gets played on the radio but hardly leaves a lasting impression.

Panorama’s clean album cover pictures Kiyoko in glistening wet hair under California summer sunshine. However, her music falls short of capturing the same summer heart and energy her aesthetic does.

Even on her album’s first track “Sugar at the Bottom,” dry, formulaic songwriting already starts wearing out listeners’ patience. She repeats a poorly chosen catchphrase, “ain’t no sugar at the bottom,” to an exasperating extent, and audiences don’t even need to finish listening to realize that the song is not sugary sweet, but bland like water. 

Alternatively, like a refreshing spring that saves an otherwise stagnant pond, “For the Girls” comes to the rescue early on. Its energetic guitar featured in its lively introduction takes full credit — it immediately separates the song from the others’ flatness, marking it as an unmissable summer jam. 

“For the Girls” is also blessed with a simplistic musical production that maximizes Kiyoko’s talents and charm. It pleasantly highlights her natural raspy, grasping voice; as she sings, “summer’s for the girls, the girls that like girls,” her charm exuberates with just the right amount of boldness and summery playfulness.

The fun of “For the Girls” is unfortunately fleeting, however, as the album plunges into distracting filler tracks again. “Flicker Start” serves unexciting vocals and reused melodies with none of the flickering energy that its title promises. Wandering even further astray, “Underground” disappoints with unbearable autotune that overshadows Kiyoko’s captivating voice. Guest artist Johnny Rain only makes the song “Forever” a greater drag with his emotionless vocals, making the track take forever to end.

“Deep in the Woods,” on the other hand, rejuvenates as the other album highlight which brings momentary hope to listeners. The introduction’s fascinating synthesizers distinguish this track, waking up dozing audiences. Unhesitatingly, Kiyoko presents her mesmerizing vocals with a tinge of mystery and suspense, lending the best vocal performance she has on this album.

“I know I met you in another,” she sings, “it’s like you’re my dream.” Indeed, magical things can happen when one is deep inside a midsummer night’s woods. The music, lyrics and vocals merge and echo wonderfully, thrilling listeners with an otherworldly experience of escape — a rare, entrancing moment of magic on Panorama.

Yet, after “Deep in the Woods,” Kiyoko doesn’t just fall back to bland songwriting and melodies — at this point, she stops giving more surprises altogether. From “Supposed to Be” to “Found My Friends,” she occasionally swings to piercing high notes beside brazen background instruments, but this shock value is far from enough to reengage her audiences.

Title track “Panorama” marks a frustrating end to an equally disappointing album. Instead of revealing any vulnerability, Kiyoko’s monotonous vocals and the background’s screeching cacophony eliminate the chance for any kind of genuine emotional expression.

Rather than capturing a glorious spectacle, Panorama tends to be more noisy and distracting than grand. Whatever panoramic view that Kiyoko tries to paint becomes quickly obscured by her discomfiting musical production and prosaic lyricism.

Panorama sporadically glimmers with Kiyoko’s unique voice on hit summer singles “For the Girls” and “Deep in the Woods.” However, she struggles to achieve the same level of hyped energy and heated fun on her other tracks.

In the end, Kiyoko’s Panorama doesn’t offer an engaging, scenic impression — her panorama only suggests a few intriguing views.

Contact William Xu at [email protected].