It’s been eight years since Hayley Kiyoko’s breakthrough hit “Girls Like Girls” became a modern queer anthem backed by frank lyrics (“Girls like girls like men do/Nothing new”) and a poignant self-directed music video. . Since then, it has steadily climbed up the pop charts with two studio albums, loads of brilliant synth-pop singles, and more cinematic, self-directed videos. But the impact of “Girls Like Girls” has not diminished one bit thanks to its candid and authentic depiction of a young friendship turning into love: a story so resonant that Kiyoko’s fans have affectionately nicknamed her “Lesbian Jesus.”
Now, the 32-year-old has expanded her 2015 five-minute “Girls Like Girls” video into a young adult novel of the same name. For Kiyoko, this offered the opportunity to take the two main characters in the video, Coley and Sonya, and detail their story to reflect her own life as a once-off teenager.
“The music video stemmed from this experience where I fell in love with my best friend in high school and it didn’t work out,” Kiyoko recently told The Daily Beast via Zoom. “And then when it came to writing the novel, I basically took Coley’s character and let Coley live everything I’ve been through, from discovering myself, to guiding my self-worth, to loving myself and falling in love at the same time. with someone.”
The novel is about Coley’s move to a new town in Oregon with his estranged father in 2006 after the tragic death of his mother. He quickly falls in love with Sonya, a charismatic dancer from a wealthy family who, unfortunately for Coley, bonds with an arrogant jock named Trenton. The relationship of the two girls is a constant push and pull of conflicting feelings; Coley is much more aware of his sexuality than Sonya, who grapples with both internal and external homophobia from herself, her friends and family.
Unsurprisingly, in her lyrical prose, Kiyoko introduces hyper-specific details from her own life; for example, Sonya and Coley use the harmless phrase “olive juice” as a way to dance “I love you”.
“It was all real. It was a very important point in my life that I went to kiss this girl who called me ‘olive juice,’ and we had this wonderful experience,” recalls Kiyoko. “But we never kissed. I went to kiss him and he looked at me like I was crazy. There are many scenes in the book that I will carry with me forever because I lived it.”
Kiyoko began conceptualizing the novel during the COVID-19 pandemic, while she was making her sophomore album. Panorama, published last summer. But even while writing songs, she was more in tune with her present life—including her relationship with her ex. Graduated from a Universty Contestant Becca Tilley – whom she started dating in 2018 – had no problem putting herself back into a more reserved teen headspace.
“Unfortunately it was too easy for me. “My adolescence and teenage years were very important moments for me and I remember everything,” she says. “And it was really therapeutic to go back to 2006 when I fell in love with this girl and relive her through other characters and in a different situation. The real Sonya… I was angry with her, so it was healing to be able to write both ways.
Take, for example, Kiyoko’s decision to write from Sonya’s point of view through both public and private LiveJournal entries. It’s a very period-appropriate (and nostalgic) narrative device that lets you see how the often annoying character Sonya presents herself to the world (happy and honest) and how she really feels inside (anxious and questioning her sexuality). ).
“I would interact with a girl and then I would immediately run home and check their LiveJournal and see if they were talking about it. I would psychoanalyze everything they would write,” says Kiyoko, about her LiveJournal obsession in high school. I’ve had many experiences where they couldn’t meet me where I was supposed to meet. I would say, ‘I want to be with you, I want this, I want this,’ and they would say, ‘I can’t give this to you.
“The interesting thing in my personal life is that, like my girlfriend Becca, she taught me a lot that I applied to Sonya’s character,” continues Kiyoko. “She taught me that you can love someone and want to be with someone and not be out or in a particular place with their sexuality. When I was younger, I used to delete people – if they couldn’t come for me or do something crappy, I’d say, ‘Okay, bye’. So it’s been really good for me to get closer to more people about Sonya’s character and understand how difficult it is.”
The novel ends just as the music video ends, which means it’s more heated and bloody than sweet and fluffy. But it ultimately fulfills Kiyoko’s hopeful quest to tell a strange love story – a story that still resonates with young fans, as even a cursory swipe of the video’s YouTube comments will tell you.
“I always wanted to create the ending I wanted,” Kiyoko says of Coley and Sonya’s summer love. I mean, they’re 16 and 17, so if you’re asking me if they’re married and have kids, I’m not sure. If I finish expanding the story, we’ll see what happens. But you know, it’s teen love and I think it’s really important to showcase the joy and happy endings. My career has always been about sparking hope. And so Sonya and Coley had a wonderful, beautiful journey together and were able to meet each other wherever they went.”
“There aren’t enough women making love to each other on screen. We still need much more.”
— Hayley Kiyoko
At the same time, Kiyoko has always had bigger goals for her “Girls Like Girls” storyline: She decided to turn the video into a novel only after years of trying to make a feature film. A fight he discussed with The Daily Beast last year; “It’s challenging to make a queer movie and greenlight it, to be filmed and seen,” she said at the time.
“Now I understand why there are so many queer representations in the book space but not on TV and in film, because a lot of people don’t want that,” Kiyoko says now. “And if they do, they’re not willing to fight for it as long as they need to. A particularly promising oddball story. I could write a whole book about trying to get it. Girls Like Girls on their feet. But that’s for another day.
“My creativity has always come from goodness, from everyone saying no to me,” he adds. “And then I go, okay, how can I turn all this no into a yes? And so I always created from a point of limitation. Especially when directing music videos, it’s kind of like okay, I want to do that but I can’t afford it. I’ve always had limitations on limitations. “And writing this novel was limitless. I could throw a dragon in there if I wanted to. I could literally take it anywhere, and it was a great experience creating it from a yes point.”
Kiyoko says she won’t stop trying though. It’s his dream to continue directing—not just music videos, but movies and TV—and he hopes the novel will help convince some of the right people that more LGBT representation needs to be seen on screen. This is a theme she even touches on in the novel: After Coley and Sonya had their first kiss, Kiyoko, writing from Coley’s point of view, said, “It’s a fantastic fairy tale that’s going to happen out of the blue. IT– what everyone always talks about but disrespectful I. The princess is meeting the princess.” In another episode, Coley thinks, “Girls don’t make love to each other in the movies.”
“The truth is we’re in 2023 and it’s very challenging for a lot of people in the queer community right now,” Kiyoko says. “There aren’t enough women on screen making love to each other. We still need much more.”
For now, at least, we can see such a love story unfold in the pages of a gripping summer read (and the accompanying audiobook, which features a wholly weird voice cast including actor Brandon Flynn, MUNA singer Katie Gavin, and Kiyoko). ). Not a bad ending for a fairy tale that took eight years to make.