Thursday, February 1st, 2018

Hayley Kiyoko – Curious

Sure, we’ll go steady with you, Hayley.


Alex Clifton: “Curious” suffers from mediocre, slurred verses (“I need a drink, whiskey ain’t my thing/But shit is all good” doesn’t do a lot to set the scene), but I can forgive those sins for the phenomenal chorus. It’s giddy and breathless, especially the way she sings the Santa Monica line: in those five seconds, we suddenly have a picture of their entire relationship. I am annoyed by the implications of the Confused Bisexual who can’t make up her mind between her current boyfriend and her former girlfriend, mostly because I thought Lesbian Jesus could do better than that, but this is still fun. I know how hard Kiyoko has fought over the years for every female pronoun in her song, and I hope she continues that fight.

Micha Cavaseno: Kiyoko’s return to making girls the center of desire for other girls is hardly the worst brand in the world to pursue. But at the end of the day, a big problem is that the intent to make songs about that rises to the top while the notion of crafting good songs falls way by the wayside. Production-wise this feels like a poppy-turn on RnBass a few years too late, and that double-time bit on the chorus is an unlistenable blur of Kiyoko’s feathery tone blurred like it got chopped up in fan blades. Beyond her preferences of whom to pursue and be pursued by, I’m struggling to see what makes Kiyoko stand out in the current pop climate.

Alfred Soto: A fingerpoppin’ rewrite of “When U Were Mine” in which Hayley Kikoko replaces paranoia with lust and, shrewdly, fuses paranoia and lust: the stronger her suspicions about what her lover is up to, the more lubricious the music. Points for being the first song of which I’m aware that mentions the Santa Monica Pier.

Katherine St Asaph: Both appealingly and frustratingly half-formed. The repeated-last-words trick is cool, but I’ve heard it before (damned if I can remember where, though.) The double-time Santa Monica line is great and not something I’ve heard before, but loses its power upon repetition; it’d be better if the last one were changed, or escalated, or something. Surely the narrator found more on her Instagram than that one pier pic?

Stephen Eisermann: As if the stylistic choices made with the beat weren’t interesting enough, the lyrical content is awesome. The chorus is catchy both because of how much of an earworm it is and also because how engaging the story is. Poor Hayley likes and is liked by a girl, either too confused about her sexuality or too unwilling to commit to being with a girl, but the girl remains with her boyfriend despite constantly reaching back out to Hayley. The song teeters on petty, but honestly who wouldn’t be a bit hostile towards someone who has effectively played them and wants to continue playing them? Also, the way that Hayley sings the Santa Monia lyric in the chorus is perfect and I’ll hear no opinions that claim otherwise.

Will Adams: I love when pop is this tightly wound, as if it’s one twist away from completely snapping. Sonically, it’s “Work From Home” with the screws fastened down even harder, but the chorus is the root of it all. Hovering on the same note but alternating between a pendulum-like repetition and rapid-fire sixteenths, Hayley Kiyoko simultaneously lures in the object of her desire while pushing her away. In the face of the heart-sinking feeling of seeing the one you want captured with someone else in glossy Instagram photos, her self-assuredness is the true weapon here.

Edward Okulicz: It’s as tense as a rubber band stretched to its fullest, and it burrows into your head without bashing you over it first. So that means it’s effective and subtle as a groove, but the chorus is a straight knock-out, one extended monster rhythmic and melodic hook you want to put on repeat. You could imagine this as being either a 00s Britney cut, or a further exploration of the territory last traversed by Little Mix on “Touch.”

Alex Ostroff: A few years ago, I wrote, “I don’t want well-meaning political anthems or pity; I want more people hearing engaging, intelligent, desperate, emotional, angry, frustrated, happy queer voices writing damn good pop songs.” After gritting my teeth through the Great Gay-Pander-Off and Macklemore, this well-executed lesbian take on a typical ‘my ex found someone new’ pop narrative is exactly that. Sure, the beat is standard post-MustardWave, and the first verse opens with a hell of a clunker, but “Curious” is all about its impeccably-constructed chorus. It kicks off with repeated touchyas and usedtas, then uses double-time patter to build momentum into an emphatically punctuated final couplet. It’s a great trick, and my first great pop moment of the year is the rush of “takehimtothepierinSantaMonicaforgettobringajacketwrapupinhimcauseyouwantedta?“. And as for that couplet? “I’m just curious / Is it serious?” cheekily subverts the titular adjective that’s too often deployed to undermine queer women’s sexuality. There’s nothing ambiguous or uncertain about Kiyoko’s interest. Might I be overrating this? I doubt it. It won’t replace”‘When U Were Mine” or “Dancing On My Own,”, but it rewrites the latter as queer more successfully than Calum Scott’s cover, and I’ve been listening to it compulsively for two weeks straight gay. 

Reader average: [9.19] (5 votes)

Vote: 0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10

10 Responses to “Hayley Kiyoko – Curious”

  1. @Alex O I’m really pleased you make the same exact joke I usually make re: two weeks straight/two weeks gay. I can’t do anything straight tbh

  2. The Santa Monica line is magical and this song should blow up if only just for that line.

  3. I was really hoping more people would listen to / write about this one, but alas.

    Objectively speaking, Alex C. and Katherine are probably right about this one. The first verse is sloppy and doesn’t communicate the narrative as tightly as the second. And the platonic ideal of this song would vary the double-time Santa Monica bit each chorus, or at the very least the final time around – a move that is (in retrospect) so obviously brilliant that I can’t believe it wasn’t done.

    But I’m apparently willing to forgive a lot for that chorus. (Sorry, Maxwell. I’m trying, but I can’t hear “unlistenable blur”.)

  4. Also, I kind of love the whale cry à la Bieber’s ‘Sorry’ in the background of the pre-chorus.

  5. “Kiyoko’s return to making girls the center of desire for other girls is hardly the worst brand in the world to pursue.“

    You think her being queer is a fu***** brand? Get out.

    “Beyond her preferences of whom to pursue and be pursued by…”

    Sexuality isn’t a preference like ice cream flavor, but hey, at least the reviewer didn’t say lifestyle. I love this site, but as a queer someone, I disapprove. This is, like, execrable. Do better.

  6. I’m just rereading this…

    “Kiyoko’s return to making girls the center of desire for other girls is hardly the worst brand in the world to pursue. But at the end of the day, a big problem is that the intent to make songs about that rises to the top while the notion of crafting good songs falls way by the wayside. ”

    …and I’m stunned, especially by the last part. The reviewer is literally saying that making songs about being queer is such a distraction (aberration?) from the craft of making music that the craft suffers. Did nobody flag this?

  7. I’ll just add that I don’t think the reviewer meant harm — the phrasing and gist is just super-unfortunate.

  8. @Penn: As a queer reviewer here who loves this song, I’m pretty sure that Maxwell didn’t suggest/mean to suggest that being queer is a brand or something that detracts from songwriting. (I’ll agree that ‘preference’ isn’t an ideal word choice).

    Being queer isn’t a brand, but Kiyoko’s brand as a pop singer does deliberately centre queer romance and sexuality. i.e. The shorthand description of Kiyoko’s music is ‘radio pop, but from a queer perspective’. There are queer musicians whose queerness isn’t a central part of their musical identity. There are queer musicians whose music is about queerness in other ways. Hayley writes traditional pop songs about love and lust and dating from the perspective of a woman who loves women. Which is both important, given the lack of visible queer sexuality in pop music that isn’t of the Katy Perry ‘I Kissed a Girl’ variety, and a niche that is open to be filled, for the same reasons.

    Similarly, I don’t think Maxwell said that making songs about being queer is a distraction that prevents good songwriting, but rather that *in this case* the good intent re: representation isn’t backed up by solid pop songcraft. (I happen to think he’s wrong, at least with respect to the chorus, but that’s me.)

  9. Well first off, Alex has done a wonderful job of meeting midway so I’m obligated to say thanks for that.

    It’s been an unfortunate tendency in my run this year to write things that have been taken opposition with and have my intent questioned, which is the right and obligation of the reader and of course a sign that I have to consider what I say, so to Penn I simply want to say any remark to your apprehension and rejections of my viewpoint on my part are totally welcome and appreciated.

    The Kiyoko song isn’t great for me and in many respects I find a lot of failings and a lot more cynicism here than in the last time we covered her; not so much in any content but rather presentation, both sonically and in the video packaging (an element that is barely germane to the song itself but no doubt affects interpretation to a degree). I wish I’d addressed again the reflexive knee-jerk anxiety I feel that as much as she’s writing songs about girls loving girls, men are always somehow significant in a way that feels pointless (based on the examples we’ve covered here anyway), and perhaps that in conjunction with a lot of my disdain for the record as a record intended to be both a pop record of 2017-18 AND a pop record where someone like Kiyoko gets to be herself, but I failed to reconnect that. And in general as Alex has pointed out, all these things are more indicative of my taste than any actual intent of the artist and how other listeners approach this.

    To kind of return to your focus without wasting time trying to defend myself and argue a case I should’ve made better in the first place; my half-hearted and cynical asides ended up being more malicious reading than I could’ve intended. I assure you that your readings of my phrases is not my intent, but if I communicate them poorly enough to get read that way, it’s at the very least a note that I should do a bit better because I didn’t want to sound so full of disdain for her.

  10. i gotta say this album is a surprise jam… maybe a bit frontloaded but a helluva debut!