To her fans, Hayley Kiyoko is so much holier than the typical pop idol: she’s literally their “Lesbian Jesus.”

In the five years or so since Kiyoko, 26, began pursuing a solo music career, the young star has earned hundreds of thousands of social media followers thanks, in part, to her ability to pour her personal experiences as a young gay woman into oft-heartbreaking lyrics—a candidness that has been met with open arms from fans.

At the start of 2018, the singer declared the year “#20GAYTEEN,” a pointed mission statement her followers quickly glommed on to. But, as Kiyoko admits, she doesn’t want to be exclusively known as a “gay artist.”

“My goal is to sing about my life and my life surrounds women. But I’d still like to enter the mainstream pop world and have people be able to relate [to me] and still be as big of a fan as mine as anyone else,” the California native shares. “...I love my community, but my goal is to eventually just be an artist. I hope people can love my art and connect to it no matter what.”

The multi-hyphenate got her start playing bit roles on teen sitcom Unfabulous, before tackling larger parts in films Insidious: Chapter 3, Lemonade Mouth and Jem and the Holograms, as well as on hit shows like Freeform’s The Fosters. As the then-teen star's acting career prospered, she was simultaneously nurturing a burgeoning music career.

In 2007, she joined The Stunners, a now-defunct pop group formed by “Smile” singer Vitamin C that also counts R&B singer Tinashe as a former member. After bouncing around labels and releasing a handful of singles for TV shows, the band split in 2011, freeing Kiyoko up to pursue more personal solo music endeavors. In 2013, she dropped her debut EP, A Belle to Remember, a quirky collection of breezy electro-pop and pop-rock. Two other moodier extended plays followed: 2015’s fizzy This Side of Paradise and 2016’s emotionally-charged Citrine.

These days, Kiyoko merges her two passions—music and acting—by directing her own music videos. In 2017, Kiyoko released her cinematic self-directed music video for “Sleepover,” a plush synth-pop track about unrequited love. The uniquely challenging experience inspired her to get behind the camera more often.

“It's something that I fell into because I couldn't really find the right people to create the vision that I wanted,” she explains, confirming the tough logistic realities facing emerging artists. “Creating something out of nothing when you have limited resources … That ‘Sleepover’ set was built for $400!”

In April, Kiyoko will play alongside superstar acts like Eminem and Cardi B at Coachella—something the artist says has “been her dream since [she] was thirteen.”

Kiyoko also thanks her fans—who helped fund her first EP on PledgeMusic—for her continued ascent. “It's been a very long, very insane journey,” she quips, laughing in a way that sounds both mildly exhausted and completely exhilarated. “I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing without them because they have shown that they want the content and that they like who I am. They're also really kind people.”

It’s been a tiresome hustle, but as Kiyoko rushes towards her biggest career milestone yet—the release of her debut album Expectations, due March 30—the singer gives no indication that she’s ready for a break.

“I feel like this could finally be the year [I break out].”

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