In the middle of a hot summer, the kind where the sun beats down on the sand, Hayley Kiyoko released her new album, “Panorama.” It’s her first album since her 2020 EP “I’m Too Sensitive for This S—” and her 2018 album “Expectations,” which featured a collaboration with Kehlani for “What I Need.” She’s always had a light touch for heartfelt issues, and this album is no exception.
Her past work includes woman-loving tracks like the iconic “Girls Like Girls” from her 2015 EP “This Side of Paradise.” Her mental health-focused track “Demons” opened the visibly bisexual third episode of the MCU’s “Loki” on Disney+. In 2021, she collaborated with FLETCHER on “Cherry (feat. Hayley Kiyoko).” Even when society discouraged being openly gay and open about mental health, she embraced every part of herself. As a result, she’s created meaningful, albeit more niche, music starting with her 2013 debut EP, “A Belle to Remember.”
On “Panorama,” Hayley Kiyoko navigates familiar themes with a refreshingly light touch. Melodic and upbeat, her rhythmic tracks blend into a sunny stream, unlike her earthy album cover. Between songs, she switches from summertime to mental health and back again, airy backing music matching her voice. Yet this same airiness blends between tunes with little differentiation. Repeatedly, beachy bass and tropical tones come to the surface, easy to sway along to but just as easy to tune out to. It’s a shame because, for the engaged fan, Kiyoko’s lyrics deliver clever imagery, witty retorts, and doses of wisdom.
Referred to as a “lesbian Jesus,” Kiyoko openly embraces her queer icon status across much of her album. She’s grown since “Girls Like Girls,” making her sexuality a canvas rather than a subject. Her first three songs — “sugar at the bottom,” “luna” and “for the girls” — deliver varying levels of gayness. Opening the album, “sugar at the bottom” criticizes an ex she calls crazy. Kiyoko regrets “staying with you even through the drama” and calls her “someone else’s problem” now that she’s gone. Its gentler follow-up, “luna,” paints a lover in glowing moonlight. Perhaps the bounciest of the three, “for the girls” dances femininely through lyrics like “Go eat your heart out like tangerines, yeah, ooh / Let’s break the tension like a Kit Kat.” Gentle guitar strumming frolics through the chorus of “Summer’s for the girls, the girls that like girls / The girls that like boys.” Down to the “Bachelor”-inspired music video featuring Kiyoko’s girlfriend, Becca Tilley, it’s a lesbian summer single suitable for singing with the girls while flouncing through the sand.
Later in the album, Kiyoko revisits the theme of loving women. On “supposed to be,” she pines after a woman, not slowing down but instead brightly meditating on loneliness after a relationship ends. Next, “chance” does the opposite of what its name suggests — she never takes a chance with the woman she’s interested in. Like in “sugar at the bottom,” Kiyoko’s spirited “well…” centers on the lively vibe of thriving after a breakup. She celebrates “doing better than, better than you” and “looking hot as hell.” Each song offers a slightly different take on relationships with women — before, during, and after. Even her two songs about breakups yield different perspectives, be it criticizing her ex or upgrading after being left.
With tracks four and five, “flicker start” and “underground,” Kiyoko’s focus fades briefly into heavier lyrics. Disguised by effervescent tunes, she delves into the topic of mental health. On “flicker start,” she begs, “Let me out my head, let my mind run free / Let me just pretend that I feel like me.” She later references that sentiment in “found my friends” with the line “don’t burn me down, just let me out.” Kiyoko describes “underground” as her favorite track from the album, saying the song is one “that feels like my soul.” Indeed, it’s a song that generates a lot of feelings, even before reaching the lines, “Why does every day make me feel some type of way? / Like I’m underground.” On “underground,” she hits some of the same notes as “flicker start” when she sings, “I’m screaming, I’m sinking in my mind.” Even in a darker song, her words glitter as she repeats, “Is there anybody, anybody, anybody out there?”
Kiyoko casts her gaze again on mental health with the album’s last two tracks, “found my friends” and “panorama.” Now, however, she progresses to a slightly more hopeful message. She openly admits, “don’t think I’m well / I can’t be alone, beside myself / I can’t be alone, I need some help.” She mirrors the cheerful “I found my friends, I found my friends” with the more numbing “Can’t feel my hands, can’t feel my hands.” Her anxiety remains, but this time she’s not alone. Her final track, the titular “panorama,” slows slightly compared to the rest of the album, ending on a triumphant exhale.
Returning to the fire metaphor that has run through the album on songs like “flicker start” and “found my friends,” Kiyoko says it best herself with her final track. Taking a stand, she declares, “I’m done with fires just to prove that I’ve been cursed / I’m done confusing all these ashes with my worth.” She’s moving forward through a veritable panorama of emotions and taking the time to appreciate each one. Her warm voice floats over a cinematic close to the album with, “Today’s the day I’m not passing through / I’m gonna say ‘Wait, have you seen the view?’” She embraces angelic instrumentation, making it easy to imagine she’s perched on a mountain looking out over the sunrise. With the listener still in amazement, the notes fade out to let her voice carry the album through the last notes.
The album’s most, as well as least, memorable tracks do not fit neatly into either category. Probably the weakest song on the album, “s.o.s.” plays on the titular abbreviation with lyrics like “same old s—” and “same old song.” Other than simple wordplay, the song has little substance besides its generic message of quickly falling back in with an old flame. At the album’s midpoint, another song about love may be the strongest track. Featuring Johnny Rain, “forever” lifts the album up with a soaring song about a love that lasts forever. Between lyrics about flying and eternal love, it’s easy to stay there forever in “Make her feel like she’s so pretty / Prettier than the whole city.”
Delightfully, Kiyoko’s lyrics are her forte. She cuts feelings of beauty and despair from the same cloth, which is both her weakness and strength. While her music might otherwise blend into the background with its meld of similar synth sounds, her words stand out. As a result, “Panorama” navigates her themes of love and depression with ease, delivering an album that can sweep the listener up or wash them away in the waves. Either way, the album is a summertime delight to listen to, with the same disguised intensity as the sunlight and Kiyoko’s dark eyes on the cover.