When Hayley Kiyoko released Expectations in 2018, she gifted listeners with a sensitive and contemplative alt-pop album that openly talked about WLW (women-loving women) love, relationships and identity. The way the album still holds up four years later have made fans eager for Kiyoko's full length follow-up, especially after her 2020 EP I'm Too Sensitive For This Shit showed off how she was continuing to experiment with new sounds.
New album PANORAMA was preceded by singles 'found my friends', 'chance' and 'for the girls'. 'for the girls' is the perfect 2022 summer love pop anthem:
Summer's for the girls, the girls that like girls
The girls that like boys, the girls, the girls, the girls
Made for radio-play, its celebration of freedom and love upon a upbeat pop beat is infectious and Kiyoko at her mainstream best. 'found my friends' and 'chance' uses synths and chill mid-tempo beats to bring some of that lazy California summer to the listener. Yet where 'for the girls' pulls the listener into the open air, 'found my friends' and 'chance' take us into Kiyoko's inner thoughts and moments in her life as she questions her relationship with herself in the former and with a potential partner in the latter.
The production throughout the album is the sharpest and most polished it has ever been in Kiyoko's career, and her vocals are some of the best she's ever sounded. However, this does not compromise her ability to create sonically beautiful and impactful songs. 'underground' is an electronic dance dream from beginning to end that replicates the confusion and yearning in Kiyoko's lyrics via her selective use of vocal distortion. Likewise 'panorama', the final track on the album is a cathartic celebration of the complications of alive, with the use of a euphoric synth chorus and light strings wrapping up a pensive record on the most dramatic of flourishes. Even the album's one feature 'forever (feat. Johnny Rain)' is a pretty duet where Kiyoko's light and bright vocals compliment with Rain's warm tone to produce a love song that sounds like both artists recorded it whilst basking in sunlight.
Her pop credentials come to the fore more on lighter tracks like 'sugar at the bottom', a fun album opener that sees Kiyoko shaking her head at herself when recounting a love interest that really was not worth her time. Other tracks like 'flicker start', 'luna' also hold up as classic pop songs, whilst 'well...' makes its bid as a potential follow up single, with its radio-friendly summer beat and its message telling a past ex just how much she's flourishing. The world can never have enough celebratory break-up anthems, and Hayley Kiyoko created another banger.
It is this optimism, however gentle or tentative in places, that makes PANORAMA poignant in the evolution of Hayley Kiyoko. The elements that made Expectations so beloved are not lost: a pensive, sensitive look at love and identity still remains, as well as how she ensures that WLW love is represented openly as opposed to merely alluded to. Yet in PANORAMA, even when the lyrics take the listener to some painful places, the instrumentals and production tend to balance it out with a sense of lightness or tenderness that suggest such pain will eventually pass.
As a result, the album is 41 minutes of music that relentlessly glows, buoyed by all the synths and electronic production that run across every song. This is summer-into-autumn music to its core, bright enough to soundtrack every August road-trip whilst thoughtful and atmospheric enough to comfort you as the leaves start to fall. Only time will tell if PANORAMA will reach the same level of cult status as Expectations, but Hayley Kiyoko's sophomore record sees her level up: she is more assured, more open, and excited to share this new, freer version of herself in the hope that it might you find that too.
Feeling better, maybe forever
A big wide open space to try
I don't have to be on the top to see