Music Features

Hayley Kiyoko's "She" Is an Anthem for Closeted Kids

Kiyoko's final single from her project "I'm Too Sensitive For This Sh*t" has a music video that will get you in your feelings.

When I first realized I was bisexual, I didn't know any girls who liked girls in real life.

I grew up in a community that was supportive of gay rights in theory, but queerness still felt shrouded in discomfort and otherness.

Because of this, every morning of eighth grade I'd wake up, stumble out to the kitchen table, and wish it wasn't true. I wanted to erase these troublesome, fluttery feelings I had for the pretty girl I'd seen on the dance floor that summer. I wanted to wake up and be straight. I wanted to erase myself.

I wonder how much of a difference seeing a video like Hayley Kiyoko's "She" would've made in my life, had it come out at the time. "She" is a pristine pop song from one of the most prominent lesbian artists making music today, but it's also a reminder that even though gay rights have become accepted by the mainstream media, discovering your own queerness as a teen can be incredibly scary and isolating.

It can also be a source of power and inspiration. For the "She" video, Kiyoko dons a baby butch outfit, complete with a wig that resembles the short emo-kid haircut she had at the time. At first, she's awkward and uncomfortable, but eventually she finds the confidence to pick up a guitar, and soon enough she's a rock star jamming out as crowds scream her name.

Hayley Kiyoko - She [Official Video]

"I actually got emotional putting on the wig," she told Teen Vogue. "It brought on a wave of feelings and reminded me of how insecure and hard I was on myself during that time. I felt a wave of pride as well knowing I overcame my fears and I was now celebrating that moment. All my insecurities are the reason why I became me."

The video will be relatable to anyone who's ever felt the pain of being stuck in the closet, either by their community or by their own internalized homophobia or both. "When I was younger, I hid so much of who I was, and secretly felt so different and alone," Kiyoko added. "But I was really inspired by artists like Tegan and Sara and Lance Bass; they made me feel like I could turn my dreams into a reality. Having representation is so important and means so much to the future generations."

Despite increasing levels of widespread protection and acceptance, LGBTQ+ kids still face many challenges. According to the Human Rights Coalition, 4 out of 10 American teens ages 13-17 feel they live in a community that does not accept queer people. LGBTQ+ kids still face high levels of violence, being twice as likely as others to be physically assaulted. The survey also found that although 9 out of 10 kids say they're out to their close friends, 92% said they've heard negative messages about queerness.

These messages can have deadly consequences. According to the Trevor Project, suicide rates are three times higher for LGBTQ+ youth. Things are even more difficult for transgender people, who receive less acceptance and support than cisgender people; according to the same study, 40% of transgender adults say they've attempted suicide.

Queer people of color experience unique challenges as well, facing high levels of poverty and intersecting challenges. For example, "disproportionate numbers of LGBT people of colour live in places that lack any explicit state-level protections for LGBT people," said Ineke Mushovic, director of the Movement Advancement Project. "This means that LGBT people of colour face a high risk of economic harm from anti-LGBT laws."

In spite of the accessibility of these statistics, it's easy to forget how harrowing the experience of growing up queer can be—particularly for kids in situations wherein homophobia is a reality and other issues like poverty are at play. Though 77% of the kids surveyed by the Human Rights Coalition say they know things will get better, that doesn't mean that queer and trans kids should have to suffer. And until every single kid can joyfully embrace who they are in a safe and loving home, the work isn't done.

To make this work happen, we need not only to promote surface-level love for queer people. We need to address the forces that lock queer (and non-white and non-able-bodied) people in loops of poverty, that permit conversion therapy, that codify employment and housing discrimination, and that prevent trans people from using their chosen bathrooms and accessing the health care they need.

Though these realities are painful, it doesn't all have to be about suffering. As Kiyoko said, visible and high-profile examples of queer joy and acceptance can be invaluable.

Personally, I've come a long way since the day I first came out to my Siberian husky, in private, because I was too scared to consider whispering the words to another human. For me, getting to know other bisexual girls helped me learn to accept myself—shout out to the girl from summer camp at age 14 who casually said "I'm bi" in a meeting and changed my life—and over the years, I learned to truly appreciate my sexual identity. Nowadays, when every other person I meet seems to be queer (I do live in New York), it's so easy to forget about those years of shame.

Hayley Kiyoko's video sent memories of that time flooding back. It reminded me that I made it out—and that there's still work to be done to make sure every kid can do the same.

Listen to I'm Too Sensitive For This Sh*t here, and check out her tour dates here.

Music Features

On This Day: Shakira Liberated Everyone's “She Wolf”

"I was in the studio in a bad mood that day, then I got inspired and went to a corner and I wrote the lyrics and the melody in 10 minutes. The image of the she wolf just came to my head, and when I least expected it I was howling and panting," Shakira said.

By Fabio Alexx

11 years ago, on July 10th, 2009, Colombian singer Shakira released the first single off her third studio album.

"She Wolf" is a synth-pop banger built on a B minor progression. It was, in many ways, an insane song, born out of the singer's own frustration and ennui.

"I was in the studio in a bad mood that day, then I got inspired and went to a corner and I wrote the lyrics and the melody in 10 minutes. The image of the she wolf just came to my head, and when I least expected it I was howling and panting," Shakira said.

Though the music was composed by John Hill and Sam Endicott, lead singer of post-punk band The Bravery, the lyrics were all Shakira's own. "[Shakira] contacted him (Hill), asking if he had any stuff," said Endicott. "We never had her in mind. We just made the thing independently of her, and then she liked it a lot, and she sang over it. She used some of the melodies we put in there and then wrote these crazy lyrics about being a werewolf. And that's how it happened."

Shakira - She Wolf

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Melanie Martinez's "K-12" Is Your Middle School Slam Book

Martinez is just spilling the open secret that tiny, silent traumas are woven into all our identities.

The world painted by Melanie Martinez's music should be enough to make mental health counseling as natural as regular check-ups, support groups as normal as after-school sports, and consent a standard part of sex education.

But one minute into the first track on her sophomore album, K-12, it's clear that those footholds aren't a part of the unstable reality she's presenting. In 2015, she introduced America to her goth doll-aesthetic with her debut album, Cry Baby, which is also the name of the pre-adolescent character she created as the focal point of her stylistically lowbrow concept art. Despite critics' claims that Martinez is simply "creepy and dressing like a baby," the 24-year-old Queens native has carved out a niche fandom as a walking art project that criticizes society's oversexualization of women, its casual treatment of violence, misunderstanding of mental health, and other overlooked traumas that mark the transition from childhood to an adult inevitably laid to waste in modern America.

Melanie Martinez Crybaby Genius

If a gothic Camille Rose Garcia painting could sing, it would sound like Martinez, who first introduced Crybaby by exploring her troubled home life. Those viral music videos for her early singles "Dollhouse" and "Carousel" have received well over 200 million and 100 million views, respectively. In fact, Martinez has been called a YouTube savant for her ability to garner a massive online following of Gen-Z fans who identify with the adolescent caricature she brings to life through her blend of electro-pop, R&B, and art pop. "If you don't like pop surrealism you probably won't like me," she's written in response to critics accusing her of "sexualizing babies." "If you can't understand that visual art has a deeper meaning and you only look at it for face value you probably won't get my work. If you can't understand that crybaby is a character, that the first record is representative of her childhood, and If you sexualize female pop artists on the Just. Don't. Get. It."

Now, K-12 represents Crybaby's world of maladaptive behaviors and coping strategies at school. Martinez isn't graceful in her critiques, which are tantamount to YouTube protest art, and she isn't trying to be. Pairing her singles with pastel, Victorian-inspired visuals, featuring stark contrasts between bold lines and accents of glitter and gore, she combines surreal imagery with her music's dark themes, which are all too real—school shootings and oversexualized teens, self-harm and eating disorders, domestic abuse and substance abuse.

melanie martinez Melanie Martinez in "Dollhouse" Music Video

Martinez's breathy voice opens "Strawberry Shortcake" with a blunt first person perspective as a confused, insecure, and oversexualized young girl who's torn between self-preservation and desperation to fit in: "Feeling unsure of my naked body / Stand back, watch it taking shape / Wondering why I don't look like Barbie / They say, 'boys like girls with a tiny waist' / Now, my momma's preaching to make sure I'm pure / But, I never really cared about that sh*t before." Like a slam book Martinez's put to mass print, K-12 articulates the self-hate we project onto others on the tracks "Class Fight" and "Drama Club," carving out lines like, "The teacher broke us up after I broke her / And my one true love called me 'a monster.'" Similarly, on "Lunchbox Friends" and "High School Sweethearts," she captures that cone of impulsivity and devotion that envelops young people when they first form intimate connections without having a firm grasp on their own worth, singing, "Come to my house / Let's die together / Friendship that would last forever" and "Don't waste your time with me / If you're not down to bleed / If you can't handle the choking, the biting, the loving, the smothering." And like an R-rated baby doll, she recites intense declarations of love mixed with infantile neediness: "You must promise to love me / And damn it, if you f*ck me over / I will rip your f*cking face apart."

On songs like "Nurse's Office" and "Show & Tell," Martinez's soprano casually captures the twisted love and hate relationship we have with our own self-image: "If I cut myself, I would bleed (kill me) / I'm just like you, you're like me / Imperfect and human, are we / Show and Tell / I'm on display for all you f*ckers to see." On "Orange Juice," she recounts a stark experience with bulimia with a blunter edge than usual, using slowed down autotune for the cutting chorus: "You turn oranges into orange juice / Enter there, then spit it out of you / Your body is imperfectly perfect / Everyone wants what the other one's working."


K-12's most incisive commentary is about Crybaby's more than justified distrust of adults. On "The Principal," Martinez channels the whimsical melody of a nursery rhyme to call out school systems' institutional failures to protect children from gun violence (as well as their own destructive impulses): "Killing kids all day and night / Prescription pills and all that fight / Shooting at the angels while claiming you're the good guy / All you want is passion hype / 'F*ck our dreams' and that's not right." One of the most disturbing tracks on the album is "Teacher's Pet," where Martinez uses a slowed down production and deeper pitch to parody the seduction between an adult and a minor ("If I pass this quiz will you give me your babies? / Don't call me crazy / You love me but you won't come save me"). The song's effects include a maniacal laugh track and a dramatic build up to the chorus that gives an unsparing look at the abuse of power: "She's feeling like a spider in a cage you liar, you were her desire / Now she wants to light you on fire."

Martinez may have taken a four year break between albums, but her media savvy has earned her steady relevancy (especially with age 18 and under listeners), and she's about to take over YouTube. Along with K-12's release, she posted a 90-minute film comprised of music videos for each of the 13 tracks.

She'll release the music videos one at a time, in two-week intervals, like a series of subtweets to her inner demons.

YouTube has even partnered with the artist to create a four-part miniseries with thematic ties to K-12; Martinez is one of the stars of YouTube's upcoming Artist Spotlight Stories. While the platform is looking to delve deeper into web series and increase user engagement, Martinez is just spilling the open secret that tiny, silent traumas are woven into all our identities. She's looking to build a whole world around Crybaby's adolescent self-discovery, and that world's looking all too similar to our own: Everything is designed to attract and appetize, we confuse truth with well-told lies, and "pretending everything is alright is detention."

Melanie Martinez - K-12 (The Film)