Photo Credit: Empire/Atlantic Records
With her 2018 debut Expectations, former Disney star Hayley Kiyoko was crowned Lesbian Jesus. Now, with Panorama, she offers up her second coming – in the form of 13 sleek, ready-for-radio pop numbers. Kiyoko’s LGBTQ+ identity has always been central to her music and to her core appeal. The embrace of her sexuality has always felt particularly crucial given that she comes from a generation of Disney stars constrained by a toxic purity culture – where stars wore purity rings and were forced to maintain a squeaky-clean image.
But times have changed and teenage Disney stars can now drop F-bomb-laced debut albums filled with searing pop and rock anthems. Former Disney child star – also a member of the LGBTQ+ community – released a sexually explicit, hard-rock album entitled HOLY FVCK, where they pose in bondage atop a crucifix-shaped mattress on the album cover. At the same time, there has been a marked increase more generally in the number of openly LGBTQ+ artists – and, as demonstrated, by Lil Nas X’s Montero, these artists’ expression of their identity has become increasingly bold and unapologetic. All of this is to say that the bar for what is now seen as genuinely groundbreaking has been raised considerably – to the extent that one even wonders whether a song like “Girls Like Girls,” Kiyoko’s biggest hit to date, would have made any significant waves were it to be released today.
Of course, Kiyoko’s expression of her sexual identity doesn’t need to be ground-breaking – in fact, maybe it’s a mark of true equality that who Kiyoko directs her love songs to seems beyond the point of Panorama. And yet, without any of the laser-sharp LGBTQ+ anthems of Kiyoko’s earlier music, Panorama is plagued by a sense of hollowness. Songs often hint at a big climax without ever properly bursting (see the bass-heavy opener “Sugar at the Bottom”). Elsewhere, a poor choice of a featured artist ruins the nostalgic “Forever,” while overuse of autotune diminishes Kiyoko’s greatest asset (her voice) on “Underground.”
The emotional stakes across Panorama are never particularly high – perhaps meant to signal the stability of the love described across these songs. At their best, these songs feel like a cool breeze on a summer’s day – hardly revolutionary, but refreshing slices of pure pop, nonetheless. Songs like “Chance” and “For The Girls” have an indisputable sun-kissed charm – even if the latter is plagued by awkward similes like, “Let’s break the tension like a Kit Kat.” Moments like these, however, are too few and far between across Panorama’s run-time. There’s a frustrating, persistent sense of hedged bets and more interesting roads not taken. Ultimately, for a second coming, Panorama is absent of revelation.