How One Of Hayley Kiyoko’s Most Popular Music Videos Became A Novel

The singer-songwriter is slowly building an entire Girls Like Girls universe.

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Singer-songwriter Hayley Kiyoko with the cover of her debut novel, 'Girls Like Girls'

When Hayley Kiyoko was 15, she fell in love with her best friend. The Los Angeles native wasn’t out at the time and often self-isolated at home, rather than experience the loneliness of watching her girl crushes flirt with boys in Santa Monica. Eventually, her best friend became a type of girlfriend, and they’d hold hands under tables. But when Kiyoko went in for a first kiss, her friend got spooked and broke her heart. “It didn’t end well,” says Kiyoko, who locked herself in her room for days after the breakup. “I wanted to change that narrative for myself of how it should have ended. I wanted it to end in hope.”

Nine years later, the singer-songwriter built the hope herself, via a self-directed 2015 music video for her single “Girls Like Girls,” which also served as her public coming-out announcement. Though Kiyoko worried about the reception after some media outlets refused to air “explicit” queer content, the viral clip sparked joy on a massive scale, and now has more than 151 million YouTube views. “The music video took on a life of its own, and I’ve always wanted to expand the story [even more],” she says.

In May, Kiyoko released her debut book, a coming-of-age YA novel that borrows the name and characters from the video. Set in 2006, Girls Like Girls centers on 17-year-old Coley, who after relocating to rural Oregon meets and develops an immediate crush on Sonya. While the former worries she isn’t worthy of love, the latter has never been with a girl before. The story follows their courtship, culminating in a final chapter that closely mirrors the music video.

“I am not Coley, but what Coley goes through, and a lot of the scenes in the novel, I lived through verbatim,” says Kiyoko, who’s 32. “Coley is a vehicle for my experience of learning to love myself and falling in love with this girl. Sonya represents a real person in my life that I had fallen in love with.”

It’s not lost on her that the queer novel is hitting shelves while titles with LGBTQ+ content account for nearly half of all book bans and challenges, which jumped nearly 40% in 2022, according to the American Library Association. Recalling how she had to hide certain reading materials when she was growing up, the “Greenlight” singer — whose fans call her “Lesbian Jesus” — cried when she saw the final product.

“If you take the cover off, there’s just a gold bike, in case you’re not in a safe place to carry a book that blatantly says Girls Like Girls. I felt that would help support people who are still trying to discover themselves,” she says, citing the story’s theme of self-worth. “We’re all worthy of being loved and deserve to have the love that we’ve seen in fairy tales.”

Below, Kiyoko talks about possibilities for expanding the Girls Like Girls universe even more.

Macmillan Publishers/Wednesday Books

You included LiveJournal entries to give insight into Sonya’s state of mind. How was that significant to your own experience?

It was a huge part of my life, freaking out and reading someone’s LiveJournal over and over again trying to decide whether they’re talking about me or not. I thought including [those entries] would be fun for readers. The younger generations obviously have new forms of social media, so it would be a new experience [for them], and then for my generation and older generations, they could feel nostalgia.

Can you talk about how you tweaked the music video’s plot in the book’s final chapter?

Deciding where the music video takes place within the novel was the hardest choice to make. I felt like people would expect the book to start where the music video ended, so I tried to do the opposite. I put it at the very end. It was fun to weave in different scenes from the video throughout the novel, like the pool and makeup scenes. It was hard to put together, but I figured it out.

When the book ends, Coley and Sonya are at a new beginning. Would you ever write a sequel?

We’ll see how this book does [commercially]. A lot of people have told me that when the book ends, they still want more. I kind of like it that way and I did it intentionally, because I felt like it honored the video. When the music video ended, it was beautiful, but you wanted more from it. This was an homage to that.

Do you have any plans to adapt the book into a feature film?

The feature film conversation is still on the table. The success of the book would definitely push that needle forward, but it is challenging to get queer projects, let alone queer content that ends in hope, made and supported in this industry. There’s a reason why there’s not a lot of representation, and when we do finally get representation in movies and TV, they cancel it.

A Disney Channel producer recently revealed that your Wizards of Waverly Place character, Alex, was meant to have a relationship with Selena Gomez’s Stevie. How do you think their relationship would have played out today?

I have no idea. When everyone found out about the Stalex thing, I was finding out at the same time. I didn’t know that was the intention at the time, but I’m glad we can all have that for ourselves.

Back to the book! What message do you hope readers take away from it?

I hope they’re able to learn to love themselves more, and to know they’re worthy of being loved back. Sometimes it can get messy, but they’re worthy of love and a hopeful or happy ending. I hope this book also can help heal older generations, who fell in love and got their hearts broken or never had their feelings validated. I hope people feel seen, heard, understood, and hopeful for their futures.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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