At just 23 years old, Australia’s Betty Who might just be pop music’s next big thing.
At just 23 years old, Australia’s Betty Who might just be pop music’s next big thing. Don’t get it confused though – she’s not some crossover hit waiting to happen like Lorde was in 2013. No, Betty Who is a legit diva-in-training with pipes that effortlessly rival her contemporaries and songs that are bursting with genuine emotion and strong melodies.
After debuting in 2012 and releasing a few EPs, Who’s first studio album, Take Me When You Go, was released last year to positive reactions from fans and critics alike. With the success of the single “Somebody Loves You,” the album quickly won over fans tired of the same recycled mess we hear from pop stars on the radio today. It was different and it should be different considering the path Betty Who took to get here was much different than everyone else.
After growing up in Australia, the singer was accepted into a performing arts high school in the United States when she was fifteen in order to study the cello. Despite the unbelievable opportunity that was presented to her, Who wasn’t sold on moving.
“When I got in, I didn’t really want to go and leave my home. It was crazy to me, but my mom basically said, ‘Are you fuckin’ kidding me?’ She told me we were going no matter what because it was amazing and I better recognize it. She convinced me and I think it ended up being one of the best things I’ve ever done. I was so happy to go to that school and I met so many of the people that shaped who I am as an artist. I feel really lucky because of that.”
Those formative years helped solidify her songwriting skills and also led her to create a singular vision that was less about image and more about expressing pure emotions through music. While it could have been any genre she chose to go after (like bluegrass after hearing her talk about The Punch Brothers), Who looked to the synthpop sound of the 80s to help convey her songs.
“I’m really attached to how music in the 80s made you feel. [They’re] some of my favorite songs to really emote to. Not to dance to or go out to, but actually feel things to. ‘Love Is A Battlefield, I Wanna Dance With Somebody, Pretty Young Thing;’ those are the songs to me that are not only dance songs, but also have this wall of emotion to them that I really love and want to convey in my music.”
Even before her debut album dropped, the singer was already amassing a high level of buzz from her work and even grabbed the attention of two of her idols in the music world, Katy Perry and fellow Australian Kylie Minogue. Both offered her opening stints on their world tour and it did wonders not only for Betty Who’s career, but also in helping her raise her game accordingly as more and more ears were tuning in.
“It blew my mind to watch them over and over again. Usually, if you go to see your favorite artist perform, maybe you’ll do two shows on the tour because you’re a super fan and you drove four hours to go see their next show, but usually, it’s a one night only experience. The magical thing about seeing two of my favorite artists in the world over and over again is that you get to see how different each show is and what that means for them and to them because I think it’s different for everybody. It’s really interesting to see legends like them deal with [touring] in their own way. That really influences me and how I think about it.”
While Who took in a lot from Ms. Teenage Dream, it was clear that she learned the most from Minogue, someone she quite frankly described as a “fuckin’ Queen.” In fact, it was a casual sit-down with the singer that gave Who a lot of perspective as the Aussie legend opened up on her journey and just how hard it was to get to where she is today. Who knows the same journey is in front of her, even if she’s caught some good breaks here and there.
“It’s definitely not easy. I’ve been really, really lucky and I’ve had a lot of really great opportunities come to me at the right time. I think more than anything what it’s about is having a good product. People really love to hear good music. That sounds really silly, but it’s something that is so overlooked. People love good songs. That’s just how I got discovered really.”
Next to just having good songs, the most important thing for any star out there, new or old, was just being genuine on stage, something she again took in night after night while watching Minogue perform.
“Being genuine counts almost more than anything else. I had so much fun watching Kylie because she looked like she was just having fun. There were so many things she did in the show that I really respected and clung to as being such great ways of performing and drawing people in. It was all just real and I absolutely loved how genuine she was on stage.”
Pop singers aren’t known for being genuine; in fact, it is quite the opposite. We’re used to this idea of an auto-tuned, photoshopped image that gets handed whatever song that happens to be on top of a stack that day, even if it’s a very unfair generalization. But the generalization has thrived for a reason, though Who isn’t necessarily worried about being genuine.
“I write all the songs and they’re all moments from my life that I’ve decided to share. To me, singing those songs every night feels very genuine because I’m telling stories that happened to me. I imagine if you’re one of the artists who gets handed one of these songs that you feel emotionally connected to, but maybe don’t have a story behind it or whatever – people criticizing you for not being genuine has to be so hard. I would sing someone else’s song if I heard it and thought it was amazing too.”
Yet criticism is the nature of the beast and pop singers open themselves up to the public scrutiny more so than any other genre out there. It’s not like anyone ever worried about Joan Jett writing her own songs, what she was wearing, or who she was dating like they did with Britney Spears.
“I think you get criticized no matter what. You can be the most perfect, wonderful, amazing human being, but it will still happen. My dad always says there’s a 90-10 ratio, 90 percent of people are going to love what you do and 10% of people are going to hate what you do no matter what. It’s so much more valuable to spend your time looking after the 90% than trying to win over the 10 percent.”
Still, Who knows that’s she almost lucked out with her 10 percent being almost non-existent most of the time, something singers like Ke$ha and Taylor Swift would kill for if given the opportunity.
“I’m lucky to have really lovely fans who are all so nice so I don’t have that many people tweet me hoping I die or telling me I’m the worst. People say horrible things like that all the time to any artist out there, but I’m lucky enough to not have that many haters online, if you will.”
Who mentions luck a lot when talking to her, but perhaps the luckiest thing to her is something other people would consider unlucky: the absence of a mega-hit. While it’s undoubtedly great to have a hit song, look how it works out for new artists who quickly shoot to the top of the charts even before their first album officially comes out. Look at Iggy Azalea from last year. You think the backlash against her would have been as strong if she didn’t have a number one hit or if she had been around for much longer before hitting number one? The young singer’s slow burn is allowing her to grow at a comfortable pace and amass a loyal following of fans with little chance for backlash or resentment. By the time her signature song comes around, it will be just plain hard to hate her since she’s been around for years and was doing the hip 80s sound before it became hip again.
Betty Who is the real deal and the pop singer the music world desperately needs. Despite having so much in common with the singers dominating the radio, she’s clearly different from them all. She’s sincere, she’s inventive, she’s crafty, and she’s even musically trained, all things that make her live performances ones you do not want to miss.
Who knows? Maybe she’ll even bust out the cello when she stops by The National in Richmond.
“It’s a little off brand, probably, but maybe one day. Richmond…who knows?”
Betty Who performs at The National tonight night with Cailee Rae and COIN opening. For more information on the show and where to buy tickets, click here.