Betty Who on Her 'Grab-Life-By-the-Balls' Attitude and Why Her Live Show Is the 'Embodiment' of Her Artistry
"I describe my live show as being the embodiment of my artistry," says Australian pop singer Betty Who. “If you want to know anything about me as an artist, come to a live show.”
On Oct. 20, a crowd of captivated New Yorkers got to know the platinum-blonde dance diva a whole lot better when she -- along with Mary Lambert and Rixton -– performed an intimate show at Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg as part of AmEx Unstaged’s Artists in Residence series.
Before Who (real name Jessica Newham) slayed the crowd with her boundless energy and bubbly electro-pop tunes, Billboard sat down for a chat with the rising star, who told us to expect “lots of energy, lots of weird dance moves...lots of high kicks, and an emotional rollercoaster on the songs.” She delivered all of this and more with an infectious charisma that left plenty of hips shaking.
Watch Betty Who set the stage for her live show in the video below, read our extended interview with the singer, then pop over to AmEx AIR’s youtube channel to watch her full performance.
Billboard: Just over a year ago, you signed your first label deal with RCA. How does it feel to be teaming up with a huge brand like American Express barely 12 months later?
Betty Who: You're right, it was almost exactly year ago at the end of September -- I remember, because my birthday is Oct. 5, and I could officially say I signed my record deal when I was 21. It’s been so fun. But number one, being in this room with [Rixton and Mary Lambert], personally is so f**kin' cool. I mean it’s clout -- having my name associated with something as big and well-respected as AmEx is really exciting to me. When I told my dad I was doing this, he was like, "Can they get me a Black Card?" I was like, "No, no they can't." But it’s gonna be so fun, and honestly if all I got out of this partnership was standing on that stage tonight with these incredible musicians, I’d be OK with that.
How has life as a pop star thus far jibed with your training at Berklee College of Music, and in what ways has it conflicted?
It’s two different worlds in such a real way. The darker part is a kick in the face, when you first realize it, I think. For the first six months of my label signing career, I was kind of fighting it a little bit, saying "I don't want to do this" or "That's business and it’s not what I signed up for." And you have to throw your little tantrum, then put your big-girl pants on.
It’s definitely like...it bums me out that it’s not about the music. I don’t mean RCA, I just mean that the world is not about the music -- and in this genre specifically. If I was doing my singer-songwriter thing, it would be very different. And a part of me would love to wear this Metallica shirt and do my singer-songwriter thing in grimy bars for the rest of my life and chill. But the hustle in pop is infectious, and it’s fast-moving and you never know when it’s gonna end. You never know if or when people are going to stop caring about you entirely. So I’m trying to be super-aware about that, and ride the wave while I can because it’s very possible that people will wake up tomorrow and be like, "I think I hate Betty Who." And then that’s it. That’s what happens.
Or worse -- stop caring altogether.
Oh my God, please no apathy -- apathy is the enemy.
Your debut, Take Me When You Go, is notable for being a brazenly pop album with minimal input from outside or trendy producers apart from your frequent collaborator Peter Thomas and co-writers like Claude Kelly and Starsmith. Is that something you had to fight for?
I don’t think any song had more than three writers on it, and for a handful it was just two. And I wrote every song on the record. These are my stories, which is why I feel so proud and excited about the album. It’s like this little time capsule of the last two years of my life.
What's it like having extra support for your live show?
The live show is probably my favorite part of what I do. I have so much fun. Performing is where I feel like I'm at home. Everyone's like, "Oh, you were meant to be here," once I'm onstage. I was always a show-off as a kid too, so that makes sense. The most exciting part is having had these songs for so long and just sitting on them. And even during the first week-ish of this current tour, people are still getting used to the songs and still learning them. I played an incredible show in Minneapolis where I started playing "Just Like Me," and I was like, "Ohhh now you get it and you know the words." People know all the words to "High Society" and "Somebody Loves You," but then I get up and play "Just Like Me" and be like, "This is my f**kin' soul and my spirit," so having people now sing along to it and have these stories, tweeting me like, "Oh my God, Betty Who wrote 'Missing You' about me and my boyfriend...” It's so great to see people have adopted them and made them their own.
What would your advice be for other emerging artists just coming into the game?
It would be to not fight yourself on things. The thing I’ve been learning...I’ve always had a good attitude about things, and I don’t like to complain or be that person where life is so hard, because this is the coolest thing ever. I definitely, externally, have always been like that, but internally had a lot of trouble because it was all happening so fast and I wasn’t used to it. So when I really had a problem with something I would say it. But otherwise, I still fought it, even when things were awesome and fine. The thing for me, and I remind myself every day, is don’t fight it. Be so psyched to be here all the time. I’ve had a lot of moments on this tour like, "Holy sh*t, how crazy is this?" I have had this new grab-life-by-the-balls mentality these last couple weeks on tour. I don't want to deprive myself of anything or look back and be like, "Oh, I could have done that.” I'm gonna have fun and I am not gonna judge myself for having fun.