Move aside ditzy starlets, there’s a resurgence of 1980s girl power pop. Enter super-songstress Betty Who
Catapulted onto the scene by a certain Spencer Stout proposal video that featured her track “Somebody Loves You”, Betty Who knows a thing or two about how to produce a good, honest love anthem. Right at the start of her Hopeless Romantic tour, the singer will be hitting cities across the UK with elating songs from her new EP Worlds Apart.
A graduate of the prestigious Berklee College of Music and in music education since the age of four, Betty Who is quite the pop perfectionist. But the hard work has paid off with her just having been announced as the supporting act of Katy Perry’s Prismatic world tour. Wonderland nips to the top of Shoreditch House to catch up with the singer at what feels like the start of her journey.
The Heartbreak Dream video revolves around life on the road. What do you love about being on tour?
The people I get to be with everyday are really special to me because they were all my friends before we became a band. We have so much fun and we make fun of each other so ruthlessly. We definitely laugh a lot which makes it easier to be away from home. It’s actually really challenging for me to be on the road.
Why have you called your latest EP Worlds Apart?
Worlds apart is actually a lyric from the song Heartbreak Dream ‘In the bridge when you hold me, it feels like you don’t know me, we are worlds apart.’ I always like highlighting lyrics in all my songs. It feels like there is at least one lyric that always sneaks by you that you may not pay attention to had it not been highlighted to you initially.
And that’s what you did with your stage name?
Yeah I had written this song and it felt so right when we were talking about it. I was like ‘What about Betty Who?’ and everyone was like ‘Done, easy, don’t ever think about it ever again, that’s it.’
You have many ways of connecting with your fans which you like to call the ‘Who Crew’. What’s been the best interaction that you’ve had with a fan?
Two girls showed up at my Chicago show who were so fabulous. One of them hand drew, painted and bedazzled my logo onto the back of a denim jacket and made one for me and one for her and she brought it to the show. I’m not in a place where I get gifts from fans all that often so when I have people really go out of their way to bring me something at a show I keep all of them. I guess I undervalue myself always. I think everyone does you know. Whether it’s my friends being like: “You really mean a lot to me” and then in a bigger way playing shows and people being like: “The song really changed my life”.
I’ve read that you cut your hair to its current length after a break-up. How has your style changed and progressed over the years?
I think I’ve learned more and more how to dress for my body because I’m not a sample size. I’ve had fittings where people have been like ‘Oh you’re not a sample size so we don’t have anything for you.’ You feel 15 all over again. But I think I have been very good at coming to terms with how I look and been really happy about it and found designers and clothes and styles that highlight it instead of hiding it. So that I think has changed everything for me: opened up my world a little bit.
There’s been a resurgence of ‘80s girl power pop. Who are your influences?
I love Whitney Houston. I think that she was so joyful and it’s funny, I think pop music has got really dark over the last 20 years or so and so to listen to I Believe in You and Me or How Will I Know? and I Wanna Dance With Somebody: it was all fun and even sexy songs weren’t overt. Cyndi Lauper and Madonna and Pat Benatar: everything was powerful. It wasn’t thin, it wasn’t wispy it was hard-hitting. That’s what I loved about it.
And that reflects in your style…
You’ve said that your emotions fuel your music, were there any key events in your life that have inspired your songwriting?
Every breakup. I’m very influenced by personal experience and I definitely had two or three relationships in the last couple of years that have very much influenced all my music and I have this boyfriend now that I love. He treats me really well which is a new thing for me but that also means I can’t write these tortured dance love songs any more, so I draw back from old relationships or watching my friends go through relationships. I also write about the people I love.
You’ve been in music education from a very young age. Do you think your experience of childhood has differed greatly because of this?
Oh for sure. My memories of sixth-grade were after school orchestra rehearsals. I did seventeen extra curricular activities. I’ve always liked to keep busy and I think absolutely nothing’s changed. I think my experience of childhood whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing wasn’t about exploring and adventures, it was all schedules. My parents were saying you actually have to stop which is much nicer I think. Out of everybody in my life they’ve put less pressure on me.
Sounds like you put it on yourself…
Absolutely, I have very high standards because I am such a huge pop fan and every time I sit and talk to a pop writer all we do is talk about other pop acts. I think that part of me wants to succeed in such a calculated way because of how much I know about popular culture. It’s almost tainted me. I can’t just sit and think about a song that I want to make, I have to think about how people going to react to it and what the branding is going to be like.
So are you quite involved in the branding?
I think it’s definitely a team effort with Ethan (Betty’s Manager whom she met at Berklee). I’m still new at this because my journey has been a very fast one.
Which brings us to the video of course. Spencer Stout’s proposal video to his boyfriend brought you further into the public consciousness in such a lovely way. Your UK Hopeless Romantic Tour is hitting numerous Pride Festivals. How does it feel to be flying the flag for gay rights?
It’s really funny because I didn’t set out to create gay-rights music. I didn’t make music to hit a demographic of any kind, but I happened to make an EP that got picked up by a lot of gay blogs. It just so happened that at the first show I ever played in New York City five of my girlfriends showed up and the rest were gay men. It fits my vibe as a person because at the end of the day all I want to do at a party is drink champagne and dance to Beyoncé in my friend’s living room. So the let’s get shitfaced and dance our faces off and sweat our dignity out at a pop music show is very much the vibe that I try and communicate at my shows.
Words: Elinor Sigman