When she was first starting out in 2012, you wouldn’t be hard-pressed to find ‘who is Betty Who’ comments attempting to be witty when looking up Australian pop sensation Betty Who. After three albums, touring slots with Kylie Minogue and Katy Perry plus about 100 million streams later, the “who is Betty Who” statement doesn’t really make sense anymore – pop fans know just who Betty Who is now.
Or, at least, we thought we did. With the November 2018 release of “Between You and Me,” the first single from Betty’s newest self-titled album, the musical shift found listeners wondering just who Betty is. Quite soft compared to the previous lead singles that Betty has done, which have always been an upbeat explosion of glittered good vibes, the guitar-led “Between You and Me” showed a very soft and demure side to the singer – was that a conscious decision? “I think in some ways it was,” Betty begins in our exclusive chat. “I definitely feel like I wanted to switch things up a little, not really on purpose being like ‘this is the new direction for me’ because then obviously for me the next single I released was ‘I Remember’ and that’s so dancey and kind of my old school vibe. I think it was more just to emphasize the fact that I just wanna write songs. I just wanna release the music that I wanna release regardless of genre, and especially because of my situation being able to make the record I want to make and not having to really have anybody improve it.”
The “situation” in question is the end of Betty’s rocky relationship with her previous label, RCA. Signing with the major label in 2013, almost a year after Betty’s breakout explosive viral hit “Somebody Loves You” was released, Betty spent three years with the label before parting ways and kicking off 2018 with her indie single “Ignore Me.” Perhaps ironically, the song title summed up Betty’s experience at the label. The journey was tumultuous for Betty, to say the least: “People are always like ‘was there a moment when you wanted to quit?’ and I’m like, I still want to quit all the time. The music business is– I joke all the time with my other artist friends and people who are in it that nobody who doesn’t love music could be in the music industry because it’s like 90% horrible and 10% amazing and so if you don’t really love it, to get to that 10% is quite grueling.”
Talking about the RCA split and her decision to go back to the indie musician life, Betty explains: “There’s a lot of times that I feel like I have been working for not a lot of pay off, and I work really hard and I love what I do and I felt like for a long time I was kind of like, in my own way, kicking ass and working really hard and trying to better myself and my career, and then I felt like there were all these people around me who were… busy, and I’m a little ‘out of sight, out of mind’ when you’re signed to a record label – that’s what happens for a lot of artists. I go out on tour for a year and I come back and I’m like ‘hey I’ve been working so hard, what have you guys got for me?’ and they’re like, ‘we haven’t even thought about you since you left a year ago.’
“And it’s not really their fault, it’s not really anybody’s fault… it’s just the system’s fault, really. There were people there that I know really believed in me and wanted it to work, but it just never seemed to, and I think that’s not really on RCA, it’s more just on the fact that I don’t like being in the system of a major label because I’m too proactive. I want to get stuff done, and I want to get it done now – and when there are a bunch of people who have to sign off on stuff, it can take a month and a half to get somebody to sign off on something that I wanted to do a month and a half ago. And so, for me being able to make a decision and then act upon it because I decided to has given me so much power back – I feel really empowered. I feel really productive, and very in control. Although I have been working on my control issues (laughing) they are very present in my work for a reason, because I like things to be a certain way and I care so much about the outcome of my record. I don’t care about sales and positions and whatever, it’s not about that: it’s about I want the album to be good and right and I want my fans to get the record that I wanted to make for them, and so to have that power back has really lit a fire under my ass, and because I have this untameable power at my fingertips I’m like ‘oh my god I can’t wait to put this record out’ and I’m like chomping at the bit now to just get everything done and go out there and do it the way I’ve always wanted to do it.”
After some bonding over a shared love for One Direction (“I fucking love One Direction. Uh, I miss them all the time! Justice for, like, #restinpeace1d, Justice for Louis”) and a musical upbringing (“I started studying music when I was four and I basically never stopped”) Betty opens up some more about her artistic development since she first stepped onto the scene in 2012. “I think I just know so much more. I think I’m far more mature, obviously, and self-assured, and I think I’m really confident now and I don’t think I was ever confident when I was putting out my first stuff. I was excited and happy to be sharing but I didn’t feel like I had earned anything yet cos I was so brand new. I feel like I’ve really worked my ass off and I’m really grateful for the opportunities I’ve had and I’m also incredibly grateful and humbled for the life that I have now and that the life that I get to live is the life that I always wanted to. I don’t think any artist ever feels like they’ve ‘made it’ or they’ve ‘arrived’ but I definitely feel like this is a job and I’m a businesswoman and I have arrived at a point in my life where I know my way around, not only my own heart and mind and spirit and what I need but also around this business and I know how I wanna get there and I know who I wanna do it with and having all of that set up into place now, I think that has affected the music so. much. because I’ve been making songs that maybe I wouldn’t have put out.”
We dive into that aspect of Betty as a powerful body of work in greater detail: “I think there are definitely some songs on this record that are songs I’ve been wanting to make for a really long time,” Betty shares. “I think ‘Between You and Me’ is one of those where it’s still pop and it’s still produced enough but it’s still sort of a guitar song; I’ve always wanted to do a song like that. There’s a song on my record which feels very inspired by Britney Spears and *NSYNC and Backstreet Boys and I’ve always wanted to make a song like that where it makes me feel like I’m in a boyband because that’s all I ever wanted when I was a kid, I was legitimately mad that I wasn’t born a boy so that I could be in a boyband, I felt like all of my talent was being wasted because I wasn’t in a boyband, so now I wrote a song that every night I get to sing it like these are my boyfriend fantasies coming alive.”
“So I think there is a lot more just fulfilling what I’ve always wanted to do on this record and taking care of me, which I feel like maybe I didn’t get to do so much on the last record. I wrote the songs and I love them, but the way it all came together and when it came out and the process of making it, I definitely felt like I wasn’t allowed to make it for me, I was making it for everybody else and I really took the opportunity this time to really make the record for me and nobody else. My first album, there were sort of no expectations because it was my first album, and so that felt, very similarly, to me like I made that record for me because I didn’t know any better – and then everything got caught up and complicated and more people get involved and it just gets kind of crazy and I lost a bit of myself on that journey and it’s taken a while to sort of find her and bring that back and I think that’s the part I’m most proud of, is that essence that I think was really present on my first record which I believe is in this album. I have so much more creative freedom now that I think ‘Between You and Me’ was sort of a win for me in that way, because if I maybe had been signed to a major label, that song would never have come out because it was too different and I love that song, I’m so proud of that song; to me, it’s just another facet of what I do and the person that I am. I grew up writing songs on my guitar. I am such a singer-songwriter at heart and so I think having a song like ‘Between You and Me’ is so gratifying to me, because it fulfills that purpose in that place in my set and also in my life and my artistic venture, so it really plays that role of honoring fifteen year old me.”
Explaining that the indie route “has been the thing that works really well” for her and that she hopes “to inspire other artists to do it themselves and don’t take shit from anybody,” it’s no surprise that Betty is an advocate of indie life. She gets deeper: “if it’s your art, you’re the one whose name is on it and you’re the one who is responsible for it at the end of the day, and I think that gets taken away from artists signed to major labels a lot of the time, so that’s what I hope to inspire people to just really bet on themselves.” With that in mind, Betty recognizes the benefits of being with a major label: “I gained more fans in the time I was signed [to RCA], so regardless of my relationship with them, I don’t know if I could be where I am if I hadn’t been signed there; maybe I’d be the biggest star in the world, maybe I would have already quit by now and would be working at Forever 21. I think there are some artists who really benefit from having a team of people going ‘this is how you should dress, this is how you should look, this is the song you should sing.’” Ultimately, Betty closes with the following statement: “I can’t tell you what a major label can do for you that a booking agent and an internet connection can’t.”
Betty is the end result of those growing pains. It’s a confident, self-assured, vibrant record: it’s, quite simply, Betty.
Check out Betty’s album available now on all streaming platforms and can be purchased here: https://bettywho.lnk.to/betty. Tickets to her upcoming Spring 2019 tour can be found here.
Words: Hasan Beyaz
Photography: Jerry Maestas
Styling: Megan Kelley
Hair: Jonathan Colombini using L’Oreal Paris
Makeup: Jane Cohen using Kevyn Aucoin