You’re in Love (With Betty Who): The PopMatters Interview

[17 June 2014]

By Jose Solis

It’s impossible to listen to Betty Who’s “Somebody Loves You” and not want to drop on your knees and propose to someone.

OK, maybe that’s taking it too far, but unless you’ve been living under a rock you know that at some point last year (September to be more precise) the internet gave us one of those viral videos that actually restore our faith in humanity as we saw an unabashed romantic by the name of Spencer propose to his boyfriend Dustin through a choreographed mob dance that more often than not made us wish West Side Story could’ve unfolded differently. Betty Who’s upbeat anthem to optimism and love was the perfect song for such a moment, because in more than one way it helped convey everything that’s so terrific about her music: that sense of almost careless joy that makes her the perfect midpoint in between the devastating beats of Robyn and the faux-erudite-ness of Lady Gaga.

Betty, who came up with her stage name after writing a song about this character, seems to be devoted to bringing happiness to the airwaves, something that’s both awesome and scary. There just has to be something behind this peppiness and constant hopefulness, right? Even when she sings of living in a “heartbreak dream” she emphasizes the dream part, as if to suggest that everything will be alright once she’s awake. Talking to her, Betty Who seems to be exactly like her songs; too sincere to be manufactured and too smart to be endlessly naive. What you get out of a conversation with her is a happy bug, listening to her opinions on her career and the industry you can’t help but hope she’ll be around for a very long time. The world certainly needs more romantics. 

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Every article mentions you as “the next big thing”. Have you found that to be unnecessary pressure or just take it as a compliment?

It’s definitely a compliment! I have moments where I’m like “what if I’m not a big deal and everyone is just confused?” I’m waiting for someone to find out that I’m lying [laughs]. But in all honesty it feels great so far, because I’ve always wanted people to praise me for being good at doing what I love to do.

You’re a classically trained musician, at what point did you decide to pursue a career in pop music instead of dedicating yourself to cello?

I was studying cello until I was 18, all throughout the time when I was in school the cello was my instrument. But then I figured out that this was not what I wanted to be doing! I had this great cello teacher who didn’t try to convince me to keep doing it, but instead told me to pursue my passion. This teacher taught me how to play and sing at the same time and allowed me to incorporate what I wanted to do into my education.

Your lyrics make you sound like you put yourself in very vulnerable places in romance, like you allow yourself to give everything for something that might just be worth it. Is this something that happens to you in real life or do you approach your songs from the points of view of characters?

Oh my songs are definitely autobiographical [laughs]. They’re either about me or about an experience I saw someone else go through. I want my songs to make people go “Hey she’s talking about me!” or “Oh my gosh that happened to me!” I want to make songs about me but I hope that people can relate to them.

I love “High Society” and was delighted when I found out it had been slightly inspired by Gossip Girl. Can you share that story with us?

Yeah! When I was writing my producer said he wanted to make a song about “high society,” about being in a basement in your parents house and dreaming of drinking chardonnay and going to balls.  So it was funny that we wanted to talk about was pretty much what happened in the last episode of the show where Dan Humphrey is revealed as Gossip Girl and he delivers this monologue about the opulence of the Upper East Side, which is meant to show how shallow this world is, but I couldn’t help thinking “how fabulous would that be?”, imagining I could have this Brooklyn loft while I was also going to a debutante ball.

What other pop culture references have inspired songs you’ve released so far?

That’s a tough one. [silence] I guess it’s easier for me to say what other artists have influenced me sonically, I have references to songs where “Justin and JC sang” for example, and those were the things that informed my music.

You’ve listed Carole King as one of your influences, have you seen Beautiful on Broadway yet?

I haven’t seen it! Is it good?

It is so good, you must catch it when you’re in New York ...

Can’t wait!

As you become more famous, do you think your songs will change from aspirational dance songs to more self-conscious “fame is weird” tunes a la Lady Gaga?

I don’t know to be honest, because that’s something that hasn’t happened to me yet. But from where I stand, the songs to me that are like “I’ve seen the whole world, etc” ... the number of people that can relate to that is so slim! I want to write songs that are true to me, but open so that anyone can feel me. I don’t want to exclude people, and besides all those “oh I’m so famous and it’s so hard” songs are bullshit.

You’ll be joining Katy Perry in Australia during her “Prismatic Tour”. How’s that for a homecoming?

I haven’t been back to Australia in a couple of years, so it’s all very exciting in a good way. In the best way possible actually!

You’ve also been very vocal about your love for other female artists during a time in which the media constantly tries to pitch women against each other. How do you stay above that?

I don’t think there’s a very famous pop star that I don’t like, I think of them all as sisters, as people to look up to. I believe there’s room for everybody if you’re different enough. If you’re not copying there is room for you. So far the people I’ve met have been great teachers, and I feel lucky to have strong, powerful, opinionated women in my life, it really has made all the difference.

You will be headlining the Pride Parade in New York City, which is a pretty big deal! Are you excited about that?

It is so awesome, I’m super excited, because I’ve been on tour for so long ... that more than anything I’m just so ecstatic to come home—because I live in New York—and have all my friends come out, to what is really the happiest event of the year!

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