She’s larger than life, vivacious, shameless and proud. Elle Magazine labeled her the next big pop obsession back in April. She’s got dance moves, loves Beyoncé, and T-Swift, and wants her fans to dance…and she’s now supporting Katy Perry on the Australian leg of her Prismatic Tour. But pop-haters, don’t let that put you off.
Standing 6ft tall, Betty Who (Jessica Newham to her parents) is a classically trained Cellist. Not stopping there, she’s also a talented pianist and guitarist. Playing since the age of 4, she started studying at Berklee College of Music in Boston straight out of high school. It was here she met fellow classmate Peter Thomas who is now her producer and collaborator. It was his early influence that led her in a very different direction. The cello was set aside and in its place emerged 80s style electro-pop. A juicy mixture of energy, passion, some seriously cool rhythms and some deeply honest lyrics makes Betty Who stand out as ‘pop to watch’.
In September of 2013, a marriage proposal was uploaded to YouTube, complete with its own flash mob. This video featured Who’s ‘Somebody Loves You’ from her four track EP, The Movement. 12 million views later, Betty Who suddenly became hot property.
So far she’s been compared to a young Madonna, with critics suggesting that her music is ‘Whitney inspired’. With comparisons to some of the world’s greatest pop divas, and labels such as ‘the next pop obsession,’ and ‘new and exciting’, it seems that Betty Who has it all happening. But for all her carefree ways and I-don’t-give-a-shit-what-you-think attitude, she is concerned that those labels are pre-emptive of peaking too soon. ‘It’s the scariest thing in the world to know that people have an opinion about you’, she says, ‘but I’ve made something I love and I hope that people get it’.
The EP Slow Dancing made with her new label, RCA Records, made it to number one on the iTunes pop music charts. Taylor Swift, eat your heart out. Her first full album released in October, Take Me When You Go, has had the underground fan support that few up and coming artists are privileged to have. She’s written all the songs herself, with input from just two other people. Carefully staying away from trending production gurus and gimmicks.
Betty Who packs a punch, and does her own thing. ‘I would never give up an experience just because you thought it was the wrong thing to do. I’m having the best time ever.’ Whilst on a night out she takes great pleasure in embarrassing her friends, Who’s primary ambition as an artist is to get people to dance. ‘Dance to me is the most important, beautiful thing you can do…it’s something everybody can do and it doesn’t matter if you’re shit at it’.
Now solely based in the US, Who is loving being back in Oz. Whilst she’s feeling nostalgic for the cold winters back in New York, she’d forgotten how much she missed Baked Beans. ‘It’s not something people do [in America]. Having breakfast be mushrooms, tomatoes, spinach, hash browns, eggs and baked beans, it’s like, this is what I’ve been needing in my life!’
Australia is bringing some surprises for this talented young woman. Conscious of the fact that there’s probably no one at a Katy Perry concert who has ever heard of her, she’s been elated to see at least one person in the crowd at each show so far singing along to her own personal anthem. ‘That song is my fucking soul and spirit,” she says of ‘Somebody Loves You’. Sneaking in her own headline show in Sydney on Thursday night, Who has in fact taken it for granted walking in to her own shows and having people love her. Having to earn the crowd as Katy Perry’s supporting act, she’s been reminded to embrace that love, and importantly, her fans. She hasn’t forgotten, after all, that it was technically a fan who launched her career. Whilst having the fan base before the record contract is not completely unusual in this day and age, they alone are not enough to sustain a career. That, Betty Who will be able to do all on her own.
If you’re seeing Katy Perry whilst she’s in Oz, do yourself a favour and make sure you get there in time to treat yourself to the energetic, move-busting, life-loving, 6ft, high-heel-wearing, multi-instrumentalist, take-no-shit-from-anyone BETTY WHO!
Title image: Molly Cranna
Image: Ainslie Daniels.