If there’s one thing that Australian singer-songwriter and bona fide pop star Betty Who wants, it’s a head mic like Britney Spears. “Don’t tease; I really want one.It’s the next step.” She laughs before getting serious. “I know that I don’t look like Britney did when she was 16, and I know that I will never be Beyoncé. But I know that there are things that these girls serve you that for my entire life I’ve wanted to do.”
Since 2013, Betty Who has indeed been working to recreate some of the magic of her idols. Starting her career with the release of the flawless EP The Movement, the singer’s song “Somebody Loves You” went viral that same year after it was used in a video that saw Salt Lake City resident Spencer Stout propose to his boyfriend Dustin Reeser in a Home Depot. The video was picked up by major news organizations, as was Betty’s song, and the singer soon signed a record deal with RCA Records.
Things developed quickly from there, and by the end of 2014 Betty’s debut album Take Me When You Go was released. While that should have been the dream, things weren’t quite working out. The album was only officially released in three territories, and despite the initial excitement around the singer’s exuberant pop music, things seemed to go quiet rather quickly.
“I have been very disappointed by decisions that were made in the past by people that weren’t myself,” she tells me, recalling that time in her career. “There are a lot of people who make decisions about my career and life that I don’t think should be able to, but they do, and their word is law. So, in the most diplomatic way possible, I’m really disappointed in some people, and I continue to be. But I continue to have high hopes,” she says, before quipping: “It’s my daddy issues coming through. You keep waiting for them to turn around and say, ‘We’re really proud of you and we love you,’ and it never happens.”
In the following three years, things haven’t been easy. There have been tears, there has been anger and self-pity, and there has been strife. But above all, there has been determination, much of which has manifested itself in her new album The Valley. Released earlier this year, you wouldn’t think that this joyous, emotional and celebratory record had been born through years of struggle.
“I can’t tell you how many songs that didn’t make the album were much angrier,” she says of the collection. “But they didn’t make the album because I didn’t want them to. I can use my art for therapy for only so long, but, at the end of the day, it’s much more important to me to portray myself as an artist that brings joy to sad situations instead of manifesting them.” As she puts it to me, she’s angry at “the man in the high castle” and not at her fans. “So The Valley is the antithesis of that, but in spite of it rather than instead of it — I made the record I was most proud of despite everybody making me feel shitty about myself.” As they say, love trumps hate.
Over 13 tracks, The Valley explores this joy — from the effusive “Some Kind of Wonderful,” the poptastic “Mama Say” and the duplicitous “Human Touch” if you’re a pop fan, there’s something here for you. What’s more, Betty teamed up with writer du jour and LGBTQ activist Justin Tranter for the album’s stand out moment “Make You Memories.” “Justin is adorable,” Betty gushes. “I think he’s brilliant and it’s not just because he’s a great writer. It’s also because, genuinely, he has this energy that makes you feel like you’re awesome. I truly believe him to be one of the most wonderful people in the industry because, while he knows so much, he’s not jaded. It’s nearly impossible to come by.”
Along with working with Tranter, the singer was joined by her long-time collaborator and songwriting partner Peter Thomas, who helped create fan favorite tracks from the past like “High Society” and “All of You.” Together, they helped Betty Who begin to heal.
Part of this restorative journey, Betty says, came from letting go of the expectation of others and focusing on what was actually important to her musically. “I had to relinquish a long time ago that anyone except for myself was going to validate what I did,” she states. “But for what it’s worth, despite the strife that I’ve gone through with the music business, I have been fairly left alone to make the music that I want to make. I can’t name a single moment on the album that’s there because someone told me to put it there. I take criticisms and suggestions, but I decide if I want to listen to them.”
Likewise, there was a burning desire to return to the aspirations of her childhood: her dreams of becoming a fully-fledged fucking pop star. Which is how we find ourselves talking about Britney Spears and her legendary head mic. “I made an indie-pop record for my first album because I thought it was cool, but now I don’t give a fuck,” she says, before jokingly adding, “I want to do exactly what I’ve always wanted to do, which is to make anything as good as the Britney self-titled third record. What an album. I want that Live in Las Vegas HBO special with the water and the see-through cowboy hat.”
Watching Betty Who perform live, it’s clear that she’s living up to her fantasy. Flanked by four shirtless male dancers, she is serving you what she calls “pop realness,” something we both agree is distinctly lacking in today’s market of alt-RB and bore-worthy guitar wielding singer-songwriters.
Just before we part, Betty lets me know that while she’s leveled her own expectations, she is actually happy. “There are so many factors into making something successful, and I know that I work hard enough to be there. But there are also many other factors that go into it that are out of my control. So, if those aren’t lining up for me…” she pauses. “I’ve had to become at peace with the fact that maybe they won’t. But for now, I’m happy that I got to make the music that I wanted to make, regardless of support or affection.”
She pauses again, and then laughs: “You can totally hear my daddy issues coming out again.”
Betty Who’s album The Valley is available now. The singer will be playing at various Pride events across the United States this summer.