Back in 2013, Betty Who landed herself on multiple radars as pop’s new it-girl and a significant ally within the LGBTQ community. Her stellar debut, Take Me When You Go, landed the approval of Troye Sivan, leading to the duo releasing their Heaven video the day before Trump’s inauguration ceremony, celebrating how far queer activism has come and how far it’s still got to go.
Returning with new single Some Kinda Wonderful and new album The Valley on the horizon, Betty Who explains the significance of her Troye collaboration, her relationship with the LGBTQ community and the difficulty of a second album.
It’s been two years since your first record – Take Me When You Go – so what have you been up to these past 24 months?
Oh my God, who knows?! I’ve just been making this record for the last two years which had a little bit of a slow start but it’s consumed by entire world. All of my girlfriends, my parents, my boyfriend, and his friends, everybody around me collectively agree that 2016 was the fucking worst. I’m now kinda pleased that it’s taken me this long to get my shit together because now the record isn’t coming out in the worst year of everybody’s lives… [laughs] Everyone I know has a great start to this year though, so I’m feeling that this is a good calming evolution that I can sit here and say “great! I have a new energy with this year” which I can bring with the record. I’m now just itching to get it out there!
Second albums are often labelled as the ‘difficult’ record to make – how has it been for you?
Difficult would be an understatement. A turning point for this record was being at a party in L.A and I ran into Mark Foster [of Foster The People fame]. Their first record has been really inspirational for me and inspired me throughout my college years so running into him and thinking “this is so cool” was amazing. I told him I was writing my second album and he just went, “Oh, is it totally ruining your life?” which it totally was [laughs]. He said second albums are the hardest to do but know that you’re not alone, basically. Hearing that from someone I admire and I respect helped so much. I’m now just so happy with how the record sounds and since touring is my favourite part of what I do, I’m so glad that I’m finally putting the record out.
You teased the second record with a cover of Donna Lewis’ I Love You Always Forever – why that song? How significant is the track to your own inspiration?
That song was almost injected into the brains of those my age when we were younger. I remember hearing it in every movie, on every radio show in the car. I had a moment where it came on after I’d forgotten about it and just had a “holy… shit…” moment. I texted my producer instantly telling him to prepare himself to record a cover of it [laughs] and since I play a load of pride festivals each summer, it was good to have out before the album. I’d been playing the record so much and most people at my shows have seen me live before so I wasn’t wanted to do the same shit over and over again for thee audiences so a new song in the summer worked well. It ended up going number one on Australian air play charts which was very cool.
The video for I Love You Always Forever is centred around same sex relationships – how did the concept come about?
I wanted to do a video where a bunch of people and myself, who all look really different, are all represented as being the same. We’re all wearing the same thing, we’re all in the same bed, the representation of love as romantic as well as a statement about love. You can love anybody forever, like my mother which is how the song resonates with me so I wanted to simple represent love for what it is. It doesn’t have to be sexual or overt but inquisitive and timid. I wanted to put two boys in a bed and simply have it represent it as what it is, not kissing or touching but simply together. Maybe that will resonate with a 13 year old boy who’ll watch the video and think, “that’s not scary, it’s totally normal.” I think people are closed off from what they don’t know so if it can be represented in a way that’s really beautiful and not intimated, maybe it will give someone the opportunity to want to explore or resonate with that.
That links nicely to the fact you’re had the LGBTQ ally tag right from the starting point of your career, how important is that tag to you through the entire creative process for you?
I never do anything with the purpose of targeting anything specifically, not like “this one is for that gays!” [laughs] I try not to box myself into writing a song for anyone except myself. I never went into this career deciding that I was going to play a bunch of prides and that was how I was gonna break. I did go into this album having my experience and relationship with the LGBTQ community though. My first ever New York show sold out and it turned out that my dad was the only straight man in the room. 75 gay men, 4 straight girls who were all my best friends then my dad and my mum. Ever since then, my shows have been with large LGBTQ audiences which has allowed me to be myself and let others be themselves with me. Sure, in the back of my head I know that my band will take their shirts off half way through the show because, one, I wanna watch it [laughs] and, two, the boys in the crowd will love it. I do what I like and I hope that the people who come to my shows do too.
The video for your collaboration with Troye Sivan – Heaven – dropped the day before the inauguration ceremony, paying homage to LGBTQ movements and same sex relationships, arguable well-timed given what was to happen the day after. How important would you consider it for musicians to be overtly political nowadays?
That song is far more important to me than anything I have ever done in my career and probably more important than anything I will ever do. I am so in awe of his honesty with that song and so honoured to be asked to be a part of it. Every time I sing it with him, the energy of the young people in the crowd watching a person they look up to more than anybody else, it’s just so moving. My dad always used to tell me when I was growing up that you’ll only ever make 90% of people happy, so you can be content with that 90 or spend your life being angry that the other 10 don’t like what you’re doing. When you’re political, that 10 seems to grow to about 40 so I’m really proud of Troye for starting up and stating that this is an important song and I don’t care what you think of me. The other 60 are going to listen to Heaven and it could change their life, a complete turning point. I have a Joni Mitchell song that is that important to me and Troye is going to be important to so many people.
…and which Joni Mitchell song would that be?
A Case Of You. As a young songwriter, you listen to someone like Joni Mitchell and realise they’re some of the best lyrics in the entire world and I think it’s shaped the entire way I look at love. Troye is now doing that for so many young people.
Going back to the topic of Troye, how easy do you find the art of collaborating with other artists?
I’m still learning how to write for other people since I’ve spent so long just writing for myself. I feel like I’m still learning how to collaborate as I do get very in control if others are in a studio with me. I get self-conscious when writing for other people as I just want them to be happy [laughs] but in general, I never want anyone to walk away from a song we’ve done knowing they don’t like it but I do.
Some Kinda Wonderful is the new single and arguably the most upbeat song I’ve heard in an age. What can we expect from you moving forward to album two?
[laughs] Oh yeah! My entire mind-set behind this record, especially Some Kinda Wonderful, centres on touring as I want to be onstage always. It was about writing a record to support me giving the best live show I can so when I wrote Some Kinda Wonderful, I was telling myself “I want confetti canons, I wanna dance, and I wanna go wild.” A party, essentially. It’s much more dance-y and I’ve now got choreography for the live shows so I’m going all out… Some Kinda Wonderful is the prime example of that.
How would you summarise the new record in a sentence for us?
Ooh… hang on, I wanna get it right… It was the biggest challenge of my life to date but the most fun I’ve ever had.
Some Kinda Wonderful is out now.