Betty Who Creates 'A Space That People Feel Joy In' With Independent Debut

Jul 12, 2019
Originally published on July 12, 2019 7:00 pm

In 2013, a video of a marriage proposal set to Betty Who's "Somebody Loves You" went viral on YouTube. The video shows a colorfully clad group perform a coordinated, joyful dance to the pop song in the middle of a Home Depot in Salt Lake City. According to Betty Who, the Home Depot performance is one of a number of proposals and wedding dances with the same soundtrack.

"People love to dance and cry at the same time," the Australian singer reflects on "Somebody Loves You," which was her breakout single. She says she actually wrote the song "ironically enough" as a break-up track — but the way that it's been taken up as a celebratory anthem is fitting, too. At the end of the day, whether the crying-and-dancing comes from the ecstasy of a proposal or the sadness of a break-up, Betty Who hopes to create fun for all through her music.

YouTube

Now, the 27-year-old artist has released her third studio album, Betty. A lot has changed for Betty Who since that viral break-out moment — namely the artist's label ties. She produced this album independently, making it her first without the backing of a major label. But the musician still strives to give her fans opportunities for joy.

Betty Who spoke with NPR's Ari Shapiro about having and sharing fun onstage, the benefits of working independently, and how she models uncompromising self-confidence. Read on for interview highlights, including some that weren't aired.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Interview Highlights

On fostering joy through music

I want to be 80 and look back on the music I've made my whole life and know that I did everything that I could to make people really happy. That's what I really wanna do. You know, if you have a purpose on this planet, my purpose is — I wanna provide a space that people feel joy in, people feel safe enough, also, to cry in, and to be themselves in. But the number one compliment anybody could give me is they're having a bad day, and they listen to my song and it makes them feel better.

I think [that occurred to me], actually, after I'd been doing it by accident for a couple years. 'Cause I wrote "Somebody Loves You"; I put an EP out that was really poppy and really fun. And I'm smiley and happy and warm and that's also my personality, and I think that came out in the music.

You know, a lot of people walk down the aisle to "Somebody Loves You." They tell me all the time. I want to be the song that's played at weddings. I don't think I want to have the song that's played at funerals. Unless it's, like, a really fun funeral.

On hearing artistic independence on Betty

I hear it in "The One." "The One," for me, is a song that I was always wanting to make. It is very Britney- and 'N Sync-esque. You know, Britney Spears Live on HBO at Las Vegas is, like, one of my favorite shows of all time. I watch it on DVD all the time. I collect tour DVDs. The Beyoncé "I Am..." Live Tour is one of my favorites. When Homecoming came out, I was just, like, drooling. I love watching other, particularly female, awesome performers perform.

I wanted to feel like Britney Spears every night, and so I wrote this song. And I think if I had been signed to a label, this song may have either not come out or it would have been totally misunderstood for something else than me being like, "I'm a 27-year-old who is literally living 10-year-old me's actual dream." Like, if 10-year-old me had a dream, it's this. It was to be Britney Spears. And I'm an adult now, and I'm an independent artist, and nobody can tell me what to do. So I'm gonna make a song that I get to, every night, feel like I'm in 'N Sync.

Music is supposed to be fun, and I spent so many years not having fun doing it because so many people put too much pressure on it. And I really am just trying to make, first off, myself happy. - Betty Who

To me, it's so indicative of the fact that now, I get to just make choices. Because it's supposed to be fun. Music is supposed to be fun, and I spent so many years not having fun doing it because so many people put too much pressure on it. And I really am just trying to make, first off, myself happy. But also other people. I just want it to be fun and easy. And I work harder than anybody I know — and I'm cool with that. So if that's gonna be my life forever, when it's good, it should be really good. And I think that's what I hear on the record. When it's good, I'm having so much fun.

On "tall queens" and contagious confidence

I think there's a lot to be said about, honestly, not caring as much. I forget that I'm huge. I'm a very dominating, large person. I'm 6'2". And I'm proportional to that — I'm not, like, some 6'2" girl who also weighs 90 pounds soaking wet. I am strong, I'm thick, I'm built. As my future mother-in-law likes to say, "Good German stock."

When I see other women watch me or come to me — especially a lot of tall girls who've been coming out of the woodwork, and come to the show — I'm like, "I love my tall queens." Because we don't have representation, really, in the same way. I mean, Taylor Swift is 5'10", but also, she's tiny. I start to see these women who come out, and they watch me, and I see them — I see it, I've seen it happen before — they watch me dance, and I see them in their body, trying to find the place of looseness and just kind of letting stuff go, so that they can enjoy themselves. It's not about looking good. It's about having fun. Sometimes I look crazy when I dance; sometimes I look awesome when I dance. Either way, I'm still having the same amount of fun.

Rosalind Faulkner contributed to the digital version of this story.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The pop artist Betty Who got a big boost early in her career. In 2013, her single, "Somebody Loves You," was the soundtrack to a marriage proposal.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOMEBODY LOVES YOU")

BETTY WHO: (Singing) Who's around when the days feel long?

SHAPIRO: The video of the engagement checked every box. It had choreography, grandparents, tears and, as of now, more than 14 million views on YouTube. When Betty Who visited our studio the other day to talk about her latest album, she told me this was not an obvious song to launch a life of wedded bliss.

BETTY WHO: "Somebody Loves You," ironically enough, was actually a breakup song when I wrote it because I was kind of seeing this person who, they were like, I'm not ready to be loved. And I was like, that seems like an ish-you (ph), not an ish-me (ph), and, like, I have lots of love to give. And, like, I'm sending it your way, babe. And, like, if you're not down, like, I don't know why I'm still here, really. And then, of course, the video happened.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: And I would be honored if you would be by my side for the rest of life.

BETTY WHO: That video's so moving.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Will you marry me?

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

BETTY WHO: To see these two boys - in a Home Depot, which is the most random, but also so funny. But their entire families are there. They have people on Facetime, on iPads as they're all coming in. And it's really - I have goose - I could cry right now (laughter).

If you have, like, a purpose on this planet - my purpose is I want to provide a space that people feel joy in, people feel safe enough, also, to cry in and to be themselves in. But, like, the No. 1 compliment anybody can give me is, they're having a bad day, and they listen to my song and it makes me feel better.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOMEBODY LOVES YOU")

BETTY WHO: (Singing) Somebody misses you when you're away. They want to wake up with you every day. Somebody wants to hear you say, ooh, somebody loves you.

SHAPIRO: Let's talk about your latest album, "Betty."

BETTY WHO: Sure.

SHAPIRO: Your third album.

BETTY WHO: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: The first one that you released independently without a major label behind you.

BETTY WHO: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: Do you think we can hear that in the music, or is that just bureaucratic, behind-the-scenes?

BETTY WHO: I can. I can totally hear it.

SHAPIRO: Where do you hear it?

BETTY WHO: I hear it in "The One."

(SOUNDBITE OF BETTY WHO SONG, "THE ONE")

BETTY WHO: "The One," for me, is a song that I was always wanting to make. It is very Britney and 'N Sync-esque. I wanted to feel like Britney Spears every night. That's why I wrote the song. And I think if I had been signed to a label, this song would have either not come out, or it would have been totally misunderstood for something else than me being, like, I'm a 27-year-old who is literally living 10-year-old me's actual dream. Ten-year-old me had a dream, and it's this.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

BETTY WHO: And it was to be Britney Spears. And I'm an adult now, and I'm an independent artist, and nobody can tell me what to do. So I'm going to make a song that I get to, every night, I feel like I'm in 'N Sync.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE ONE")

BETTY WHO: (Singing) If I'm not the one, good luck finding something better. Give you all my love. Are you crazy? Boy, you'd better recognize.

SHAPIRO: You recently did a Tiny Desk Concert at NPR - when an artist shows up and does a few songs usually kind of unplugged.

BETTY WHO: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: And you performed one of your new singles, "Taste." First let's listen to what it sounds like on the album.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TASTE")

BETTY WHO: (Singing) You know, the worse they are, the better they taste. All my cravings come at me. This ain't love. It's sacrifice.

SHAPIRO: And now let's listen to how it sounded at the Tiny Desk.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

BETTY WHO: (Singing) You know, the worse they are, the better they'll be. All my cravings come and...

SHAPIRO: What listeners can't see is that you are accompanying yourself on the cello here.

BETTY WHO: I am.

SHAPIRO: And this was the first time you'd ever done that publicly?

BETTY WHO: Yeah. I was so - that's why I did it first. I was really nervous. You know, I play guitar and piano all the time, but I've never played cello publicly.

SHAPIRO: But that was your first instrument. That's what you grew up playing.

BETTY WHO: I know. It really...

SHAPIRO: You weren't just taking lessons. Like, you went to the Interlochen Arts Academy. You've studied at the Berklee School of Music. You were really serious about it.

BETTY WHO: Yeah. I really played.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

SHAPIRO: Why did you hold off? Why did you wait until now?

BETTY WHO: Because I had a very specific vision of the kind of artist that I want to be. And I didn't want to be the girl who sang and played cello because that girl felt so far away from the girl that, like, gets up and, like, dances and kills, like, this huge pop show. And I wanted to dance. I wanted to establish myself as a performer first because I think so much of my life had been taken over playing cello, and all I wanted to do is sing.

SHAPIRO: So do you think it's a sign of the point you've reached as an artist, your maturity as a singer-songwriter-performer, that you're now integrating these two versions of yourself?

BETTY WHO: I think so. I always knew I wanted to do it. And I'm very, very proud of how far I've come.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

BETTY WHO: (Singing) Better they taste.

SHAPIRO: Tell me about the song "All This Woman."

BETTY WHO: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

BETTY WHO: Yes, happily. I love this song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL THIS WOMAN")

BETTY WHO: (Singing) I think I need attention. I think I need your touch. Don't have to say a word 'cause you know what I'm thinking of.

I feel inspired by artists who make me feel certain ways, right? So, like, when I listen to a really sexy Beyonce song or when I watch her live, and she goes, like, are you flawless? I'm like, yes, Beyonce. Like, there's a tear just rolling down my face. I'm like, I am flawless.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

BETTY WHO: And so I really especially - like, I think women can especially make other women feel that way. And so "All This Woman" is basically about, like, my level of confidence is pretty high, and I have - we have a joke with my friends where so many girls, like, if a guy's playing hard to get, they're like, oh, my God. I have to have him. If a guy plays hard to get with me or anybody plays hard to get with me, I'm immediately, like, so out. I'm like, no. If you don't - if you're not obsessed with me, I don't have the time for this. (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL THIS WOMAN")

BETTY WHO: (Singing) Hope you're ready for all this woman, all this woman. Boy, you're mad if you've got all this woman and don't want every inch of all this woman.

SHAPIRO: OK. We started talking about a marriage proposal.

BETTY WHO: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: And you have a track on this album called "Marry Me."

BETTY WHO: I do. I love that song.

SHAPIRO: So are you trying to fill a niche here?

BETTY WHO: Send a message? (Laughter).

SHAPIRO: Yeah. I mean...

BETTY WHO: Me, like writes, "Marry Me," and sends it to my fiance?

SHAPIRO: No, no, no. I mean, like, use my music at your wedding? Use my music for your proposal?

BETTY WHO: Oh, my God. Are you kidding? I was, like, the amount of gay weddings, I want videos. Like, people, hit me up. Like, I need to see this.

SHAPIRO: And straight ones, too, I would imagine, now that you're getting more popular.

BETTY WHO: Totally.

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

BETTY WHO: Yes.

SHAPIRO: Straight people can also get married.

BETTY WHO: They can. You know? I've heard.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

BETTY WHO: I've heard it's legal.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MARRY ME")

BETTY WHO: (Singing) You and me and this feeling. Do you want to take it all the way? Yeah, yeah, yeah.

It's funny. I got engaged then lost, like, all of the interest in being married. So now I've been engaged for, like, three years.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

BETTY WHO: I'm a little busy so I kind of - I'm just like, we'll get married whenever. It's not about that. But I was so in love, and I was so excited about, like, the prospect of the fact that I found the person that I even wanted to spend the rest of my life with. That was so - it happened so much earlier than I expected it to. I thought I was going be, like, a clean 33. I thought I was going to hustle. Like, by choice. Do you know what I mean? I thought I was going to, like, take my 20s and work my butt off. And it wasn't even on my mind. Which is, of course, how it happens. I know. So yeah, you best believe that when I wrote the song, of course, I sent it to my man (laughter). And I was like, just a cute little hint here and there.

SHAPIRO: This was before you were engaged?

BETTY WHO: Before I was engaged. Yeah, sent it over. He was like, OK. (Laughter).

SHAPIRO: Subtle.

BETTY WHO: I get it now.

SHAPIRO: Really subtle.

BETTY WHO: Yeah. I hear you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MARRY ME")

BETTY WHO: (Singing) You think that we're meant to be. So I'm like, do you want to marry me?

SHAPIRO: Betty Who, thank you so much.

BETTY WHO: We could just do this all day. Thank you.

SHAPIRO: I'd love to.

BETTY WHO: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: The latest album is called "Betty."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MARRY ME")

BETTY WHO: (Singing) Know you want to marry me. I get tired. I get crazy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.