If you’ve ever danced ’til you sweat through your shirt while simultaneously feeling like you want to jump for joy and bawl your eyes out, that’s what Betty Who calls “crying on the dance floor” and it’s the brand of uplifting, feels-inducing dance pop the Australian-born singer-songwriter is known for. Like dance queens Robyn and Katy Perry before her, Betty Who writes the kind of high-energy anthems that punctuate some of life’s sweetest memories—like the Home Depot marriage proposal video set to her song “Somebody Loves You” that went viral—and that’s just how she likes it. “I want to be a part of people’s celebratory lives,” she told FLARE.
We chatted with Betty Who, 25, about how it feels to finally release her sophomore album The Valley, out Mar. 24 (her first, Take Me When You Go, dropped in 2014—lightyears ago in the music industry), how she stays politically engaged, and why she has the best fans in the world.
The Valley is your first full-length album since 2014. Would you say it was a labour of love?
More than a labour of love! It’s like you’re having a baby only I was pregnant for two years instead of nine months. It’s like you love it so much but then you’re like “Get away from me, I’ve been with you for too long.” I want it to be out so I can stop obsessing over it. While it’s not out, I still have time to be like, Wait, did I do that wrong? Or Should I have changed that? And the second it’s released, that pressure and space to overthink everything gets taken away from you, which I think is really good for me sometimes.
So is there a sense of liberation?
Oh, yeah! At least when it’s out, it feels like it’s its own entity existing in the world separate from me. But before it’s out, it’s my responsibility to take care of it and make sure it’s perfect. You can never make anything perfect and so it’s a mind game for sure.
Do you ever try to keep those feelings of obsessing over it in check prior to its release?
You kind of have to let yourself obsess over it because if you don’t, you’ll be on the other end of it thinking you didn’t spend enough time on it. This way, even if I hate all the songs in 10 years, I’ll still know that I had made the right choice for myself at the time and that’s all you can really hope for.
How would you say you’ve evolved since your first album Take Me When You Go?
I’m a completely different person. I wrote half the songs on Take Me When You Go when I was 19. It’s been a long journey and that record was an accumulation of that part of my life. Getting to start from scratch is so different, and much more challenging, but in a much more rewarding way. If you think about how you were five, six years ago, you’re like Oh, my god, I don’t even know who I was then. Even if nothing’s different, you feel so different. You hear that on this record—that I’ve grown up a lot because I was a baby when the first record came out and now I’m turning 26… oh, my god, I feel like I’m f-cking old already!
So you’re almost over the 25 mark. How do you feel about 30 approaching?
It still feels far away at this point but I’m trying to handle [getting older] with grace. Most of the time I’m really enjoying being older because I think that I know so much more. Saying that, I still know nothing about anything ever but I think I’m so much more self-aware and that’s informed the rest of my life in a really impactful and important way. I’m trying to take everything that’s happened in the last couple of years and be really grateful. Nothing went the way that anybody expected it to and dealing with that, especially in a professional sense where also I am a brand, and also dealing with when you’re a young woman, is quite challenging. Considering how much more f-cked up I could be, I think I’ve done okay to get where I am now!
I can’t stop watching your “Some Kind of Wonderful” video. I didn’t know a laundromat could be that fun.
Neither did we until we did it. Isn’t it the cutest thing? Isn’t that guy so hot?
Yes! And it really reminded me of why dance-y, fun pop can be so uplifting. How much fun is it for you creating that kind of music?
It’s so strange because sometimes I’ll leave a session and I’ll be so, so thrilled after I wrote this an edgy, intimate ballad. But then I’ll listen to it back a week later and go This is important to me but I don’t know if I want to do it a lot. It makes me so happy to listen back to a song that’s as buck-wild as “Some Kind of Wonderful” is and be like, I can’t wait to play this live! I can’t wait for people to say “I pre-gamed to this!” I still have songs on the album that are going to be a part of the sad or more reflective part of a person’s life but my favourite parts to be included in musically are life’s celebrations.
Even a song like “Human Touch” which is a bit more complex still has a catchiness that makes you want to listen it on repeat. How challenging can it be in the songwriting process to strike that balance?
In the writing room, it’s easier than you think because you feel it immediately. You feel pretty immediately when you’re doing something and it’s like, Is that lyric too sad? Yeah, it’s too sad. And then you just move on. But I do think there is such a thing as crying on the dance floor and that’s my favourite genre of music, like Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own” and “Call Your Girlfriend.” Are you kidding me? Those are the most epic songs of all time! I was also more confident on this album and a little less sad. So I have breakup songs but they’re that: they’re breakup songs. I have love songs and they’re that: they’re love songs. I think everything is a little bit more decidedly this emotion or that emotion and less in the middle of not quite knowing what I want or who I am.
I saw from your social media that you marched in the Women’s March on Washington in January. What was that experience like?
It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done in my entire life and I have done a lot of cool things. Hands down, this was really important. I was with my two godmothers and my mom, who are all from different generations. One of my godmothers is 67, my mom is 59 and my other godmother is in her late forties. So it was the three of them, plus me and a bunch of my girlfriends. My oldest godmother protested this in the sixties! She was a full-on hippie, burning her bra, dating a Black Panther and I had so many fabulous conversations with her about how everything and nothing has changed and how interesting that is. It was just so wonderful. Also my hands were cramping because I knitted four pussy hats. It was so cool but also I’m never knitting again [laughs].
Is knitting a hobby of yours?
I am a very casual knitter. I don’t get that crazy but I knit a mean circle scarf.
Do you find it relaxing?
Yeah, it’s one of those mindless things that takes over your motor skills and you can tune out and just be. To me, that’s so important because I get a little crazy in my head and then all of a sudden I’m completely losing my mind. There’s something therapeutic about knitting.
It seems that young women are more politically engaged than every before. Do you see that in your young fans?
I do. Social media has completely changed the way that we communicate with each other and the way that we get information out. It’s really interesting to see how communities have even been segregated on social media. You think about it as being this platform where you see everything from everybody but you mostly just see things from people that you follow and the people that they follow. And most of the time, you only follow people who are in the same headspace or the same lifestyle as you. In my lifetime, this is certainly the most politically active young people have been because there’s a need to be and there’s something to stand up for but I don’t think we’ve figured out yet who is fighting what and who’s talking to who. It feels like there are so many people all talking about the same thing and then you get into the depths of the Internet and realize there are just as many people saying the opposite. We’re in a really divided time in our country and I’m not sure if social media is helping that.
Going forward, how are you trying to stay engaged?
I am lucky enough to have a relatively small but engaged platform so I can communicate stuff that I believe in to a group of people who, most of the time, share my beliefs. I have the best fans in the world—they’re open-minded, lovely and wonderful. I get to play shows for and be on stage with people who just want to love who they want to love and be who they want to be and I feel that so intensely and it represents itself so sincerely at my shows. I play a lot of pride festivals and events like that and people come together to just be themselves a lot when I’m around. I’m lucky that my friends are all amazing and share the belief I do, which is that we should all just be people.
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