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EMPT Exclusive: Interview with Betty Who

Betty Who is someone you cannot help but be captivated by. Upon walking in to a café just next door to her looming sound check, I spotted her and her team sitting in a little table in the back, her signature blonde pompadour a giveaway from across the room. Although busy with finishing her first album in LA, she was able to make some time during her brief stint in the UK for her first London show to answer some questions on her music, while providing insight on her upcoming UK release of her EP, World’s Apart.

You have put out two EPs at this point and noted you don’t want “filler songs” — do you plan to release what would be considered a full album or continue with shorter format albums?

I am making an album right now. I am finishing up writing and recording all of it right now in LA and will go back on Thursday and continue doing that for a week until I go on tour again. I have been writing it for four months, it is kind of like a compilation of what I have come to write and create in the last three years. Four songs from the EP and more all new materials will be on it. We are looking to release this sometime in September/October.

How would you measure success as a musician? At this point you already have two EPs. What would be the point where you will say, ‘this is it!’?

I think that will be the moment I hear myself on the radio. Because I get a lot of internet radio play, but I am now working on being on the actual radio so that will probably be that moment for me.

And how would you celebrate that?

Probably with a huge bottle of champagne. And I would want my friends to be there. I think the worst way to hear your song on the radio would be in your car by yourself. I am hoping that it will be when I am with people that I love.

And have champagne on the ready.

And have champagne prepared for that moment.

Preferably shaken and ready to go ‘Nascar winner style’.

Absolutely. Just pop it.

You have a long tour coming up in venues ranging from intimate stages, festivals, and pride parades. Do you have a preference as a performer on the venue?

I like playing in venues that you are able to stand in. I am playing a couple venues that have seats in them and it will be interesting to see how that translates as that is not really my style. But it might be awesome. I’m very much excited to play [somewhere like] the pride parades. They are going to be amazing. Playing where people are coming together to celebrate self-love and a cause you believe in, it’s going to be very cool to be a part of.

Many of your songs focus on love or heartbreak, why do you find these topics most inspiring? What other personal experiences do you pull from when writing?

I not only take experiences from my own heartbreak but I also think about what has happened to my friends and what has happened in relationships with them. I was writing a song about one of my best friends and he had broken up with his girlfriend. I wrote about him thinking about her all the time, but not wanting to be with her, but now it’s in this kind of awkward part where he really wants to talk to her, they don’t know how to be friends. And never will be. So it’s more like, how do you come out of a relationship healthfully? And the answer is you don’t, probably, for a long time. So I wrote this song called Just Like Me which is going to be on the album. It’s the moment where you want to call and say, ‘I am heartbroken and upset but we are both totally fine.’ So I wrote that song about him and what that meant and what I knew about it. It is a tough subject and tough feeling, which is why I wanted to write the song and it is one of my favourites.

Most of your songs are about love. How many relationships do you pull from personally for this? Is there a ratio for the amount of songs per relationship you use?

There kind of is. There are two men in my life, who are probably waiting for me to stop writing songs about them. There are two relationships that really fuelled most of my breakup songs and heartbreak songs on my EPs. Then there is kind of a forbidden love that is on my album, a ‘this will never happen but we want it to happen.’ A lot of the songs on the album were written about this one man and the taboo of that relationship. And also my current relationship. There is a song called Missing You on my new album and even though the lyrics are sad, the song itself is purely a love song. There are four relationships that were through all of the albums.

My second EP was a lot like that. It was really about one person and then another person came into my life because of the other person in a way. There is a flow between my relationships. There’s a reason for every song that has everything to do with the relationships I have been in and that were challenging to me. I don’t think I have ever written a song about love being easy. Love is hard. Maybe that’s what I’ll call the album, Love Is Hard. That is the through line, through all of my music.

I recently wrote on a theory called the “Tommy Effect”, referring to the scene in the movie Almost Famous where the lead character has his first profound experience with music. Can you tell when that moment was for you and what you were listening to?

Wow. I have had different Tommy Effects in different sectors of my musicianship. My version of that for writing would be a A Case of You by Joni Mitchell. Like ‘this is a perfect song. This is music as it should be.’ And then as a performer, I just went to go see The 1975. I am usually dancing upfront, but I got there late and the front was packed so I hung around the back and watched and experienced it as a spectacle rather than an experience. And as I was watching it, I thought ‘oh my God, this is what I want to do forever.’ You see the power you have over a room if you are good at what you do. Which these boys are.

Pop is your clear genre of choice and expertise. Would you explore other genres?

At heart, I am a singer/songwriter. The way I see my career trajectory is that I make pop music until I am at a point where I feel I cannot do it better than this and then put out a singer/songwriter album. I want to do this until I reach a point where I can say I have done what I came here to do.  Once you are at that point, you need to take a break and explore something else. I am also really into R&B and am influenced by R&B. I take in themes from music all over.

If you could work with someone in that genre, who would you like to collaborate with?

I think that it is so far out that I am not sure. If I was to do R&B, I think Timbaland. I want to write with Miguel more than anything in the world. But that is even for my pop stuff. I think there is a lot to explore in both genres for me.

Since Timbaland is also a producer, would you want him to produce the tracks as well?

Yes, for sure. I think “Maneater” is the coolest song. The stuff he does for women is really cool. The song “Break Your Back”, is the fiercest song. I think he has a way of making women sound really awesome and sexy. I love that.

You have mentioned multiple inspirations for your music and style. What do you hope to inspire in others?

I am not afraid to wear clothes that I want to wear. I am not really tiny. I am not really short. I am not really thin. To me, wearing what you want to wear because you feel good in it really is all that matters. So I have had a couple people, say, ‘You are tall and awesome. Don’t try to hide it.’ Why would you?? You wear what makes you feel awesome and cool. You get to be yourself in the most real and honest way and not care what people think about it.

Which women, outside of Pop, inspire you? Like Joan Jett.

I was literally just about to say Joan Jett or Pat Benatar! It’s funny you said that. Blondie is a bad-ass, she scares me a bit.But in the good and challenging way.

What is the best post break-up song?

To feel it and just cry your eyes out, maybe “re:Stacks” by Bon Iver. That is my devastating-go-to-everything-is-wrong-song. If it was like the break-up where you are like ‘I hate this guy and I need to go out’, “I’m Out” by Ciara.

The songs I have written for the sad-want-to-soak-in-it sort of feeling are either Silas or Giving It Away on my second EP. Silas is really about looking for someone else, but really not believing there is someone else. And Giving It Away is when you are at the point where you just have nothing left to give. ‘I can’t even walk home because I have given you so much energy.’ I have trouble singing Giving Me Away at times because I still get emotional. It’s such an emotionally challenging song to sing.

What is the best love song?

Maybe “Teenage Dream” by Katy [Perry]. It’s so innocent, but it’s kind of in my generation of growing up and listening to love songs that have come out in my time. There’s a little grit to it but it also is what being a teenager is like. ‘I’m confused but totally in love and would give you anything.’

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The singer is working on her first album and has two EPs currently available. If this didn’t make you an instant fan of the rising dance, pop star, then a listen to one of her tunes will surely do the trick. Be sure to check when you can see her live on her tour this summer.

Betty Who – You’re In Love

You can stream her album Slow Dancing, here.