Love and heartbreak are two of history’s oldest muses, their power stemming from the universality of the overwhelming array of emotions that one feels – from the initial elation to the final helplessness and grief. Betty Who, the Australian pop sensation who broke into the music world with her viral love anthem ‘Somebody Loves You,’ is no stranger to using both of these muses for writing, even telling us she’s “kind of perpetually heartbroken.” Ahead of a dynamic performance at NeueHouse Madison Square, where she had everyone on their feet, the singer-songwriter sat down with us to give us a hint of what her new album holds, the possibility of friendship after love, and Beyonce inspiring her work ethic.
NeueJournal: Your sound has been described as taking influence from past music and mixing it in with the emotions you’re actually living through. Who are your musical heroes and how have they influenced you?
Betty Who: I am very very influenced particularly by singer/songwriters. I’ve always loved pop music; Britney Spears is my OG ultimate girl, but because I’m a writer I’m really inspired and driven by Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Ingrid Michaelson, Sara Bareilles, John Mayer…I listened to all of them when I was around 15. People who are telling stories that are real to them are my biggest inspiration. I like hearing things that feel real and sound real.
NJ: Take Me When You Go focuses on past love and the struggle to move forward from there. Does your new album evolve from this theme? Can you let us in on your upcoming thematic agenda at all?
BW: I haven’t really thought about my thematic agenda yet. I definitely think there’s a little less heartbreak, although I’m kind of perpetually heartbroken, so that’s of course still a part of it. I definitely think there’s a little more ownership and a little more confidence in my ability to be unapologetic about my feelings, as opposed to constantly apologize. On the first record I felt like a lot of those songs were romantic and sweet in a young way. That’s how they sort of felt to me, sort of like a big apology for feeling too much all the time, because I do feel too much all the time. So I think there’s less insecurity in this record.
NJ: Have you had the opportunity to become friends with an ex? Do you think it’s possible to rekindle a friendship after a heartbreak?
BW: It doesn’t always work, does it? I have not really been able to keep up a friendship with any of my exes. There’s one particularly whom I don’t think I’ll ever be friends with. Maybe 20 years will go by and we’ll be friends, and that’ll be great. That would be my dream. I don’t like cutting anybody out of my life, it’s not fun. You always miss the person, regardless of whether or not you were supposed to be together or if it was working out or not. I have yet to be able to make it work. Maybe it’s a maturity thing! Maybe it’s nature. I would love for it to just come very naturally to me and have that be how it works.
NJ: Who was your first love?
BW: I went to all girls school until I was fifteen, and there was this boy I saw on the first day at a new school. He was so pretty and had long hair. I was obsessed with him for about two years and he knows I was completely obsessed with him. I could just write songs about him for days; he was like my OG inspiration for all of my sad songwriting. He ended up actually dating one of my best friends, and they were very happy together for a couple years. So it all kind of happened the way it was supposed to.
NJ: What is your first memory of music?
BW: My school made all the kindergartners pick an instrument, so I picked the cello when I was four. I sort of have a memory of being in kindergarten and me and my other two best friends being like, “we’re all going to play the cello.” We stuck together in the cello section for a couple years and we all played together. That’s one of my first memories of actually being engaged in music. My first tape was Britney Spears’ “Hit Me Baby One More Time.” I was four years old when that came out and it was pretty spectacular. That will always be a very deeply engraved first memory of my musical inclination.
NJ: What is the first song you ever wrote?
BW: The first song I ever wrote is called ‘Gone’ and it was about my brother, actually. He was in a car accident and in a coma for a little while, so I wrote my first song about being sad about my brother being sick. I was fourteen and my music teacher made me play it in an assembly in front of everyone, like six months after my brother was fine and the wounds had healed. His name was Mr. Spencer and he was one of the first people to say, “You’re good at this. Keep doing this.”
NJ: What song best describes your work ethic?
BW: I’m sure it’s a Beyonce song. Probably ‘Run The World.’ I would like that to be the theme of my work ethic. Although sometimes it’s like, Bruno Mars or something. I think pretty much any deep Beyonce track is probably the embodiment of my businesswoman habits.
NJ: Who deserves a grammy that hasn’t ever won one?
BW: Katy Perry. She’s fucking worked so hard and had the best record. ‘Teenage Dream’ is in my top ten pop records of all time. It sold better than any fucking pop record that’s ever come out, and it’s not fair. ‘Roar,’ I mean… There’s at least six songs from every single record she’s put out, where I’ve thought any of them could have won song of the year, and it’s crazy that they didn’t. So I’m kind of like, #JusticeForKaty on that. 100%
NJ: When and where are you at your happiest?
BW: I think i’m probably at my happiest when I’m at my parents’ house. They live in Michigan now and they have this log cabin on a lake. My parents are my favorite people in the world. I just drink wine with my mom and watch movies with my dad and play with our dogs. It’s the most healing and happy place in the world for me. My happy place is in the kitchen, grazing all day, just eating constantly.
NJ: Who was your last text from and what did it say?
BW: My last text was from Sara who’s my best friend/assistant, and she was coming over. She bought me a shirt today and is handling my life for me. Taking care of business!
Video: Mr. GIF & Ira Chernova for NeueJournal