Jessica Newham, also known as Betty Who, is a force to be reckoned with within the Australian music scene. Wielding a multitude of talents, from singing and dancing to playing multiple instruments – Who has been able to carve out a space for herself in the popscape. No stranger to virality, her 2014 hit “Somebody Loves You” took the world by storm, leading another of her tracks “All Things” to land in Queer Eye’s coveted soundtrack. An LGBTQ+ icon, and a role model to queer people everywhere – she’s doing the damn thing.
Who’s latest fleshed-out offering, the self-defiant, empowering album BIG! is an instant classic. Meandering between themes of self-actualisation, identity, and insecurity – it’s an up close and personal project. Sonically, it’s vibrant and grounded. Sophisticated production melds with the artist’s multi-instrumentalist chops. The closing track, “GROWN UPS GROW APART”, ends the album on an intimate note. Pared back guitars dance with Who’s silky-smooth vocals – while choral violins appear intermittently.
Having just unleashed a cover of Kate Bush’s 1985 anthem “Running Up That Hill”, Who is back in the spotlight. Leaning into the synth-pop stylings of the decade, with a shimmering chorus – she was able to breathe new life into the song. With such an impressive track record, we can’t help but wonder where it all started. Luckily for us, we were able to sit down with the artist and pick her brains. From the sprouting of her career, showing up for the LGBTQ+ community, and what’s on the horizon – we talked it all.
Head below to read our interview with Who, right now…
Hi Betty! How are you doing today?
I’m doing good! Busy day, I shot an audition and have a meeting and a radio show later. Booked and busy, baby!
So, tell us, how you got your start in the music industry?
I started playing the cello when I was four, so I guess that’s technically where it all started.
Your new album BIG! has themes of perseverance and triumph. Can you share with us some of the personal experiences that inspired this theme for you?
I’ve always felt very “other”, like an outsider, simply because of my stature. Being a six-foot tall girl at 12 years old, there was definitely a steep learning curve as I was trying to find myself and how I fit in (pun intended). So much of my old music was about escaping the reality of my other-ness. I think this is the first album I’ve ever made that confronts it. Embraces it, even.
Can you tell us more about the inspiration behind “She Can Dance” and the message of empowerment it carries?
Every era of my life has had its ups and downs, but when I look back at the girl I once was, I’m always impressed by how much fun she was having. So, I wanted to write a song about having zero idea what it’s all supposed to mean or how it’s supposed to play out – but knowing that I’m gonna have fun/dance my way through it no matter what.
Can you talk about the importance of activism and support for LGBTQ+ rights in your career, specifically your involvement with organizations like GLAAD and The Trevor Project?
Right when I started making music, my mum sat me down and told me I had to have a cause – a reason for doing all of this. “Who are you going to help and lift up with this new voice of yours?” It was never a question that queer people – particularly young queer people – is a community I am closest to, and have the most drive to show up for. I want to make people who also feel different, feel that they are not alone – and that there is a pack of weirdos just waiting for them to be themselves.
How was it working with Brazilian pop icon Pabllo Vittar on the remix of “She Can Dance”?
Pablo is a goddamn superstar, and I feel lucky to be in her orbit. The “She Can Dance” remix is so fun, you may even catch me jamming to it at the gym. Sorry – it’s a banger!
As an Australian-American artist, how does your background influence your music?
A huge part of Australian culture is what’s called ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’ – the tallest poppy is the first to get cut down. It’s something that shaped my outlook on life and made me feel like I had to make myself smaller in order to make other people more comfortable. There’s a lot less of that in America – I moved from a religious all-girls boarding school to a co-ed creative arts program on the other side of the world. So that transition, meeting other young people who were passionate and different, set me on the path I’m on now.
You’ve had experience with both major label and independent music. How do they compare, and what are some of the benefits you’ve found in each?
Everyone has to find their own path. I know tons of artists who have thrived in a major label system, benefiting from the structure and support. I’ve always been someone who dances to the beat of her own drum, for better or for worse. I had to go and seek out the independence and creative freedom I’d been craving after being signed to a major label through my first two albums. But, that independence comes with its own trials and tribulations. I think I’ve found a really good balance now. BMG put out this last album and gave me all the creative freedom I could need while also making me feel genuinely really supported and cared for. It’s been an amazing experience, I’m really grateful to them for that.
Can you give us a sneak peek of what we can expect from your live show on your upcoming tour?
I think this is the most sophisticated and mature show I’ve ever built. It’s powerful and fun and knows itself and will entertain you, your kid, and your grandma. Bring ’em all.
It must be quite a feeling to have a song go viral like “Somebody Loves You” did, can you tell us about that experience?
I was so young, everything just felt exciting. I didn’t know too much. I knew that something was happening that was outside of my control, and I had to just jump on the train and hope it didn’t leave the station without me. I’ve always been so grateful that the vitality was about love too. It was a flash mob marriage proposal that still brings a tear to my eye ten years later. I felt so lucky to be associated with something so pure and beautiful.
How do you feel about having your music reach new audiences through syncs like it has on shows like Netflix’s Queer Eye?
I love when people hear a song somewhere like on a TV show and realise they’ve never heard of me or my music. That’s the dream! to have some amazing project like Queer Eye let me be a part of their legacy and for people to find me through that. It was such a fun day shooting that music video with the fab 5.
The title BIG! feels like it captures your larger-than-life personality and spirit, can you tell us how that feels and why you chose it for the album title?
I finally feel like this album actually feels like me, now. Maybe I always feel that way about records when I’ve just finished them but, when I look back at all my old albums, I believed in them but never thought of them as the ultimate guide to ME – what I’m like, what my philosophy or personality is like… and I think this new album is very revealing. I want people to listen and walk away feeling like they really know me.
You’ll be touring with some incredibly talented artists in Neve, Shea Coulee and Slayyyter, what are you most looking forward to about touring with them?
I am so excited to see all the talented people who are a part of our tour perform! I am obsessed with the art of performance, and everyone’s different take on it – so I’m just really grateful we have such incredible acts that wanted to be a part of this exciting time in my life.
Are there any specific locations on the tour you’re particularly excited to perform at?
There are so many cities I’m excited about but I’m especially jacked about London, Washington DC, and New york.
To wrap things up, what is the one message you hope your fans take away from the album and your upcoming tour?
I hope they feel seen, and encouraged to live louder. Be prouder. Be themselves to the fullest extent – ‘cause I’m still learning that lesson.