INTERVIEW: Betty Who

It has been quite a year for Betty Who. When we last spoke to her she had just released The Valley, putting up a front of promo that clearly hid a lot of strife. In the most candid conversation we’ve had with her to date, she details just how difficult the road has been to get to Betty, Pt. 1 and – more importantly – how she’s emerged from the other side…

Welcome back, Betty. Things are clearly very different from 12 months ago. What has changed?
A year ago I was just putting out The Valley. That album had been a long time coming and a huge build up for me emotionally. So this year, going independent, putting out an EP, going back to my roots, I feel like I get to be myself a little bit more. There’s so much more stress and responsibility, it sorta feels like the process of putting it all together is equally crazy and less stressful because I get to make all my own decisions and get to do what I feel is right all the time. Which I didn’t feel like I got to do a lot on my last record.

With that in mind, was it a difficult process leaving your label?
I felt very ready for it. No tea no shade, it was the right time. I’m really grateful that my label knew that we’d outgrown each other and weren’t really on the same page any more. They could have trapped me and kept me forever, but I was lucky and I’m grateful for the experience that I had. Even if it was through doing something I didn’t want.

What is that you do want, on the other side of it all?
It sounds silly, but all I want to do is what I want to do. I want to be the CEO of my own project, I want to know that everything I put out because I felt it was right. Not because someone else paid for it or thinks it’s the right thing to do or doesn’t believe in my vision.

We have to admit that when we spoke last year it felt like the light and fire had gone out…
The fire was always there, but I didn’t sign up for this. I felt like I couldn’t be myself any more because I was made to feel that my intuition about my own project wasn’t right. I was always made to feel like ‘you don’t know what you’re talking about, trust us we’ve been doing this a long time’. Yeah but we’re talking about me, we’re talking about my life, my music that I wrote. I think my opinion and emotional relationship to it is valid. It crushes you, and it makes you second guess everything you really know about yourself. Now that I feel like I’m in charge, that power that was taken away from me has been restored.

“There was not a single day I was signed to my label that we were all on the same page”

We have come across this in the podcast a lot. The labels don’t seem like all they’re cracked up to be…
Well, the music business in itself is such a juxtaposed phrase. Music is an art, and it doesn’t mesh well with business. Because art is a risk and business doesn’t like risks. There are a handful of artists who love their record label, but it’s you fighting for what you want against a bunch of business people whose job it is to tell you what to do to not lose money. I’m really grateful for what I learned and how the music industry works.

I don’t have the emotional capacity to deal with a record label that is under-resourced and understaffed. There are literally not enough hours in the day for people at a record label to look after everyone. When we got out of the deal, my management and I all sat down and we aid what do we want to do. And I said: to do anything differently to how we’ve been doing it! It’s just how it is. It works for some people and it doesn’t for others. It did not work for me. There was not a single day I was signed to my label that we were all on the same page. No one was like super psyched or saying ‘cool, this is working really well!’ – we never had that moment.

That must have taken quite a toll on your mental health. How did you deal with that sort of thing?
I didn’t for a long time. I was really not OK for longer than I’d like to admit. Now when I look back it’s clear how mentally unhealthy I’d become, and how depressed I was. There were days where I didn’t want to get out of bed, and days where I’d just cry and cry and cry all day. I spent countless hours sobbing on the phone to my manager, who I felt was like the only person I could trust. It’s shocking to me how hard a time I was having. I remember my mum called me one time, we had a date set for The Valley and I’m sitting there in January saying I’ll only believe it when I see it. I had been depressed for 6-8 months and she said, I need you to figure out what sort of person you want to be. Because if you want to live here and be this person and let this define who you are, that’s a choice you have to make. But I don’t think you’re making a choice right now, I think you’re letting it win and I want you to think about that. Don’t just let it happen. Make sure you know who you’re becoming. That shook me to my core. I was like, well damn!

But it wasn’t that I woke up the next day and everything is fine. When your entire life is defined by someone telling you that you’re not good enough, or what you do isn’t right or you don’t know what you’re talking about – I mean, this is what I spend my entire life agonising over, so thinking that you’re trapped and nobody believes in what you’re trying to convey… that’ll unhinge anybody. I remember getting off The Valley tour – we sold out every show, the fans were incredible, but I remember doing the first leg and feeling like I wasn’t there. I couldn’t even enjoy it because I was so shell shocked that people around me believed in me. I couldn’t imagine that all those people came here for me. That felt surreal. For the longest time people would come up and say I love what you do, and I’d say I don’t believe you.

“There were days where I didn’t want to get out of bed, and days where I’d just cry and cry and cry all day”

But people expect you to be happy because on the outside you have this supposedly charmed life…
Definitely. But you know what’s funny, I didn’t have a lot of that. A lot of people felt sorry for me and could see what I was going through. A lot of people reached out to me and said I wish I could help. But it’s also like, look how many people understand what I’m going through and no one can do anything about it. It almost makes it worse.

So now you have Betty parts one and two, plus an album. Is the name because people are seeing the real you now?
There’s a sense of renewed individuality and authenticity I have. I’m getting to enjoy being myself and I found this new version of myself, and I’m like oh this is who I am now.

There’s no ‘Who’ in those titles. Because being Betty isn’t a question for you any more.
Exactly! You’re picking up whatever I put down!

Moving on to happier topics – you’ve just done the theme for Queer Eye!
Yes! We have made a cute music video with me and the fab five, I love all the boys so much. Netflix reached out to me first and that was so cool. My manager called me and said hey, this is kind of strange but have you seen the new Queer Eye? And I was like, obviously! It was a pleasure to be a part of this narrative of something that’s culturally important. This show represents the gay community in a way that a TV show hasn’t before. The first Queer Eye was fun but it wasn’t opening up a conversation the way this is. Plus it’s very on brand!

So you have two EPs coming up and an album. Is that all happening this year?
The second EP will be out later this year and I’m hoping the record will be out at the top of next year. I’m going for a lot of expansion; it’s just authentic. There’s a George Clooney quote about movies where he says, throughout my career I’ve done one for them and one for me. So these EPs are like that. There are some songs on there where I’m like, I love this and I don’t care if anybody else hates it, I just want to put it out; and there’s another song that’s just a well-crafted pop song and I think people will really like this, and it’s also organic to my original brand over the last 8 years. I want to push myself and not alienate people, and just make accessible pop.

Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently? And what are you hoping for the future?
I don’t regret anything. Anything that’s ever gone wrong has only led me to this place. I’m so proud of how far I’m come and surviving this long. Looking forward, more than anything, I’m so happy to have finally found a space to celebrate myself and my vision. A complete, whole woman who is trying to share my confidence and self-assuredness with my fans so maybe they can feel awesome about themselves. People have told me so many times you don’t deserve to be here, you’re not pretty enough, you’re too fat. So to be standing on the other side, putting out music that I want, is awesome.

Betty, Pt. 1 is out now and can be streamed below.

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INTERVIEW: Betty Who
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