Australia’s Jessica Anne Newman, better known as Betty Who, is among the most effervescent artists you’ll ever meet. Her new song, “Some Kinda Wonderful,” came out Friday, and — as she explains in this interview — is absolutely insane. She also opens up about protesting Donald Trump and touring with Katy Perry.
FAULT: How did you come up with your stage name?
Betty Who: There was a kid I went to high school with who always called me “toots” because he was super-old school, and I thought it was like the cutest thing in the entire world. He would also say about women, “Oh, she’s such a Betty.”
You know that scene in Clueless where Cher walks past the painting of her mother and she’s like, “Wasn’t she a total Betty?”?
I loved that — that kind of colloquial term for a woman really stands out to me as representing a woman, not like a chick or a girl.
And I kind of felt like I was deciding who I wanted to be, which was where the “Who” came from.
FAULT: How did you get your start in music?
Betty Who: I’ve been a musician all my life. I started playing cello when I was four years old, and I studied it until I was 18; I went to performing arts high school for it. And then after school, I went to college for singing and songwriting, which is the first time I actually had studied singing (like, really?). When I went to Berklee, about a year in I started making music with producer Peter [Thomas], who has been my producer now ever since then. So since I was 19, pretty much, I’ve been making music with this boy.
FAULT: It’s pretty clear based on your Twitter that you’re not a fan of Donald Trump. What do we do about him at this point? As regular people, what’s the best way for us to carry on?
Betty Who: Jesus … [laughs] … I have absolutely no idea, and I don’t think anybody does. I think that’s what the scariest part is about it. My godmother is a 66-year-old woman. Her boyfriend before her husband was a Black Panther. She was from Berkley, California, and she’s like an original hippie. So when we went to the Women’s March together, she was of the generation of: I can’t believe we’re still protesting this shit. We did this before, and we did it so our kids wouldn’t have to. And here we are, doing it again.
I think hearing her talk about it, you never know what to do about a narcissistic dictator except for try to make your voice heard and stand up and say, “No, this is absolutely 100 percent not acceptable, and I put my weight behind that belief,” as opposed to not saying anything and just waiting it out.
I think there’s a lot of that right now, particularly in the cities. Between New York and L.A., there’s so much movement and dedication to standing up for what we believe is right. But I think there’s a whole lot of the country that also believes what Donald Trump is doing is right. And I think that divide is really apparent given the fact that he won the presidency. So it’s a really scary time to be neighbors with some of the people.
You go: How can you feel this way?
And they go: How can you feel that way?
And you go: Oh, we really just don’t agree.
It’s really interesting, and it’s really a strange time to be alive. I’m quite shocked, and my heart is just constantly broken by the things I hear about that his administration has already done in such a short period of time.
FAULT: On a lighter note, what was it like supporting Katy Perry?
Betty Who: It was fabulous. That month of my life that I spent in Australia with her is to-date one of the most fun things I’ve done in my entire life. I look back at it fondly, and I miss it all the time. I made so many good friends on the tour, and I had the most exhilarating experience performing for her crowd. Katy’s fans are die-hards, and they’re lovely, and the people were really, really great.
Still to this day, people will comment on my Instagram like: I saw you open for Katy Perry in Melbourne, and that’s how I know your music.
I miss it all the time. Sometimes I’ll just like sit in my bedroom alone and watch the Prismatic Tour DVD like a stalker and be like: Ohmygod I miss it so much!
FAULT: What was the writing process for “Some Kinda Wonderful”?
Betty Who: I was in with papnokes for four days total, and on the third night we were together, we were talking about the kind of artist I wanted to be and the kind of music I wanted to make. We were kind of having this big existential conversation about my career, and I was telling them basically: I love pop music. I love how it makes people feel. And I love that there is perfection.
It’s hard to find perfection in the world, just in general. As humans, we are destined to be imperfect. I love pop music because I think there is such a thing as a perfect pop song. My quest to create something that feels like a perfect pop song has been one of the greater challenges of my life, and it’s something that I’m still trying to do and I still love to do. So I was talking to them about that, and I went in the next day, and they had come in early and started the track.
I walked in, and they were like: Dude, we’ve done something crazy, and I don’t know how you feel, or if you’re gonna fuck with it, but I’m gonna play it for you.
I heard it and was like: This is arguably the most up-beat song that has ever existed in the in the world. From the very beginning, it’s like buck-wild. It’s like if you took three shots of tequila in a row — that’s what it makes me feel mentally.
I loved it, and they were like: What are you gonna do over that verse?
And I was like: What else am I gonna do? — I’m gonna yell. Like I can’t do anything it’s like so crazy, like I’ll just yell what the 808 is doing.
And they were like: I knew you were gonna say that!
I think we wrote it in like two hours. I called my manager and left him a voicemail (He still has it; he saved it.) being like: I just wrote the craziest song, and I am literally obsessed with it.
FAULT: What is your FAULT?
Betty Who: Ooh, many a flaw in this girl — let me think [laughs] …
I have a habit (This is, like, not one of the really bad ones, because I want you to still like me after this.) of talking during movies. My boyfriend is a really big movie guy. He went to film school; movies are his passion. His dad is a director, and it’s like a big thing thing in his family.
So when he watches a movie, I imagine it’s similar to how I feel when I listen to a mix of my song or something. If I’m showing somebody a song, and they’re talking over it and texting or something, I get so frustrated. It’s like: You’re not listening. You’re gonna drive me crazy. So I think it’s a very similar experience for him, and I’ll ask questions like: Wait, why is this happening?
And he’ll by like: I swear to God, if you don’t fucking stop talking, I’m gonna freak out.
So it’s a very bad habit that I’ve been working on, and that I get reprimanded for often [laughs].
Words: Cody Fitzpatrick
Listen to ‘Some Kinda Wonderful’ below.