Behind every pop diva there is an army of die-hard fans, and many of them often identify as LGBTQ.
Maybe it’s because the genre’s leading singers inspire queer folks to be themselves—emboldening some to embrace their true gender identity, or simply to find community among fellow dance-music enthusiasts. Whether it is a coincidence or not, the bond between pop artists and LGBTQ fans is hard to deny.
Fortunately for queer folks, many of the stars they idolize have shown just as much appreciation in return—unlike the many political figures who denounce LGBTQ rights. In 2010, Lady Gaga led a rally to urge the U.S. Senate to end the military’s ban on openly gay and lesbian service members. Last month, Taylor Swift donated $130,000 to an advocacy group to thank it for fighting the anti-LGBTQ “slate of hate” in Tennessee.
Betty Who, the stage name of Australian singer-songwriter Jessica Anne Newham, may have one of the strongest pro-equality track records. She has expressed support for the LGBTQ community from the start of her career.
Who received critical acclaim when she released “Somebody Loves You,” her 2013 debut single. The song further exploded that year when Spencer Stout used it as the soundtrack for his flash-mob wedding proposal to his boyfriend that garnered over 14 million views on YouTube.
Following the success of her first single, Who signed with RCA Records and released her first studio album, Take Me When You Go, in 2014. She quickly came into a dedicated fan base of gay men. “I attribute much of my career to the LGBT community kind of taking me under their wing when I was such a young artist,” Who says.
Queer fans couldn’t get enough of Who, nor she of them. The singer headlined several LGBTQ Pride celebrations across the U.S., including events in New York City, Chicago, and Miami. Unfortunately, her relationship with RCA Records became rocky after the release of Who’s second record, The Valley. She split with RCA in early 2018.
Who’s music career was not over, though. In May of 2018, she remixed the theme song “All Things” from the Netflix series Queer Eye, and also starred in a music video featuring the Fab Five men from the series. Last October, Who grew even closer to the LGBTQ community when she opened up about her own sexuality on Instagram.
When a fan left an Instagram comment for Who insinuating that she pandered to an LGBTQ audience, she responded by describing her own queer experiences. “I have been in relationships with both men and women,” Who wrote on Instagram. “I have been deeply, earth-shatteringly in love with both men and women. Just because I happen to be engaged to a man doesn’t mean that I haven’t found a home within the gay community.”
Who recently released her third album, Betty, as an independent artist. She is currently touring the self-titled record, and will stop in Houston with the pop duo Loote for a performance at the White Oak Music Hall on June 6.
OutSmart spoke with Who in advance of her upcoming tour.
Lourdes Zavaleta: I’d like to start by saying thank you for recognizing your LGBTQ fans from the start of your career.
Betty Who: Thank you. I can’t imagine it being any other way.
Your songs are so upbeat and danceable. That style of pop is something that many queer people enjoy. Does knowing this play a role in the sound of your music?
I make music that I love and want to listen to. The fact that I have very similar tastes in music to a lot of gay men that I know is sort of a happy coincidence. But I’m definitely always thinking in the back of my head, “What are my fans really going to love?”
In October, you responded to a fan’s comments about your relationship to the LGBTQ community by stating that you had dated both men and women. Why did you decide to share this information with your following?
I guess I felt like I had been misjudged or pigeonholed one too many times. [I was being] accused of taking advantage of a community that I very much feel at home within, and it upset me enough that I felt like I had to respond with my truth.
Many queer people in heterosexual relationships face the erasure of their identities. As a woman who has dated women, but who is now engaged to a man, what has your experience been with this?
To be honest, I’ve never really felt like it’s anybody’s business what I identify as, or who I date. It’s not as if I’m uncomfortable talking about my life—I think I’m pretty candid. But people can think whatever they want about me, or make assumptions about my life all they want. They’re going to do that whether I give them my life story or not.
I love your videos for “Taste” and “Between You & Me.” Why do you think it’s important for artists to showcase LGBTQ people in their work?
I believe exposure changes people’s hearts and minds. [With my music,] I try to tell a lot of varied stories, many of which happen to include queer stories. It’s really important for me to lean into what I think supports the song the most, or whatever moves me the most. The blurry lines between friendship and romance apply to both heterosexual and homosexual relationships, so I like to talk a lot about that.
You just released your first studio album as an independent artist. What does that feel like?
It feels amazing. The process of making the record was so efficient and exciting. I felt so inspired, which was a really nice feeling. I hadn’t felt that in a while.
What can you tell me about your new music?
The new music is definitely, I guess I would say, confident? It’s the most “pop” record I’ve made, although I think all my old songs are just pop songs dressed in indie clothes.
Why did you decide to self-title your record?
I wanted it to feel like a fresh start, like I was claiming a space for myself in this crazy business.
You recently wrapped up a tour as the opening act for Panic! at the Disco. What was that like, and are you looking forward to headlining your own tour?
Touring with Panic was one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure of sharing in. They are not only really amazing people, but they have the most amazing, kind, enthusiastic fans. I was so grateful to perform for them every night—it definitely got me excited for my headline tour. I just kept thinking, Imagine how fun this is going to be when I’m performing for my Who crew.
You’ve performed in Houston before. What do you remember most about the city?
I always have crazy shows in Houston! One of the hottest shows I’ve ever played in my life was in Houston. And of course, it’s Beyoncé’s hometown. So it definitely holds a special place in my heart.
What can fans who are going to your upcoming Houston show look forward to?
The show is going to be very high energy, so come in your dancing shoes!
What: Betty: The Tour
When: June 6
Where: White Oak Music Hall, 2915 N. Main St.