Betty Who has always wanted to be a pop star. When the Australian singer/songwriter was a kid, adults would inevitably ask, “What do you really want to be?” Because she was an avid CSI watcher, she would sometimes tell them she wanted to be a forensic scientist. But, she says, “If I’m really being honest with myself, the entire time I knew exactly what I wanted. I could see it. I could feel it. I wanted to be on stage in front of thousands of people singing.”
It’s probably that “knowing” that allows one to really succeed, Who explains. “For me, I think there is something to be said about believing you’re special. You have to have so much self-assuredness and confidence and almost delusion to believe that you can do what millions who came before you could not do. You have to be your own biggest fan, and I’ve always thought that I deserved it.”
Interestingly, if you ask Who about when she learned to sing, she’ll tell you that she doesn’t know if her success has ever really been about her voice. “I think it’s about my kink, if you will, of being on stage in front of people and controlling the room. That’s the thing I love to do. Music is [how I do] storytelling—a vessel that allows me to have a reason to stand up in front of a room of people and be like, ‘Hey, I’m going to command your attention and you’re really going to enjoy it.’”
For Who, it’s more about the fact that she was always gregarious and outgoing, and probably a little bit of an attention seeker, she says. “And taking up a lot of space without really even knowing I was doing it. Especially at a young age, my teachers were always like, ‘She’s wise beyond her years, and I feel like I really like her.’ I think that was always my specialty.”
Who’s release of “Somebody Loves You” in 2012 launched her into the viral stratosphere and topped Billboard’s Dance Club Songs chart. That success led her to a deal with RCA Records and the April 2014 release of Slow Dancing, her debut LP. The EP reached #57 on Billboard’s Hot 100 Albums chart. After that, there was no stopping her.
Her debut album, Take Me When You Go, hit #68 on the Hot 100; her song “All of You” became her second single to reach #1 on Billboard’s Dance Club Songs chart; her cover of Donna Lewis’ “I Love You Always Forever” became her third #1 hit on the Billboard Dance Club Songs chart and reached #1 on Australia’s ARIA Singles Chart. Her second album, The Valley, hit #105 on the Billboard Hot 100 Albums chart.
In 2017, Betty left RCA Records, and the following January she released the single “Ignore Me.” Following that, she released covers of Kylie Minogue’s “Come into My World” and Widelife’s “All Things (Just Keep Getting Better),” the latter of which was used as the theme song to the second season of Netflix’s Queer Eye reboot. And in February 2019, her album Betty dropped, featuring some of her widest-ranging music yet.
As her career developed, Who became an icon within the LGBTQ community—although she is not sure why. “It beats me, to be perfectly honest,” she laughs. Her very first show was at a tiny bar on the Lower East Side called Pianos. When she arrived there, they told her the show was sold out. “I looked at my dad and I was like, ‘You did this! You bought 50 tickets to my show.’ He was like, ‘I swear to God, I didn’t.’”
The small space only held about 80 people, Who recalls. “There were 75 gay men and maybe five women in there. The men were all over 30, all had muscles, and were all beautiful. I think I was sort of the darling of the pop blog world, and that put me in front of a ton of style-maker gay guys,” she explains.
Who herself identifies as queer. “It sounds so eye-rolly and very obvious, but it speaks to my preference of it genuinely being about the person. I have loved men and women, and I ended up with a man and we’re having the time of our lives.”
Who says she’s performed at what feels like every Pride festival in the country. “I’ve done the big ones. I’ve done the tiny ones. I have done the pop-ups. I’ve done the after-parties. I have been in Pride culture for almost 10 years now, professionally. I’m a singer; that’s how people know me. But then you get into the layers of it and you’re like, ‘I see myself in her, and that makes me feel less alone.’ I think that’s what Pride is all about. Pride is year-round in the Betty Who world!”
Who is about to embark on a tour with Kesha, and the artists will make a stop in Houston on August 21. “Lucky for me, I think we share an agent,” Betty says. When Kesha’s agency asked if Who was game, it was an easy yes for her as a longtime fan from college days. Who even left a Kesha playlist blasting from her dorm room while she was out rather late one night. “We get back to the room and our RA is just sitting outside of the door, staring at the door as ‘Your Love Is My Drug’ plays as loud as it possibly could at four in the morning. We were in so much trouble. So it’s very full circle for me. Freshman-year Jessica is very excited about the Kesha tour,” Who says.
As for the future, well, that’s an easy one, Who says. “I want to headline arenas. I don’t really care how I get there. I don’t care whether it’s [because I recorded] the biggest song on the planet or a bunch of little stuff that all adds up into me being able to sell tickets. I just want to perform for 20,000 people every night.”
What: Kesha with Special Guest Betty Who
When: 8 p.m. on August 21
Where: Bayou City Music Center, 520 Texas Ave.