Betty Who is an outlier on the SlossFest lineup. The Sydney, Australia native has toured with Katy Perry and she grew up on Britney Spears. And she’ll certainly be wearing fewer clothes than the weekend’s headliner, Ryan Adams.
“I will definitely pack sunscreen, and I will wear little to no clothing onstage,” she said of playing Sloss Furnaces in July. “I sweat onstage, so I’m prepared.”
Jessica Anne Newham — that’s her real name — was born to an American mother who had moved to Australia for work. She split her childhood between there and her mother’s home in the States. When she finished her schooling, she moved to Boston to study at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Now she’s a Californian. She’s well traveled. She’s definitely “half and half. Through and through.”
“I wrote a song when I was 17 called ‘Betty Who’ and I liked the name,” she said. “By the time I was a little older and started to put this project together, I decided to go with the name.”
Her single, “Somebody Loves You,” has received massive play. It topped Billboard’s Dance charts and it was covered on the Fox series Glee. While she’s still just 24, it didn’t happen overnight.
“Success is a really funny thing like that, isn’t it? Because you think of it as a number or an amount of sales or an amount of followers, but it’s not about that,” she said. “It’s not about that. It’s about how you feel about what you’ve done. So I struggle with that. People tell you that you’re not not successful if you don’t have a certain amount of hits. And it’s like, ‘You know what, I can be successful and not have a million followers on Instagram. I can be both. But that’s certainly the goal one day, right?”
She loves Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole, but her sound will remind you much more of Perry.
“[Touring with Perry] changed my whole life,” she said. “She’s such a powerhouse of a lady. Watching something that big — the production was insane! It was amazing to see how big it can be and she’s a class act. I really love her.”
The debut, Take Me As You Go, was released in 2014 long after the single. And the build was slow. But it’s become both a pop hit and a AAA hit, maintaining a credibility that peers like Perry may have never really managed.
“[Success] is the feeling when I get offstage,” she said. “Whether that was in front of 30 people who are really psyched to be there or 20,000 people that don’t really care, but they’re there to see somebody else. When I get offstage and think, ‘I just did a really great show,’ I think, ‘You just did exactly what you came here to do.’ And that’s success. It’s just about checking stuff off. Day by day. Being able to be excited onstage and happy about what I’m doing, that’s success.”
She’s eager to release new music. Birmingham is probably going to get one of those new tunes, just the second city to see it after Chicago. As she readies it, she’s also recently released a flawless cover of the Donna Lewis tune “I Love You Always Forever.”
“I’ve loved that song since I was a kid,” she said. “I wanted to put something out in the time being while I was finishing the record — I didn’t want to not put out new music over the summer. And it seemed like the perfect thing to do to tide me and everyone else over.”
Betty is a must-follow on Instagram and Snapchat. It’s a rare, bare glimpse behind the scenes in the life of a pop star. On the day of this conversation, she was snapping video of herself and a friend (maybe that was Sophia Bush?) singing along to the radio in her car.
“It’s really important to me,” she said. “It’s a built in clause in the contract of being a performer these days. You have to do it anyway, so why not put a lot of effort into it? I really have fun with it. Sometimes I’ll have lulls — sometimes I’ll post something three times a day and sometimes I won’t feel like posting anything for three weeks. I try not to take it too seriously. But I try to interact with people on Twitter and allow closeness. That’s what social media’s all about.”
She’ll socialize with Birmingham on Saturday.