Saturday, February 16, 2019

Review: Betty • Betty Who

When Australian singer-songwriter Betty Who cracked through the crevices of the Internet five years ago, she did exactly what she thought she was supposed to do. Just four days after a choreographed marriage proposal video featuring her independent release "Somebody Loves You" was posted to YouTube, Betty Who inked a record deal. And although a steady stream of extended plays, opening spots on Katy Perry and Kylie Minogue tours, and a debut album followed within a year, her label quickly seemed to settle on promoting her as an artist whose success should reside exclusively online, boxing her into a niche category and giving her no more of a platform than she had as an independent artist.

Her freedom returned not long after the release of her sophomore record in 2017, after a year of strange promotional pacing in the wake of Betty's second-wave success with a cover of Donna Lewis' "I Love You Always Forever." The song kept her afloat in her home country and the full-length record, an accessible full-on pop package titled The Valley, supported strings of concerts in small venues and gay pride circuits, but nothing more than that. And now that she has another shot at the wheel of her own vehicle, it seems appropriate to reintroduce herself to her current fans – and assert herself onto new ones – with a clean slate: Betty.

Though the thinned production on Betty is a large evolution from the deep saturation of Who's early work, the fundamentals of her music today are nearly identical to those of her major-label back catalog: She makes boldface pop music about love and perseverance. And as the record shakes itself awake with "Old Me," Betty carries herself with a reinvigorated energy as she touts a personal return to form: "I'm feeling like the old me. No, you cannot control me," she sings with a smooth swagger. In comparison to the party-in-a-box tracks of The Valley, each track of Betty sounds both fun and inspired – something that can be heard in her vocal presence, which floats to the surface of each cut on the record.

The record echoes a traditionalist mindset to good pop music. Much like early Britney Spears or Ariana Grande records, Betty is the musical equivalent to Neapolitan ice cream: Less concerned with consistency and more content with blending popular flavors together. With the modern pop listener in mind, she catapults from vintage synthpop on summery highlights "Marry Me" and "Just Thought You Should Know" to a gentle guitar and drum on "Between You & Me." And between the two, she picks up pulsating house beats ("I Remember," "Language"), slides into something sensual ("All This Woman," and although she wrote it about candy, "Taste"), and crafts a stellar replica of turn-of-the-millennium Max Martin ("The One").

If there's a lesson to be learned from Betty Who, it's that no frills pop still has a place in the current musical landscape. Perhaps because music consumption has shifted to a customized, on-demand business model, the genre seems to have shed some of the stigma that it must stand for something or be accompanied by a large-scale persona to be taken seriously by legacy media's general audiences. And without that prerequisite, artists like Betty Who thrive in taking pop back to basics. As her love letter to music and a testament to her abilities as a musician, Betty is an uncomplicated, purely enjoyable listen – just as pop should be.

Betty is available now as an independent release.

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