The world of pop music is enjoying something of a moment for self-made ladies. The names ruling the realm are all women — Beyoncé, Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus — and the up-and-comers are already making it big with Lorde beating out Cyrus on the charts and HAIM already being tapped as a musical guest on SNL. It's a great time to be a woman in the music industry and that's something Australian singer Betty Who, a.k.a. Jess Newham, knows very well.
The "Somebody Loves You" singer enjoyed viral success thanks to a famous Home Depot marriage proposal video featuring her music and her EP Betty Who The Movement (she did it before the Cyrus documentary, so pipe down SMilers). Since then, she's nabbed a record deal with RCA and begun work on a full-length album. I'd say her sound falls somewhere between Katy Perry and Robyn (a description I thought I coined in the cab on the way home from one of her Manhattan shows), but New York Magazine has already done that. Her act is a refreshing, bubbly one that finds Newham in a homemade letterman jacket accompanied by the rare sight of "boss bitch" women in her backup band — they're friends of hers and not a conscious effort to push girl power, "though I do love it," she says.
Suffice to say, with only a handful of songs available for public consumption and most of her shows taking place in and around New York, Betty Who is already giving us a host of reasons to fall in love with her. And in the midst of her busy lineup of shows at small clubs in her new home base of New York City, Newham took a moment to chat with Bustle about her hopes, dreams, the music industry, and of course Miley Cyrus.
While Newham is just 22-years-old, she's got a serious base of music knowledge. She graduated from the Berklee School of Music just last May (alumni include Grammy winners John Mayer, Quincy Jones, and Esperanza Spalding) and began her musical journey as a classical cello player, but when given the chance to launch her own career, Newham resolutely chose pop music as her kingdom.
"Pop music is a genre that is made specifically to make you feel good and that’s amazing to me," she says. "[It] literally has one purpose and that’s to be popular; and that excites me because you get to make things that excite other people and connect with so many people, like a huge group of people."
Newham says she and her supporting team believe that she "will be the biggest pop star in the world," but only if she gets to do it her own way. "The most challenging point for me so far has been knowing, trying to put the people around me who aren’t going to change who I am," she says. "My music is such an expression of who I am entirely, when you bring other people to the project who have opinions, it’s like, 'I’m sorry, but if you think this is wrong then you think that I’m wrong. It’s who I am and how I feel.'"
Her words echo another pop star whose name has been on everyone's lips involuntarily since she shocked the world at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards: Miley Cyrus. And it's no wonder, while much of the world is busy trying to cover her up and figure her out, Newham is admiring Cyrus's game plan. "I like am obsessed with her. I think that she she’s incredibly smart, she’s doing whatever the fuck she wants, and doesn’t apologize for it," she says.
It echoes Cyrus' own plea in her recent MTV documentary, Miley: The Movement, but Newham — a devout student of pop music history — sees similarities to Christina Aguilera's relaunch in 2002 with Xtina and Stripped. "I remember when the "Dirrty" video came out and I was 10. It was banned in Australia — from Australian television. Like that’s what this is with Miley," she adds.
So where does Betty Who fit in this Miley-ized world? There's plenty of room, if you ask her. She points out the way in which many women in the industry broke on to the scene as up-and-comers with huge debut albums — like Adele and Katy Perry whose debut albums 19 and One of the Boys are certified double platinum and platinum, respectively. The the new music world order, it's the norm. "Now these people, HAIM and Lorde, they’re up-and-comers, but I don’t think that they’re one-hit-wonders … I think there’s a lot of room for me and my music because of that," she says.
For now, Newham is focused on completing her new album, which she calls a "logical step" from her fantastic EP, performing shows around New York City (one of which is Thursday night, should you find yourself in the area), and imagining what it would be like to meet Beyoncé ("If I ended up in the same room with her, I might pass out").
She may still be paying her dues, but if the sample of music we've been gifted already is any indication, this is not all we'll be hearing from Betty Who. And she'd better get her fainting under control, because meeting Beyoncé may not seem like a pipe dream this time next year.
Images: Laura Desberg/Betty Who Music; Taylor Ballantyne/Betty Who Music