Betty Who Dazzles With Bubbly, Sleek Dance Party

Posted June 8, 2019 by J Matthew Cobb in Reviews 1.0

“Somebody Loves You” star gives her devoted LGBTQ stans the perfect kickoff to Birmingham’s Pride Week

Photography by Reginald Allen

It seems as if tour planners for Betty Who knew exactly when to drop her in Birmingham on her 2019 tour. Her stop in the nicknamed Magic City fell near the very top of Pride Week, a regional observance during LGBTQ Pride Month. Indeed, Pride seems to be the perfect time for the Betty Who experience, since Betty Who — real name Jessica Anne Newham — has become an adored gay idol ever since she broke out in 2013 with “Somebody Loves You,” a song that was used in a viral YouTube video for a marriage proposal anchored by a massive flash mob. Now her songs are in rotation at gay clubs all over and lip-synched regularly by weekend drag queens, and her career now includes a contract with RCA, an EP, a few singles and thankfully a new album. Plus, her frosty voice is what you now hear on the theme song of the revived Emmy-winning Queer Eye series on Netflix.

As her gift to Birmingham’s week-long pride observance, she greeted her devoted LGBTQ fan base with plenty of fervor in a feelgood acknowledgement near the top of her set. “Happy Pride, Birmingham! What a way to kick off Pride Week,” she exclaimed. As a bonus to her queer supporters, one dollar from every ticket sold was donated to The Trevor Project, a crisis intervention hotline and service designed to help LGBTQ youth and young adults who are at risk of committing suicide.

The Betty Tour, now nearing its final dates on the road, is its own celebration, one highlighting the blessedly infectious dance-pop, rhythmic synth-pop and the occasional edgy detours into hip-hop and rock. The Australian-bred singer-songwriter has evolved since her bubbly introduction to the world heard on the viral firecracker, “Somebody Loves You,” and the tour perfectly emphasized that.

bettywho-03While she’s worked up a handful of dance hits over time and has worked her way to bigger venues in larger markets, she managed to return to Saturn, a 500-capacity standing room only venue located in the booming Avondale district. The room was swelling over with fans. Earlier in the venue’s lobby which houses its own coffee shop and bar, hundreds managed to squeeze through just to line up before doors opened. The set time for doors opening stated 7 PM, but it fell a few minutes after eight due to a VIP meet and greet and a warped sound check from opening act Loote. Doormen eventually opened the doors, allowing hundreds to hunker around the stage during a final mic check. Once their set began, the trio worked through loud executions of “Better When You’re Gone,” “Wish I Never Met You,” and “High Without Your Love” while giving a brief apology over the sound issues: “I apologize for the technical difficulties tonight,” singer Emma Lov Block said. Surprisingly, the crowd joined in a fun singalong of “No Promises,” a Top Ten dance hit they penned for Cheat Codes and Demi Lovato. Smack in the middle of their last song on the fun and exuberant “Your Side of the Bed,” a microphone went haywire, forcing the set to end abruptly.

The sound in the room improved drastically when Betty Who’s set begun. So did things visually. The lighting and stage affair were treated with visually-stimulating LED boxes pumping to select beats. Despite the low ceilings against the high rise stage, Saturn’s lighting system kissed the neon colored Betty Who vinyl backdrop with magnificence. And she’s added an aurora of rock concert glamour to the experience with a three-piece band playing alongside pre-recorded tracks carrying backing vocals, strings and other colorful sounds.

Since her last tour, the level of choreography has also earned a dexterous upgrade. With fist pumps, sharp turns and the occasional slip of artsy contemporary dance, Betty Who seemed to be channeling her best Beyoncé, even if her outfits and long blonde wig gave off Lady Gaga sparks. Her agile dancers, two chiseled eye-candy gents familiarly cast in her music video of “Mama Say,” worked the stage tirelessly, almost with very little breaks. And with every turn and transition, Betty was ready, bobbing and weaving through her non-interrupted 20+ track set. She only changed her wardrobe once, jumping from a black Taylor Swift-cut mini skirt that stayed suspended in the air from the perfectly angled floor fan to a white two-piece bra and skirt with matching boots.

The new sounds, mostly packaged in her latest LP Betty, weren’t totally alien to her crowd. Stans clacked their fans continuously in the air on the R&B grooves of her opener “Old Me.” Heads bobbed in full force on “The One,” a song giving off *nSYNC finesse. The burlesque Xtina-vibed “Taste” and its exotic choreography on display gave off after-hours vibes. And “All This Woman,” her obvious answer to Ariana Grande’s “Dangerous Woman,” came packaged with rock star aggression and red lights beaming in the background, adding a whole lot of sultry steam to the set. Meanwhile, the sheen quality of “You Can Cry Tomorrow” and the breezy finger-snapping sounds of “Ignore Me” (despite its gloomy title) filled the room with instant happiness.

When Betty Who slowed things down halfway into the set for an intimate acoustic rendering of “Wanna Be,” which she gave as a tribute to an endearing fan up front, the audience sung the chorus and much of the verses note-by-note. “Birmingham, you sound good out there,” she reacted with radiant glee. But Betty Who is pretty much an uptempo queen, and like a playlist to a lively dance party, tracks like “Mama Say,” the bubbly synthy “High Society,” the celestial pop of “I Remember,” and the final encore presentation (“Somebody Loves You”) worked the room, all inciting the largest reaction from the crowd.

Almost a decade into the game, Betty Who remains a charming synth pop princess. And although she’s bending her style and sound some with her latest LP, she’s staying true to her roots. Underneath the bubbly tracks, there’s storylines of heartbreak, survival and epiphanies of love. Her fans wouldn’t want her in any other way.

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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