The Australian pop singer makes a case for independence, releasing a record that routinely surprises and entertains.
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It takes less than a minute for Betty Who to address the elephant in the room on her third studio album. The Australian singer has remained open about her break from RCA in 2017. The label released two of her records in 2014 and 2017 but Who (rightfully) believed the relationship was imbalanced. As with Tinashe, Who and her strong fanbase were unsatisfied with the musical output, or lack thereof. In the thirteen months since the split, Who has released five singles, an EP, a song for Netflix’s Queer Eye and now, her first independent album. It is evident that Betty Who is fighting for her place at the table.
“I’m feeling like the old me, No, you cannot control me”, Who proudly sings on the album’s opener. Marking her first major release as an independent act, Betty Who seems determined to define her character. ‘Old Me’ is that statement of intent: a badge of honour. It confirms her disagreements with her former label, but more importantly, positions her as the victor; the secondary character getting their own franchise. Without the context, it is funky enough to win you over. With, it highlights the lengths in which Who has travelled to get to this point. The song bubbles with joy, a high note from the off.
That state of joy is omnipresent on ‘Betty’ – an album with an evergreen ability to bring you transformative pop. To spend forty-two minutes with ‘Betty’ is to experience a first-hand exercise in morale-boosting soul-cleansing bangers. Professional yet playful, Who’s third is by far her most charismatic and, consequently, her strongest.
‘Betty’ succeeds on two fronts: as both a powerful statement of independence, and as a ridiculously entertaining pop album. Betty Who recurrently flexes her skills as an excellent songwriter, while maintaining a consistent tone that delivers pop anthems with a wink. Where many pop albums can provide hooks, ‘Betty’ produces said goods, but presents them with more personality than an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Look no further than ‘Taste’ – direct and seductive, an apparent tale of eating luxury chocolates is repurposed into a brassy affair. Its bass is a persistent presence, a lead that plays off Who’s charming vocal performance. The chorus stabs with an injection of noise while a softly-spoken breakdown bridge compensates the window-opening chorus. As for ‘Just Thought You Should Know’, Betty Who relays her love for 90s synth-pop with an illustrious rhythm section and a cherished organ in the hook. Her songwriting is apparent; the song’s build is majestic, each chorus escalating as Who professes her love with more passion. As the third track, its spacious aura does, however, tarnish the album’s pacing.
‘Betty”s greatest strength lies in its desire to entertain. Be it the bouncy nature of ‘I Remember’ or the effervescent ‘Language’, Betty Who is determined to please. The former is an on-the-nose sister to Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘Emotion’, complete with a bridge CRJ would conquer. The latter aims to reach a sexual high but does not quite hit it, instead settling for an intimate tell-all.
There are a handful of moments on the record that will have you wondering how Betty Who has failed to dominate the charts. ‘Marry Me’ is pure modern pop gold; the verses are comforting, assuring when the chorus takes the risk, getting down on one knee. Maybe a song about getting married does not appeal to the ‘One Kiss’ demographic, who knows? As for ‘Ignore Me’, it is impossible to do so. The track is a perfect meeting between dynamics and emotion; Who’s resigned vocals are as infectious and heartfelt as it was upon its release over thirteen months ago. Her first independent single, it is a fantastic token of her freedom.
If her songwriting is stellar, then the production most certainly is not holding the album back. ‘Do With It’, one of the two songs solely written by Betty Who, compensates for a lack of interesting verses by employing one of the most engaging hooks of the year so far, expertly utilising an effective use of syllabic rhyming. ‘The One’ rips a page straight out of Oops!-era Britney and lights it as an effigy.
The latter of the two is both a blessing and a curse for Betty Who. On a couple occasions on the record, a song never quite feels like A Betty Who Song. Instead an impression of a more successful artist comes to mind. With the aforementioned Britney and Carly odes, you cannot help but believe that the heroes she champions have done similar songs, only slightly better – a sign of how great these artists are more than anything. Even when Who interpolates ‘Cry Me A River’ into ‘All This Woman’ (consequently repurposing it from a jealous break-up song to an exercise in self-love), Rosalía is recalled.
‘Betty’ is the perfect title for her first independent record: it is her mission statement. Across the project you are reminded of Who’s passion in the craft. The songs are easy to love because it is evident that Who loves them. Where the album lacks in originality, it more than makes up for in the abundance of personality. Sure the ‘wow factor”s are scarce but with Betty Who, no questions are needed.