Sun, April 16
Doors: 7:00 pm
"I've always been the type of person who will tell you everything and put myself out there totally unglossed," says Betty Who. "Writing is therapeutic in that way. I want other people to be able to hear a song and say, 'That's how I felt but was too afraid to say it.' And that's the beauty of music, you can really say anything you want with a catchy hook."
Therein lies the magic of Betty Who and her explosive rise to fame last year on the strength of her breakout debut EP, 'The Movement.' Her songs exorcise vulnerabilities and weaknesses, reclaiming them as anthems of joy and independence. Lead single "Somebody Loves You" debuted at #4 on Spotify's Most Viral list, racking up more than six million streams and earning her raves from BuzzFeed and Perez Hilton to SPIN and Nylon, along with spreads in Elle (who called her "your next pop obsession"), Cosmo, and more. TIME named her one of 14 To Watch in 2014, NY Mag described her as a mix of "early Madonna...Katy Perry and Robyn, with spunk and confidence," and Billboard hailed her "shimmering tracks...and arresting pop textures."
To call the EP an unexpected triumph would be an understatement, though, especially considering it was initially released independently. The grassroots success of the music, fueled primarily by word of mouth online from a passionate fanbase and Who's undeniable charisma as a frontwoman in her ecstatic live shows, led to a deal with RCA, who released her follow-up EP, 'Slow Dancing,' which debuted at #1 on the iTunes Pop Chart. Now, as Who prepares to release her forthcoming debut LP, perform on Late Night with Seth Meyers, and join Katy Perry on tour, she finds herself a far cry away from her roots as a classical cellist growing up half a world away in Australia. "I had these dueling musical interests," says Who of her childhood. "My first tape was Britney Spears and I know every single word to 'No Strings Attached' by N Sync. But I had this cello that I started playing when I was four, and I played a lot of classical music until I was 18, so I'd be dancing in my room to 'Genie In A Bottle' and then I would go to orchestra rehearsal."
Who earned acceptance to the prestigious Interlochen Center of the Arts in Michigan, where she excelled in the rigorous classical program. On a trip to Boston during her senior year to audition for the Berklee College of Music, Who was introduced to Peter Thomas, who would become integral to her career months later when she returned to enroll in the school. "He came to me right before he withdrew from Berklee and said we should mess around in the studio and see what happens," Who remembers. "I think from that day forward we spent almost every night at our engineer's apartment, all crammed around the computer talking about songs and what we wanted and what we didn't want. We did a lot of discovering who we were, and Peter became one of my best friends."
Though it was never their intention, the result of those late night sessions was 'The Movement' EP, and the reaction to the music confirmed that they indeed had something special on their hands. "We basically made a name for ourselves with people who were just genuine music fans," says Who. "They wanted to see the underdog succeed because I was an independent artist."
If anything, signing with RCA has only encouraged Who to double down on those endearing qualities that made her such a rising independent star in the first place. The 'Slow Dancing' EP, her second collaboration with Thomas, opens with "Heartbreak Dream," an 80?s-inspired pop masterpiece that works audiences up into a dancing frenzy live. "Alone Again" is a Prince-esque gem that poured out in just a few hours during what Who describes as a "Beyonce moment" of self-empowerment, while "Giving Me Away" is such a vulnerable, personal statement that she wasn't sure if she could ever publicly perform it. But that's what makes her Betty Who, that vulnerable musical alchemy by which she turns deep, emotional, sometimes painful moments into cathartic bursts of abandon and collective bliss. On the eve of completing her debut LP, one thing is abundantly clear: Betty Who still has a lot more magic up her sleeve.
On her full-length debut Somewhere in Between, VÉRITÉ shows a self-possessed intensity shaped by years of working as a decidedly independent artist. In creating the album, Byrne collaborated with producers in New York and London and L.A. and immersed herself in a more experimental process than she’d ever attempted before. “I threw myself into all these different and uncomfortable situations with people I’d never worked with, and said yes to new sounds and collaborations without worrying about how it would all come together,” she says. As executive producer of the album, VÉRITÉ blended organic and electronic elements into a rhythm-driven sound that’s ornately arranged but charged with raw feeling.
At the heart of Somewhere in Between is a selection of songs that “dissect fragments of my experience as a human and twist them in unusual ways,” according to Byrne. “I like playing with the sentiment of human relationships” she adds, “but the lyrics are more about my relationship with the world, and dealing with things like apathy and boredom.” On lead single “Phase Me Out,” she delivers a beautifully moody slow-burner that shows the full force of her delivery, her vocals gracefully shifting from delicate to devastating. Embodying the beat-heavy dynamic of Somewhere in Between, “When You’re Gone” builds a powerful backdrop for her piercing lyrics (“I don’t mind you leaving when the damage is done/I don’t mind how I feel the same when you’re gone”). And on “Saint,” VÉRITÉ offsets her brutal self-awareness (“Maybe you’re too innocent/And I’m a crack in your glass”) with a growling bassline and hugely anthemic chorus.
Byrne starting singing at age 8 and soon took up piano. At 13 she joined an all-girl punk band that covered the Breeders, and—several years later—co-founded a seven-piece alt-rock act complete with a full horn section. Soon after moving to New York City at age 20, she began creating as VÉRITÉ and balanced her musical pursuits with working up to 70 hours a week at Applebee’s in Times Square, sometimes starting her shift at 6 a.m. and then heading straight from work to sound check.
Her debut as VÉRITÉ, the independently released and entirely self-promoted 2014 single “Heartbeat” quickly drew major buzz online. Though record labels were soon courting VÉRITÉ, she chose to continue waitressing and fund the release of her debut EP Echo with her Applebee’s tips. “I decided that I didn’t want to answer to anybody or change anything to appease someone else,” says Byrne. In 2015, the same year she released her sophomore EP Sentiment, Byrne quit her waitressing job to pursue music full-time just before heading out on her first-ever tour. Since then she has completed two North American headline tours and released her highly acclaimed third EP, 2016’s Living. She’s also opened for such artists as Tove Lo and BØRNS and appeared at major festivals like Lollapalooza and Firefly, plus made her television debut on the TODAY Show. To date, her total streams on Spotify alone have reached over 100 million.
Now gearing up for a spring tour, Byrne brings a certain questioning spirit to the making of Somewhere in Between, whose title is taken from the album’s most ballad-like moment. “The first lyric is ‘Somewhere in between living and dying,’ which is a perfect summary of where I was at during the making of the album,” says Byrne. “It was really born from this place of asking myself, ‘What the fuck are we doing here?’, and facing all the ups and downs that come with that.” In that questioning, Byrne discovered a greater sense of purpose for VÉRITÉ. “I don’t necessarily care how people interpret what I write—the most important thing is that the songs make them feel something,” she says. “Especially at this moment in time when there’s so many distractions and it’s so easy to get hyper-focused on what’s happening in your own head, sharing music with people feels more important than ever.”
815 V St. NW
Washington, DC, 20001
815 V St. NW
Washington, DC, 20001