For many readers, Betty Who is more than just a name, she’s also a question. While the 23-year-old Australian, performing Tuesday night at King’s in downtown Raleigh, has quickly amassed both fan support and commercial success on the Billboard Dance charts, unless you are a frequent dance clubgoer, you may not know her.
Fortunately for the young songstress, a multitude of music outlets have taken notice – and whether she is ready or not, she is being given an opportunity to become the “next big thing” in the pop music world. Time magazine named Who one of their 14 young musical acts to take notice of in 2014, and her song “Somebody Loves You” was the soundtrack in an online engagement video that went viral, boosting the song to No. 1 on the Billboard Dance chart and gaining the singer 11 million potential new fans.
Still early in her “The Convertible Nights Tour,” Who is traveling the country with opening band COIN – a big step in visibility for the entertainer.
“We did a couple of festivals to start it off,” Who said in an interview from the road. “But two nights ago we had our first real tour show in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Tonight we’re in Pittsburgh, so it’s already becoming a bit of a blur for all of us, when compared to a smaller tour. ... We have been through some of the major cities in the South (in the past), but this will be the first time that we’ve gone to some of the somewhat smaller markets, which I’m looking forward to. I have a couple of friends in Raleigh who I’m looking forward to seeing at the show.”
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Since the singer’s debut EP, 2013’s “The Movement,” Who has been opening some of the largest pop tours in Australia, including the Australian dates of Katy Perry’s latest tour. Who says she hasn’t noticed any big differences in the pressures of being the opener as opposed to being the headliner everyone came to see.
“The way I look at touring is the more nights I have to get out there on stage, the more comfortable I become at performing,” she says. “I think it’s good because of how much I’ve toured, I’m starting to feel better about it because I’ve been traveling the past three years, almost nonstop.”
Who may be exploring the United States for the first time with her current tour, but she isn’t a stranger to the country. She was born in Sydney, Australia, but moved to America in her mid-teens to attend the highly regarded Interlochen Center for the Arts in northwest Michigan. The school’s location may have lacked the outside distractions that most teenagers crave, but Who believes that solitude helped her become the artist she is today.
“I think the fun part about it was that it was more about the artists getting together and creating something that was special more than anything else, so being in the middle of nowhere actually proved to be beneficial toward creation,” she says. “I think that was probably the point of the school’s location.”
The art school’s reputation has been made in recent years by the platinum-selling musicians who have called Interlochen home. Norah Jones, Rufus Wainwright and Josh Groban have all walked the Interlochen halls as students and gone on to have very successful careers, which may lead some to believe that the school is a breeding ground for stardom. Who says that notion is laughable.
“The only program that actually teaches contemporary music there, other than jazz, is a brand new pop music songwriting class that they just added,” she explains. “The school has always been more of a classical music experience; I was a cellist at the school, but I was given such a strong foundation of classical training there, that now that I’m in pop music I have a very strong base to work from. I think the actual curriculum doesn’t really support kids that enroll looking to become a pop superstar.”
And pop stardom is something Who is still fighting for. Despite her quick success on the dance charts, her music hasn’t made an impression on the Billboard Pop charts as yet. She is gaining fans rapidly, and her debut full-length album, “Take Me When You Go,” is selling strongly enough for RCA Records to give her some breathing room to develop her act. But Who acknowledges that her music’s failure to launch on Top 40 radio does annoy her a bit.
Yet, she hesitates when asked about mainstream radio overlooking her music.
“You know, it’s my first album, and I did what I wanted to do by making a really good album and learning a lot about the business,” she says. “Now I’m thinking, ‘OK, what do I really want?’ That includes getting onto pop radio, and a few other things I didn’t get on this album.
“I try not to let it bum me out or bring me down too much, because it would be really easy for me to get sad about the things that didn’t happen, but I think it’s way more productive for me and less creativity blocking for me to focus on what is going really well. I’m definitely happy about the way things are going now, but I have a list going in my head of things that I want to change next time.”
Who: Betty Who, with COIN and Cailee Rae
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Kings, 14 W. Martin St., Raleigh