Who's that girl? Advance talks to 2016 Awards headlining performer Betty Who

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Currently holding a top-10 place in the Australian iTunes charts for her latest hit “I Love You Always” and having earned the prestigious opening act slot for A-list names such as Katy Perry and Kylie Minogue, Betty Who is fast becoming known as one of Australia's most talented singer-songwriters.

Betty Who will be the headlining performer at this year's 2016 Awards, and will be performing some of her internationally recognised songs throughout the ceremony. Additionally, she's also participating in our half-day Summit, featuring in a Q&A session focusing on The Art of Disruption: Australians Disrupting the Global Entertainment Industry. Facilitated by Walkley Award Winning journalist Jenny Brockie, the discussion will focus on the culture of creativity and look at how the digital revolution has changed the playing field for Australian artists establishing themselves on the global stage.

A naturally talented musician, Betty Who is self-taught on both the piano and guitar and began performing as a singer-songwriter at age 16.  After relocating to the United States in 2007, she attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where she met producer Peter Thomas. Betty Who is now based in LA, and is signed with RCA records. 

Ahead of the Advance Global Australian Awards and Summit, we caught up with Betty Who to find out what she's most excited about, who she looks to for inspiration, and advice for young aspiring artists. 

You’ve been living overseas for a while – most of your adult life – do you still consider Australia to be “home”?

I think I consider wherever I’m sleeping for more than a week to be home. I think I’d lose my mind if I were always longing for a place to call home that was a million miles away. So whether it’s a hotel in London or the tour bus or my house in LA, “home” kind of transforms with the ebb and flow of my work.

What is it like to return to Australia to perform, after touring around the world?

There’s nothing that feels better to me than performing in Sydney. Honestly I just love being in Sydney so any excuse to go makes me so happy!

What was the most difficult aspect about relocating and establishing a life in the US? Would you do anything differently?

I was really lucky because my mum is American so I didn’t have to worry about a green card or a visa, which, for all my international friends in school, was always such an impossible situation to navigate. I think having family over here was really helpful too. If I could do anything differently, it would be going back to Australia more frequently. It’s definitely something I wish I had made more time for.

What artists – recording and otherwise – do you look up to for inspiration to remain innovative?

I think both Miguel and Sia are really inspiring as artists. They make music for the masses but still are so honest and true to themselves. They give off an “I don’t really care what you think, I’m doing this exactly how I want to” vibe which I really appreciate. I think you can always smell in-authenticity from a mile away. I grew up listening to Joni Mitchell a lot as well, so her stories and language are inspiring to me.

Describe how your music has evolved, as you’ve become a more experienced and worldly artist?

I think my taste has expanded a lot because I’ve spent a lot more time with different types of musicians. I’ve gotten a lot more experimental with what I am willing to try. A lot of the time it ends up sounding bad but when it’s good, I’m so happy I’ve found this new part of my artistry.

You were trained as a classical cellist – how did you transition from classical to pop music? Do you still touch base with your musical roots?

I realised early on into my classical endeavours that there was a difference between how I felt about cello and how everybody else felt about it. My dedication and connection to it was real, but was just different. So I started writing songs because it felt really good and I was too self-conscious to say I wanted to do it professionally for a long time. But as I got older it became very clear that I was running out of options and I was going to need to buckle down and commit to a path. So I chose modern music, I still play the cello every now and again but I will hardly ever play in front of anybody. I love it because it’s for me and nobody else. 

What’s your advice for young emerging Australian artists, looking to break into an international market

I think the best thing to do is spend a decent chunk of time in either New York or LA. Find a sublet for six months and hustle. Get out and meet people, go to shows and get into writing sessions as much as you can. This industry is all about who you know and who knows you. So get out there! Show everybody how awesome you are.

What was the feeling when you reached #1 on iTunes with your singles “Take Me When You Go” and “I Love You Always Forever”?

Honestly, it still doesn’t feel real. I don’t know if it ever will! I haven’t figured out what that “thing” is that’s going to make me really understand that it actually happened.

We’re so excited to have you perform at the 2016 Advance Global Australian Awards and speaking at the Summit. Is there a topic regarding the future of Australia that you’re particularly invested in? 

I’m so excited to talk about how many young creative Australian people are out representing their industries so competently. I’ve travelled a lot in the last few years of my life and the one thing almost every place I’ve gone has in common is Australians. We’re everywhere!  Our community is strong and I’m so proud to be a part of it.