“My dream is to have a Lifetime movie made about me,” muses Betty Who on a call from L.A. “I want a horrible, totally offensive movie about my life,” she laughs.
The 25-year-old singer-songwriter has just found out Britney Spears will get the unauthorized Lifetimebiopictreatment in 2017. (“Shut the front door,” she gasps into the phone. “I did not know that, and you have just changed my life.”) The native Aussie, born Jessica Newham, is a huge fan of the “Glory” popstress. She rattles off her favorites (though, “it’s, like, impossible”) giggling when reminded that she told EW that her upcoming sophomore album would be an “ode to Britney.”
“I couldn’t even remember who I told that to, but it’s continuously brought up to me,” she snickers. “It’s true, and Britney is my god. A few of her records completely shaped the way I look at songwriting and music. The format and production of those early 2000s [albums that] she and *NSYNC and Backstreet Boys used, I tried to apply to this coming album.”
Betty Who — who snagged her first number one Billboard dance track with 2014’s “Somebody Loves You” — refers to Spears’ discography as a map to the stars in the recording industry.
“[Britney albums are] very music industry insider-y,” she explains, while citing the genius of mega producer/frequent Britney collaborator Max Martin. “When a Britney album comes to fruition, that list of writers and producers who put it together make up a who’s who of the industry.”
As for the production of Betty Who’s Britney-influenced second album, she’s coming close to an end. The follow-up to 2014’s “Take Me When You Go” should, she hopes, be due out early next year. “We’re just finalizing the tracklist and doing vocal edits and tweaks,” she says. “The thing to remember about that first album is that a lot of [the songs] came from EPs, so it wasn’t as daunting as starting from scratch. This was a blank slate.”
So far, we’ve got a taste of “Human Touch,” the first single from the forthcoming album — a breathy, buzzy track that, yes, echoes “In the Zone”-era Spears.
“The thing I always loved about Britney is that she never was like, ‘I’m a songwriter,’” says Betty Who. “There are so many artists who say that they are, and it’s like ‘Yeah, yeah, sure, we believe you.’ But for Britney, she was just like, ‘I’m singing, and having fun.’”
Songwriting, for Betty Who, is a personal matter.
The Berklee School of Music graduate (2013) studied the craft, while also collecting fellow students as members of her future professional entourage — including manager Ethan Schiff and producer/co-writer Peter Thomas. The late liberal arts professor Henry Tate also played a critical role in her education, and will be on the artist's mind when she performs at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum thisThursday as part of their RISE series.
"He was also a guide for the museum. He knew so much and would take us there for class," she remembers. "I'm looking forward to getting a second look around [at the museum] and get to be in the presence of Henry again. I miss him so much."
Update: Betty Who has canceled her appearance at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Musem on Dec. 8. No word on a possible rescheduled date, as of yet. We'll update as we receive more information.