The Music Entertainment Committee billed the Betty Who spring music concert, as “an 80s dance party extravaganza,” an opportunity to “get lost in neon lights and synthpop euphoria” and “the night of your life.” After her April 17 concert, it was clear that this was not hyperbole.
Jessica Newham, better known as Betty Who, hails from Sydney, Australia. After years of training as a classical cellist, she moved to the States in 2007 to attend Interlochen Center for the Arts and Berklee College of Music. Her catchy debut single “Somebody Loves You” was initially released online and went viral when the song was used in a flash mob proposal video. Her first EP, The Movement, was released online for free download, and the buzz from that led to her signing with RCA Records in 2013. Who’s second EP, Slow Dancing, dropped in April 2014, and her first full-length album, Take Me When You Go, came out in October 2014. Over her still-new career, she has received several big breaks, including inclusion on TIME’s list of 14 Musical Acts to Watch in 2014 and spots opening for Katy Perry, Kylie Minogue and Kiesza on their tours.
Unlike tickets for the fall Hoodie Allen concert, which disappeared within days, Betty Who tickets were sold in a slow trickle, finally selling out at the door. It looked like there would be a small audience for the show, but by the time Who took the stage the Pause was packed. As it was an Admitted Students Day, a handful of prospective students were in attendance, uncertain of what to expect. Campus band Maria and the Coins – featuring Maria Coyne ’15 on vocals, Zaq Baker ’15 playing keyboards, Emily Wolfe ’16 on guitar, Nick Baker ’15 playing bass and Harrison Hintzsche ’16 on drums and background vocals – opened for Betty Who. Coyne’s strong vocals and the band’s contagious energy delighted the audience a clear favorite number being a cover of Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance” and created anticipation for the main act.
After what seemed like an endless wait, Betty Who and her band bounded on stage to a near-deafening roar of delight and immediately launched into “Heartbreak Dream.” Who is 6’1″ and was a dominating figure on the Pause Mane Stage. Between her height and shock of white-blonde hair, it was hard for the crowd to take their eyes off her. However, she ensured that people paid attention to the rest of her band, pulling her keyboardist and bassist to center stage to dance with her. These musicians were small, especially compared to Betty Who, resulting in Who appearing larger than life.
Who’s repertoire has a very distinctive sound. Her songs are all electrifying, clearly influenced by Katy Perry and Robyn. However, Who spaced her setlist to create variety from song to song. Energetic, well-known songs like “High Society” were played alongside more mournful songs like “Missing You.” Once again, her energy and stage presence forced even those who can’t stand ’80s pop to enjoy the show.
She engaged with the audience like no other, grabbing people’s phones to shoot selfies with the crowd, holding people’s hands as they clamored to be near her and singing “Happy Birthday” to a lucky audience member. Who closed with the smash hit “Somebody Loves You,” to which the audience screamed along and jumped up and down with in sheer pleasure. When she left the stage, there was a clamor for an encore that never came. The crowd then filtered out to eat pizza and rave about the shared experience.
Overall, reviews of the Betty Who concert were overwhelmingly positive. The Music Entertainment Committee definitely did a good job picking Betty Who, and this concert will be one talked about for months.
Photo Credit:MATT TYLUTKI/MANITOU MESSENGER