EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH BETTY WHO

betty-who-22013 has shaped up to be a huge year for Betty Who.

Following the April release of the 22-year-old Australian singer/songwriter’s debut EP, The Movement (iTunes), Who is hard at work on her upcoming first full-length album (slated to hit stores next year via RCA Records). Her song “Somebody Loves You” also serves as the soundtrack to a recent viral video of a flash mob marriage proposal, which has already garnered over 10,790,000 views on YouTube. And just last week, she churned out her first official remix (for Demi Lovato’s “Neon Lights”).

Taking a break from the studio, Who caught up with me about her musical origins, debut album, current tour, love of Britney Spears, the proposal seen around the globe, and more.

betty-who-1ALEX: For starters, where did the stage name Betty Who come from?

BETTY: I wrote a song when I was seventeen or eighteen in high school about this boy who didn’t really want to be with me because of moral stuff. You know, he was super conservative. He didn’t kind of like my lifestyle, I guess, which is really silly cause at eighteen my lifestyle was just like … I had gay friends. So I named this song “Betty Who” kind of randomly. Then I had this song that I was working with my producer a year later and we were talking about stage names and he was like, “Well, you’re going to have to have a name that you’re going to be comfortable being called for the rest of your life cause that’s how it’s going to happen.” And then I was like, “what about Betty Who?” and it just felt so right.

Where were you when you first saw the “Spencer’s Home Depot Marriage Proposal” video and how has it impacted your career?

I was at the hairdresser actually. I was sitting getting my hair done and my manager emailed me the video and I started to like cry at the hairdresser’s. It’s definitely, like totally changed my life. I told the boys that too. When they came out for the VH1 performance to New York, I got to meet them and I remember sitting down with them and just being like, “you’ve actually changed my life, like really.” So it’s been amazing. I love that if my music was going to stand for anything, you know, it would be this.

Absolutely. I’d say then that it’s safe to assume that you will be singing at their wedding?

I think that it’s definitely in the cards.

Your music as a whole has been very embraced by the gay community in particular. Do you think that there is some sort of specific reason for that?

I had a friend describe it to me this way once. I think that gay men like to emote and they like to dance and I do both of those things in my songs. That’s basically what I heard a friend say that and I think that’s a really good description of why my music is the way that it is.

You recently signed a record deal with RCA, which is home to some of the biggest names in pop. How does it feel to be joining the ranks of people like Justin Timberlake, Kelly Clarkson, and Pink? Is there a lot of pressure?

Yeah. There is. I was talking to RCA for a couple months before I signed with them. So when I walk down the halls of RCA now, I still kind of don’t really feel like its real yet and I don’t know if it will until like I have an album up on the wall or I have a picture up on the wall, you know what I mean? I think because I haven’t really released anything through RCA yet. It still doesn’t really feel real. So, I’m waiting. Like on the floor that the RCA offices are, you walk out of the elevator and there’s just like pictures of Justin Timberlake, Usher, Kelly Clarkson, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera – I’m waiting to have my photo up there and I’ll lose it, I’m sure.

That’s going to be so exciting!

I know, right?

So actually speaking of Britney Spears, you’re very open about your love for her. Do you have plans to check out her Vegas show and what are your thoughts on her new song, “Perfume”?

Yes, Britney! My queen! I would actually love to go to her Vegas residency but you know, I live in New York so it’s a little bit more difficult to go to than if I were to live in LA. But I definitely will make plans to sneak away for two days when I’m in LA sometime and drive to Vegas with friends and go see it. I also like any Britney song that comes out. Like I will buy and I will love. You know what I mean? I don’t know if Britney could make a bad record, so “Perfume” is great.

I totally agree! Part of what I love about your music is the glittery, feel-good, 80’s throwback vibe that I get from it. Who are some of your biggest musical influences and what is it about this era that made you want to put your own contemporary spin on it?

Sure. I loved Michael Jackson when I was growing up. And you know, I loved Madonna, I loved Cyndi Lauper, I loved Pat Benatar. I remember listening to “Love is A Battlefield” when I was like fourteen maybe and like yelling it in my room. I love that music from the 80’s and 90’s is really fun. I think that pop music got really dark in the last couple years, and I mean that’s fine too and that’s great, but I also miss the sparkle of “Like A Virgin.” So for me, it’s really fun to make music that touches on that, but also gives it a way to exist in the world now that doesn’t just sound like I’m making a sound alike record.

Would you say that in today’s pop landscape that’s what makes your music stand out and distinctively Betty Who?

I guess. You know, a lot of people are making music that also is like 80’s throwback. If you listen to “Treasure” by Bruno Mars, it sounds like a 80’s record. So you know, I don’t know if I could be honest and say that like “oh yeah, well, like I’m the only one doing it.” But I definitely think that there’s an honesty in my lyrics and in my writing that very much makes it me. I think that’s what makes it different because I write all the music and so much of me goes into it.

Of course. So, originally you had plans to follow up the release of The Movement with a second EP, but I understand that you’ve since scrapped that idea and are instead working on putting out a full length album. Can you confirm those rumors?

Right, yes all of that is true.

Will the album then be an extension of the sound that you introduced on The Movement or do you think fans will be surprised by what they hear?

I think it’s very much an extension of the EP. All the songs from the first EP will be on it.

Have you chosen a first single yet?

I haven’t. Lots depends on that so I don’t have a lot to say about that yet.

Will fans who are coming to see you on your current tour get a taste of some of the new songs that the upcoming record will offer?

Yes, absolutely.

What’s your favorite one to perform live?

There’s a song called “Heartbreak Dream” that is not out anywhere yet and it’s just like a really high-energy song and people have been responding to it really well. So I’m very excited to release that. Out of the older songs, “High Society” is my favorite to perform – just because the energy in it and the way that people like it. Now, when people sing a long, it’s really amazing – especially the “we’ll drink Chardonnay through the day ‘cause we say so” part.

Awesome! Do you have a title or a release date in mind yet for the album?

No, neither of those things.

Can you tell me a little bit about who you’ve been working on this record with? Is it the same team behind The Movement? Or are you also collaborating with some new faces?

Sure. It’s mostly just me and my producer from the first EP, Peter Thomas. He and I did almost the entirety of the record, and then there’s one song on it that I wrote with this band called Ghost Beach. I don’t know if you know Ghost Beach, they’re amazing. I played a couple of shows with them, that’s how I met them, and we’ve become friends, and we recorded this awesome song, so that song will be on the album.

Well I can’t wait to hear it! Did you dress up for Halloween this year?

I did.

What or who did you dress up as?

Well I was in LA, and I was in the studio all Halloween day and I got out at like maybe 5:30 or 6, so by the time that I was leaving, I was like, “I don’t have a costume, I’m running late to this party that my friends want me to go to. Like I’m just not going to have a costume.” And I texted my friend that and she was like, “Just come as one of the girls from The Craft with us.” And I was in a black velvet skirt and a white shirt already, so I was like, “oh, perfect.” So I just stopped by CVS, I picked up knee high socks, a costume necklace and some dark lipstick and I found a black velvet hoodie at CVS, which is like the grossest thing in the whole world. And I wore that. And I was like “It was perfect.” I was already in costume.

I love that. So what’s been your favorite pop song of 2013 so far?

Oooh, that’s a good question! I think “Rock N Roll” by Avril Lavigne.

Really?

It was the most underrated pop song of the year! It’s so amazing and so well written and has so much energy. I just yell that song in my shower and it didn’t even get a chance to be as great as it is, I think. So, that’s my answer.

 Originally published on PopBytes

EXCLUSIVE: SOLANGE DISHES ON HER NEW RECORD LABEL, UPCOMING ALBUM, AND MORE!

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Solange Knowles means business.

It’s clear in the very first minute of our interview that the singer-turned-entrepreneur is beyond proud of Saint Heron, the debut compilation album from her recently launched independent label, Saint Records. Hitting stores on Tuesday, the record comes almost exactly one year after the release of her superb EP, True (which boasted the critical darling single, “Losing You”).

Solange immediately explained how she chose the compilation’s title: “I knew that I wanted to play with the word ‘saint,’ so I went onto Google and discovered the Egyptian martyr, Saint Heron. The fact that he was a black saint was really important to me.”

Featuring original songs by artists like Cassie, Jhene Aiko and, of course, Solange, Saint Heron also includes previously unreleased material from a talented array of the label’s talent, including Kelela, BC Kingdom, Sampha, Jade De La Fleur, India Shawn, Kingdom, Iman Omari, Starchild and Petite Noir.

“I really wanted to make a record you can smoke to,” Solange said with a chuckle. “Curating this tracklisting was definitely a creatively fulfilling experience. All of the artists on this compilation are so extremely talented and are really defying the genre of R&B in their own ways. And the songs are all so unique but still flow together as one body of work. I love how airy and experimental it gets.”

saint-heronWith Saint Heron, Solange has not only crafted one of the best albums of 2013, she’s once again put together a masterpiece of contemporary R&B. The moody and lush compilation is a gorgeous introduction to Saint Records, which is quickly shaping up to be one of the most exciting, welcome and necessary additions to the music industry this year.

“I’ve never really mentioned this before, but growing up and watching my dad work, I always said that I wanted to take over for him someday,” Solange recalled, noting that this inspired her to start her label. “When Destiny’s Child started, he was entering a whole new world. He did a lot of reading and a lot of research and had to quit his day job, and that ultimately became a sort of forgotten success story,” she said of her father’s career managing and executive producing the band that launched big sister Beyonce to superstardom.

“I always said that when he was done, I’d want to take over and do what he does,” she excitedly continued. “I’ve always been fascinated by the business side of things. I’ve released three albums with three different labels, which has given me a really unique insight into the way music is made. And I’ve always been a fan of music first and foremost. So I wanted to create something where artists who were already established and didn’t need A&Rs and things like that can come together to create a community for the music that they love.”

To celebrate the album’s release, Solange and the Saint Heron team took to the streets of New York City this past Sunday to hold trunk sales of CD and vinyl copies of the record. Stopping throughout the day at locations in Harlem, SoHo and Fort Greene, these mini-release parties came fully equipped with Puma-sponsored fan contests in hula hooping, double dutch, body rolling and more. As for the trunk holding all the music for sale? That was in a jaw-dropping Lamborghini, custom designed to emulate the Saint Heron cover art by Rashaad Newsome.

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“The trunk sales have been so much fun! I’m so happy with how they turned out. It’s been so amazing and exciting to be able to interact with the fans and supporters and to really build and grow the Saint Heron community,” Solange added. “Getting Rashaad involved was something that I really wanted to make sure we could make happen. We discovered him in New Orleans and his work is just so beautiful and inspires me on so many levels.”

Among Saint Heron’s many highlights is “Indo,” an all-new song performed by Cassie. Written and produced by Solange, the track also marks Ms. Knowles’ first full solo production credit.

“I’ve loved Cassie since ‘Me & U,’ she’s such a talented artist,” Solange said. “A few other people had written some stuff for her, but when we were talking about working together, we realized that we really wanted to go into the studio, just the two of us, and just jam out and feel each other’s vibes.”

“I’ve always been interested in producing, but as a musician, I was always mostly interested in perfecting things like the melody. And I’ve of course been involved in the production side of my music, but this was the first time I was a full-out producer on my own. That’s definitely something I’m interested in exploring more. It was very rewarding to see this song grow from beginning to end.”

Closing Saint Heron is Solange’s newest offering, the Aaliyah-esque “Cash In.” Featuring a cowbell that calls to mind 702’s “I Still Love You,” the song is a tonal shift from the throwback pop-infused sound of True.

“I actually first worked on ‘Cash In’ about four years ago, and it’s always been one of my absolute favorite songs I’ve ever recorded,” Solange insisted. “But there wasn’t really a place for it within the context of True, and Saint Heron seemed like a much better fit for it. It became the perfect place to finally give the song its turn to have a life of its own.”

So will her upcoming 2014 Saint Records solo album sound more like True or more like “Cash In”?

“Sonically, it will still have 80s pop references, but it’ll include a lot more live instruments – lots of percussion and lots of piano. So I’d definitely say that ‘Cash In’ is more indicative of the album’s sound than True is. I think it’ll be a darker record than people might expect. But it’s really representative of where I’m at now artistically.”

While an official release date for Solange’s next album has yet to be announced, it’s clear that Saint Records has an incredible long future to look forward to. Saint Heron is a true labor of love, from all of the artists involved and (especially) from the showrunner herself.

“It’s my baby in so many ways,” Solange triumphantly concluded. “I couldn’t be happier with it.”

Saint Heron will be available in stores tomorrow.

IMG_1951Originally published on PopBytes

CELINE DION SHOWCASES “LOVED ME BACK TO LIFE” AT INTIMATE NYC CONCERT

IMG_1155It’s been six years since pop icon Celine Dion has released an English-language album.

“I had two babies and a French album and a Vegas show! I’ve been busy!” Dion explained to an adoring audience at her concert in New York City on October 29. But with this week’s release of her new album, Loved Me Back To Life (which hit stores yesterday), the French Canadian songstress is more than ready for her comeback.

When it came time to record Loved Me Back To Life, Dion decided to recruit some fresh blood to put a contemporary spin on her signature Lite-FM sound. She turned to songwriters and producers like Sia, Ne-Yo, Babyface, and Tricky Stewart to build a record that was still distinctly Celine – but with a slightly grittier edge than her audience has come to expect from her.

“For 30 years, I’ve had the same recipe, which puts a lot of reverb on my voice. But for this album, I wanted to break from that. There are no effects on my voice. It’s very pure. Very direct,” the singer recently said. “I have nothing to lose. I’m not looking for career attention, for more success, more money. I’m just singing songs I chose because I love them.”

IMG_1162“I’m not trying to reinvent myself,” Dion continued. “I don’t want people to think, ‘This is a brand new Celine,’ but I am at a place in my career where I’m 45, I’m at the peak of my life, and I’ve never felt like this before. I want to have a good time.”

It was that passion and artistic versatility that was on full display during Dion’s concert last week. Sponsored by Pandora, the invite-only show found the five-time Grammy Award winner playing an array of her greatest hits and select new tracks to celebrate the release of her record. And unlike the Colosseum at Caesars Palace – the massive Vegas venue she’s used to – the Edison Ballroom provided a much smaller setting, making it one of the most intimate concerts Dion has performed in years.

Opening with a stunning medley of “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now” and “The Power of Love,” Dion instantly had her audience entranced by her trademark vocal runs and often-dramatic delivery. The singer followed with her first English-language hit “Where Does My Heart Beat Now,” and the epic power ballads “Because You Loved Me” and “The Reason,” before breaking into a trio of new songs from Loved Me Back To Life.

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The first of this set was “Water and a Flame,” originally recorded by Adele and Daniel Merriweather (fun fact: Dion’s new album was initially meant to be named after this song, but was retitled after Merriweather publicly criticized Dion for not crediting the song to him during an interview with Katie Couric). A perfect example of the huskier flavor Dion’s voice is currently sampling, “Water And A Flame” is a harrowing lament for a couple that is just too opposite to attract. And Dion’s subdued live performance added layers of rawness and vulnerability to the already heartbreaking song.

Next was the album’s lead single and title track. Co-written by Sia Furler (the mastermind behind Britney Spears’ “Perfume”), “Loved Me Back To Life” is easily the most radio-friendly song on Dion’s new record. Featuring a chilling vocal loop and a dubstep beat drop, the song expertly blends classic Dion with contemporary pop trends to attract both longtime and new fans alike.

The final Loved Me Back To Life song that Dion performed was the Janis Ian cover, “At Seventeen.” An anthem of remembering teenage awkwardness, the song was the weakest of the new offerings, but still managed to pack an emotional punch when the singer wailed about “ugly duckling girls like me.”

Dion wrapped up her set with her cover of Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself,” which seemed to have a majority of the audience singing along full volume, the disco-tinged “Love Can Move Mountains,” and the rock-n-rolling “River Deep Mountain High.”

But naturally, Dion saved the best for last. Closing the show with “My Heart Will Go On,” the Academy Award-winning theme to Titanic, the chanteuse managed to breathe new life into a song she’s sung countless times over the past sixteen years. Using just her voice, Dion re-created the song’s iconic instrumental introduction, producing a haunting effect that really utilized the intimacy of the venue. It was truly like watching a master class in perfection.

With the release of Loved Me Back In Life now behind her, Dion has her sights set on preparing for her return to Vegas for a new concert series, which will last from this December through next March. And does Dion plan to see the show of another pop legend kicking off a residency in Sin City next month?

“If Britney wants to give stability to her family, I really can’t think of a better place,” answered Dion. “I’m not a wildcat. I don’t smoke, drink or do drugs, and Las Vegas has been wonderful for me. I wish (Britney) the best there, and I will make time to see her.”

Although she may not be a “wildcat,” Dion certainly is a risk taker. Loved Me Back To Life is far bolder and more interesting than her last English-language record, 2007’s Taking Chances. And if her once-in-a-lifetime concert in New York last week proved anything, it’s that her star power has anything but faded over the years. In fact, it’s still burning as brightly as it ever has.

Welcome back, Celine.

IMG_1866IMG_1153Originally published on PopBytes