Somewhere in the handbook of “How to Succeed in Pop Music These Days,” it’s probably recommended that women outfit themselves with a sense of fun and a short, funky pouf of peroxide-blond hair. It’s been a winning combo for acts such as Pink, Robyn and Miley Cyrus — and it’s worth hoping that it works for the deserving Australian newcomer Betty Who.
The 22-year-old Who (or Jessica Newham, as she’s known to her family and professors at the Berklee College of Music, from which she graduated last year) burst onstage in a glittering gold jacket and sporting cherry lipstick, her little shock of glow-in-the-dark hair gleaming. But the most blindingly fabulous aspect of Sunday’s all-too-brief show at the Rock & Roll Hotel was the playful lady, whose electric charisma never faded.
Who performed tracks from her upcoming first studio album, as well as from her debut EP “The Movement,” released last year. With its dreamy synth-pop confections, “The Movement” drew comparisons to the likes of “Oracular Spectacular”-era MGMT and songs used in John Hughes montages. But while Who’s live act seemed inspired by specific musicians — platinum-coiffed and not — she proved to be much more surprising and disarming than your garden-variety pop performer.
Yes, she wagged her tongue and gamely grinded all up on her keyboardist (a la Cyrus) during “All of You” and paused every so often as she bounded around the stage to laugh at her goofy dance moves (a la Pink); she also snarled like Elvis and called herself the “Taylor Swift of indie pop.” (“I write about a lot of different men,” she said, laughing. “I hate you, but I just wanna have sex all the time. But I hate you.”)
As with her energy, her charm never flagged. During an interlude, she invited two fans up to the stage to model their Betty Who shirts — one of which she’d signed at a previous show. She informed the audience that merchandise was available upstairs and, brandishing one fan’s bicep, added merrily, “Your arms could look this nice, too!”
Later, she said a special hello to the fans in the back. “Is that where all the straight guys are?” she joked, and the room erupted. “Oh, I saw one!” she giggled. Then she went on to say she’d just met with the Human Rights Campaign, which had given her the equality pin that was fastened to her skirt. Before she launched into her ethereal ballad “Right Here,” she announced, “This song is about loving who you want to love!” The audience exploded into cheers again.
“Right Here” gave way to the fizzy “Somebody Loves You,” during which fans bounced around joyously as Who marched and vamped onstage. By the time she got to the ’80s-tinged “High Society,” the club had become a room full of warm, sticky, exhilarated humans, but it wasn’t clear who was having the most fun — the fans or the radiant Who.
Fetters is a freelance writer.