By Andy Downing
RedEye special contributor
January 3, 2014
When Spencer Stout uploaded his marriage proposal to his boyfriend Dustin Reeser in September 2013, no one expected the video to go viral — least of all singer/songwriter Betty Who, whose single “Somebody Loves You” served as the soundtrack to the musical engagement.
“I saw it on a Thursday when it had maybe 300 [to] 400 views,” said Who, born Jessica Newham 22 years ago. “And then I saw it again Friday morning and it had a million views.”
The fast-rising Australian singer self-released her debut EP “The Movement” last April and expects her full-length out on RCA by the end of 2014. In a late December phone interview, she opened up about viral video fame, her skills as a dancer and feeling personal connections to other artists’ songs.
What was your reaction to seeing the viral video featuring “Somebody Loves You” for the first time?
It’s a crazy thing. I cried [the first time I saw it] because I was so overwhelmed. It builds up so steadily throughout the song. You know it’s going to be a marriage proposal, but you don’t know how heartfelt and amazing it’s going to be until Spencer walks out and then it’s like, “Oh my god…”
Do you think Spencer and Dustin are going to ask you to officiate their wedding ceremony?
I actually just got my invitation to the wedding. I’m dying to [attend], so I’m going to try and make it work. I’m on tour, but I think I’m going to try and make a stop in Salt Lake City to go to their wedding.
Do you have a favorite viral video other than the one your song was featured in?
I think Jimmy Kimmel is a genius, and when he did that twerking video where the girl catches on fire I was dying. Before anybody knew Jimmy Kimmel was behind the video and completely won the Internet I remember watching it and thinking, “God, people are soooo stupid.”
Considering the EP is titled “The Movement,” I wanted you to rate your skills as a dancer.
Oh, great question. I think it depends who you ask. If you ask me I’d be like, “Oh my gosh, I’m a gazelle.” If you ask my roommate she’d say, “She’s the worst.” I just like to move and I’m super excitable onstage, so my band and I tend to jump around a lot. I just dance however it feels right and hope everyone isn’t low-key making fun of me.
Even though your music is upbeat, the songs can be fairly personal at times. Are you someone who grew up keeping a diary?
I don’t think I kept a diary, but I should have. The problem I always had is when you write something down and then go back a month later and read what you wrote don’t you always feel like your problems were so insignificant and then get upset you spent so much time wallowing in them? You’re so honest because it’s like, “No one else is going to read this.” But then even you don’t want to read it.
Do you ever have the same issue with your songs?
When I’m writing songs I’ll have that little moment where it’s like, “Jesus, that’s really personal,” but then you spend so much time with it and it means something different to every person who hears it. I’m so affected by what other people feel while they’re listening to the songs that it starts to become my story as opposed to what I wrote it about in that moment.
It’s great when someone can take ownership of something that comes from such a personal place. Is there a song you’ve have that kind of relationship with?
Oh sure. There’s this Missy Higgins song called “They Weren’t There,” and also “Gravity” by Sara Bareilles and “One and Only” by Adele. They're these songs where these women are pouring their hearts out, and because it’s so honest you feel so connected with it. That’s what I strive for in my music.
Is Paul Hogan as big a deal in Australia as I hope he is?
You know, to be perfectly honest, not particularly [laughs]. There was a lot of [“Crocodile Hunter”] Steve Irwin stuff though. I remember the day Steve Irwin died and it was devastating. There was an announcement at my school. It was pretty intense.
Betty Who, 9 p.m. Jan. 16 at Schubas. $15.
Copyright © 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC