The last two or three years have felt long for a long list of reasons, but it is not for nothing that it’s been a long time to wait for new Betty Who.
The Australian singer, dancer, and most recently, reality show host is a sought-after staple of Pride events, not just for her advocacy or her own queerness but because whether you are hearing her live or through speakers, she just has a way of making you feel good about yourself.
If her mononymous third album Betty marked her coming into her own as an independent artist, Big (★★★★☆) finds her more confident in herself than ever and cements her status as a queer pop phenomenon. Two and a half years in the making, it is a welcome reminder that she has lost none of her flair for crafting a catchy, infectious pop song.
The album’s title is stylized in all-caps as “BIG!” Described in interviews as an album about self-acceptance, it shows us a Betty Who as outspoken and confident as we have ever seen her. The title track kicks the album off on a loud and bold note with a ’90s piano ballad riff that would make Celine Dion blush.
It is not the only song to embrace a retro sensibility — “Blow Out My Candle,” the first single to be released from Big, leans into a kitschy ’80s aesthetic in its accompanying music video, complete with high white socks and an aerobics-ready leotard. The celebratory, sexually-charged dance anthem “Weekend” recalls the heyday of MTV with its warm, crunchy synths.
She is at her most daring and arguably at her best on “Hey It’s Betty,” a brief but memorable extended brag about her own sexiness and desirability aimed squarely at some real or imaginary hater that she delivers over crashing, buzzing instrumentals.
Unsurprisingly, Who’s distinct voice is once again at the forefront of the album. There has always been a restrained, laid-back quality to her vocals, which suits the bold, outsized mood of Big. She comes across as self-possessed and full of easy confidence on songs like the sapphic feel-good bop, “I Can Be Your Man,” easily one of the album’s highlights.
Even in moments of vulnerability, like the reflective “She Can Dance,” she is defiant as she reflects on the experiences that shaped her into the artist she is today. Who does allow herself one moment of unfiltered wistful sadness at the very end, closing things out on a particularly plaintive note with “Grown Ups Grow Apart,” touching on the familiar sense of loss that comes with growing apart from a childhood friend.
Big is about as well-crafted album as we have come to expect from Betty Who, without any songs that fall flat. As tight as the production is, however, she plays it safe more than she probably needs to, especially on the latter half of the album, when she seems to run out of steam after the energetic brashness of the first. Tracks like “She Can Dance and “Weekend” bear strong similarities to the pop ballads she has been delivering since her early career, and as a result give the sense that she is going back to the same well.
She does manage to deliver some surprises, such as on the barbed breakup number “One of Us,” which opens with wistfully ethereal pop lines before abruptly shifting into a thumping bass line as she begins to deliver her sassy, pointed rebuke.
At its heart, Big’s strongest asset is that it is a deeply autobiographical album by an artist who already didn’t hurt for confidence, but is more self-assured than ever before in who she is and where her strengths lie.
Betty Who does not show a new side of herself so much as deliver tweaks and new elements on top of an already-strong foundation. While it lacks some of the dynamism of her last album, it offers plenty of memorable moments and is a fundamentally well-executed album, proof that Betty Who has lost none of her eye for detail or her flair for crafting a solid and cohesive set of songs.
Big is available to stream and purchase now.
Betty Who will be touring North America starting in February 2023, including a stop at The Anthem on March 3. Visit www.bettywhomusic.com.
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