Before pop singer Betty Who kicked off her acoustic set on Thursday night in the former Perry Street Theater space in Manhattan’s West Village, she had two messages to share with the crowd.
The first was written across her chest, on a T-shirt that read, “Donald Eres Un Pendejo.” The tee came courtesy of Ilegal Mezcal, the booze brand that invited Betty to perform to help raise funds for the embattled Planned Parenthood, of which Betty is an ardent and vocal supporter. The second message Betty shared was slightly less urgent. “I don’t know if you noticed,” she said, “but I’m missing the Riverdale finale to be here, so it’s a really big deal.” As it turns out, her minor sacrifice came with a nice reward: together, Betty and Ilegal raised $5,000 for Planned Parenthood.
Before she rolled through a playlist of songs from her debut album and her latest release, The Valley—and sang one particularly ethereal cover of Donna Lewis’ 1996 hit “I Love You Always Forever”—Betty spoke with OUT about activism, her LGBTQ fanbase and navigating social media as an outspoken pop star.
OUT: I’m curious how many interviews start with people asking, "Who is Betty Who?"
Betty Who: Oh, God. Actually, it’s, "Where’d you get the name?" That is the number one question I get. Who is Betty Who? I don’t fucking know.
Well, what is Betty Who doing here tonight?
I am playing a fundraiser show for Planned Parenthood. We only released 100 tickets. I’m playing acoustic, which I never get to do, which is really nice and how so many of my songs start. I’m really excited, and to do it for Planned Parenthood is the coolest thing ever. I’m so happy to have been asked to do it. I want to do so much more like this. I want to help.
What’s your relationship to Planned Parenthood?
Particularly under this administration, it’s something that I’m really interested in speaking up for and being a part of trying to save. Planned Parenthood is so important to so many women, because it’s the only place they can go when they have no other options. They have people who take care of them, no judgment, no questions a lot of the time. When we went to the Women’s March, my mom and my two godmothers went. We’re four generations of women. My oldest godmother dated a Black Panther and was burning her bra before my mom was even an idea. She was like, ‘I thought that we fucking protested this so that you guys didn’t have to. I can’t believe I’m back here marching on Washington with my goddaughter.’ My mom made a sign for the Women’s March that said, ‘Planned Parenthood Saved My Life.’ So when I got asked to do this, I was like, yes, of course.
So much of the dialogue around Planned Parenthood is centered on women’s reproductive rights, and rightfully so, but there’s also an LGBTQ element to the organization. As someone who has been such a vocal ally, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on that.
The LGBTQ community is being targeted by this administration. So are women. So are people of color. So are women of color. There are so many people that are feeling alienated, and I think there is something to be said for all of those people feeling like they have to help each other out. It doesn’t surprise me that the LGBTQ community has stood up for Planned Parenthood, because we’re all feeling the same way, which is completely looked over, like it’s 1954 all over again. I hope that in the next couple years, we continue to take care of each other, because we don’t have an administration that is or will.
Are you ever concerned about the possible effects being so outspoken could have on your career?
Believe in whatever you want. I understand thinking different things, but if you are fundamentally upset by me supporting Planned Parenthood, then you shouldn’t be my fan anyway. I make music for Planned Parenthood, for the LGBTQ community. I write with these things in mind. I’m that kind of person. I’ll always say what I believe. I find that you can’t really make anybody happy these days on the internet, because you say something to support one group of people, then everybody who’s not in that group of people goes, "Yeah, well, you’re ignorant, you don’t know about this." I wasn’t talking about that! It’s really easy to step on somebody’s toes without even meaning to. That really scares me about the internet generally.
Has it ever stopped you from saying anything?
Yeah, that’s why I’m so afraid of Twitter. I would tweet stupid shit that I think of. That’s what Twitter is for: 140 characters’ worth of a dumb idea. People are famous on Twitter for being that way. Every time I go to tweet anything that I think is funny, I look at it, and I go, "In what way could this offend somebody?" There are always 15 different angles that you could look at anything. It’s always hypersensitive. It’s always really reaching for it, but someone always does. It scares me, because I don’t want to be a mean person. I don’t know anything about anything! I’m trying to make it out here as a human, just like everybody else.
It’s true, and with the way pop stars in particular interact with the LGBTQ community, there are always accusations of gay baiting and pandering. Do you think about that?
It’s so silly, isn’t it? I’m very lucky. I haven’t had any experience of anybody ever saying I’m gay baiting or doing any of that, which I’m really grateful for, because I do have a massive LGBTQ fanbase. All the people who come to my shows usually are from the LGBTQ community. I’m so grateful for that, because I wouldn’t have a career without it. The first show I ever played in New York, it was 80 gay men who showed up in a room, and now I play Pride circuits every year. It’s just what I do, and I love it. I write songs with young gay people in mind, young trans people, young questioning anything people.
It’s so unfair when I see women who have a platform and they use their platform to stand up for anything, but particularly for the LGBTQ community, and then people go, "We don’t need your help." It’s like, they just love you. Lady Gaga—when people talk about her gay baiting, it’s like, or she’s just being herself. She’s using her voice to stand up for equality. What’s so bad about that? One more for the team. It makes me really sad, and it terrifies me all the time. You can’t say anything right ever.
The differentiating factor can be sort of nebulous.
And you read The Daily Mail, and it will say, "Backlash over this person’s Twitter" or something. I look at those headlines now, and I’m like, everybody is upset about everything all the time. I’m sure the person who tweeted that deleted the tweet and tweeted, "Sorry, I didn’t know what that meant," and then went about their day and they’re fine and haven’t thought about it since.
And everybody else is freaking out.
Yeah, and they’re like, "I don’t fucking care." 140 characters. How much damage can you really do? That’s sort of how I try to think about it. It rarely happens to me. The handful of times that it has, it upsets me so much. Nobody gets into this business to not care about if people like them. When you’re in what I do and a part of your brand is who you are, we all want people to like us. People fundamentally want people to like [them]. I am the number one offender in that way. A hundred people having the time of their life at a concert, and I’ll see one person on their phone and I’ll spend the whole show looking at them. It’s the dumbest thing ever, but it matters. Put that on a grand scale like Twitter…
Maybe the lesson here is less Twitter, and more face to face.
Maybe the lesson is just be yourself, and try not to say stupid shit. We all can learn that lesson a little more.