Review: Betty Who at The Imperial
Four months ago, Vancouver Betty Who fans were disappointed when the LA-via-Australia pop chanteuse postponed her show at the last minute. Citing a lost voice, Who told fans through a press statement that she “would not be able to give you the show I want to” and would return “when I’m healthy and ready to go.”
After an excruciatingly hot summer, Who emerged at The Imperial last night to help wrap up Pride festivities, starting off the second leg of The Valley Tour. Her 75 minute set heavily leaned on recent sophomore LP The Valley, a few older favourites, and plenty of changes from her last tour incarnations.
Betty Who has some killer pop songs. Her ballads are beautiful and heartfelt, and her upbeat tracks are truly dance-ready party jams. Now that her catalogue has a bit more breadth, her well-rounded set is even more impressive and impactful. The bonus of seeing Betty Who this time around is just how diverse her set has become since we saw her last. Whereas much of the material off her debut held the same lo-fi dance pop vibe, The Valley has elevated Who with more power and variety, while retaining the charm and pizazz she debuted with.
New elements come in sonic varieties, like the Nintendo-sounding blips on “Pretend You’re Missing Me”, the ’90s hip hop looping throughout “Some Kinda Wonderful”, and the airy, electro-trap vibe of cool down track “Blue Heaven Midnight Crush”. Still, within all of these seemingly polarizing elements, Who’s vibrancy and distinct voice is what makes the set cohesive. Pushing boundaries and testing limits seems to be working, and makes for a more interesting watch.
Since the last time she came through town, Who has switched up her actual stage production a bit. She’s now flanked between a pair beefy, shirtless, basketball shorts-clad dancers for most of her set, performing calculated three person choreography that is fun as hell to watch, and impressive that it lasts for the majority of the performance. The downside, and perhaps this is still an aftershock of the original date’s postponement, is that Who’s voice wavers and shakes more noticeably than it did on past appearances. Throughout the night she seemed to run out of breath and rely upon the backing track at times, or find herself off key an unusual amount.
But there are moments where Betty Who shines in every sense of the word. During a two song stripped back segue (“Wanna Be” and “California Rain”) the singer plays an acoustic guitar while all the bells and whistles (including the dancers) disappear momentarily for the most raw, impressive portion of the set. Watching and listening to Who solo with just vocal and guitar almost makes you wonder why she does the whole pop star thing in the first place. But clearly there is more money to be made busting a move onstage than performing the coffee shop set.
“If you know the words you have to sing ‘em and if you don’t you have to pretend like you do,” she told the crowd early on. And it was clear that this devout audience knew every single lyric, from the old hits (“Somebody Loves You”, “High Society”) to deep tracks from The Valley (“Make You Memories”, “Wanna Be”). Who is an artist that has cultivated an ever-growing, ecstatic fanbase thanks to her joyous nature, her slightly outsider take on pop, and her catchy-as-all-hell tunes.
Minor vocal issues aside, Who delivered in a big way and showed she’s still climbing uphill in terms of where she can go next. Having collaborated with the likes of Troye Sivan and Pentatonix and created official remixes for Demi Lovato, she’s already in good company. Her own material shows she’s ahead of the crowd and has the talent to back her ideas. With a growing catalogue of pop gems, Betty Who is slated to get out of the valley towards the top of the mountain.