One of my favorite things about Tiny Desk concerts is that artists are often inspired to experiment. Betty Who was in town recently for a three-night residency at D.C.'s famed 9:30 Club where her sound was larger than life. The subwoofers cranked out backing tracks you could feel in your gut and dancers flanked the pop star, punctuating every pulsating beat. But she began her Tiny Desk performance with only her cello and her voice — the first time she's ever accompanied one of her original songs with the instrument. She grew up in Sydney, Australia, and started playing at the age of four (just like Yo-Yo Ma). Maybe it had something to do with her mom being in the room, but emotions ran high for the charismatic and chatty singer. "I didn't want to be the girl who played cello and sang," she told the crowd gathered to watch. "'Cause that girl feels really far away from ass-out, sparkle-covered pop-star me."
Betty Who's third LP, Betty, falls squarely in the Roséwave, sun's-out, buns-out pop genre. When all the studio production is stripped away, what's left are intricate melodies that soar through Betty's impressive vocal range and relatable lyrics. As the audio engineer for the Tiny Desk concert series, I'm always curious how the vocals will translate without the aid of pitch correction and tons of effects you hear on the album. I'm a sucker for great melody and Betty Who's raw vocal performance at her Tiny Desk had me in a state of aural ecstasy.
Adding to the jazzy vibe of the intimate performance are Betty's touring musicians, Myla Bocage on keys and Ian Barnett on the drum pad. Jemila Dunham is in full-on beast-mode on bass.
Betty Who says she dreamed of having a Tiny Desk concert ever since she was a teenager. She chose to end hers by asking everyone to sing along to the track, "I Remember." The melody worms its way into my ear, whisking me off to summer in my mind's eye. Poolside. Glass of rosé in hand. Later, I'm jumping up and down at the club in perfect sync with new-found friends. Everyone's screaming along to the words as I realize I'm not sun-kissed, I'm sunburned. Never mind, it's time to sing:
Dancing under the stars
Kissing you in the dark
I remember your love, oh
Never giving you up, giving you up, oh
- Friend Like Me
- I Remember
Betty Who: lead vocals, cello; Ian Barnett: drums; Jemila Dunham: bass; Myla Bocage: keys
Producers: Josh Rogosin, Morgan Noelle Smith; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, Beck Harlan, Maia Stern, Jeremiah Rhodes; Production Assistant: Paul Georgoulis; Associate Producer: Bobby Carter; Photo: Shuran Huang/NPR