Beware the “Next Big Thing” tag. Those three little words, full of crippling expectation and limitless pressure, have followed Betty Who around since the Australian charmer’s shimmering “Somebody Loves You” went viral thanks to a video depicting the sweetest marriage proposal to ever commence between the crowded shelves at Home Depot.
Two EPs, a record deal with RCA and an opening slot on Katy Perry’s tour Down Under paved the way for the classically trained 23-year-old’s debut, Take Me When You Go. The album fits right in with the type of ladies whose empires need only a first name descriptor, but fails to elevate this Sandra Dee doppelganger above the pack.
Combining Adele’s hopeless romanticism, Pink’s spunky streak, and Madonna’s early whimsy seems like a potion ready-made for radio domination — and make no mistake, the aforementioned “Somebody Loves You” and the synth explosion of “Dreaming About You” will rattle the windows of commuting cars every hour on the hour. Yet, Miss Betty (born Jessica Anne Newham) can’t shake a “been there, done that” feel. Blame producers Claude Kelly (Britney Spears, Kelly Clarkson), Starsmith (Ellie Goulding, Kylie Minogue), and Martin Johnson (Taylor Swift, Avril Lavigne) for the rigid sameness permeating the album’s 13 tracks.
That’s not to say the former Berklee College of Music student doesn’t conjure exquisite moments. Coincidentally, these fleeting instances of perfection occur when she strips away all the trimmings of a pop princess. Album opener “Just Like Me” melds the trippy disco of Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own” with the plucky defiance of California sister trio HAIM. Please, someone enlist middle sister Danielle Haim for a “television event” duet between her grizzly guitar and Who’s breathy vocals — call it an MTV VMA miracle! “Missing You” shares more DNA with the tender, yet robotic R&B of Rhye (with its percolating beat and programmed moans disguised as half-baked brass) than it does with any color-coded Perry toothache. “High Society” rebuffs Lorde’s “Royals” by unabashedly embracing the trappings of being a trust fund baby with a beat commissioned by Chuck Bass, while “California Rain” delicately unwinds against a backdrop of subtle piano to plaintively close the album out. Hopefully the lesson that Betty Who takes away from this closer and the entirety of Take Me When You Go is that sometimes slow and steady wins the race.
Essential Tracks: “Just Like Me”, “Missing You”, and “Somebody Loves You”