Betty Who remembers the exact moment that kicked off her rebellious streak. She was in eighth grade, a student at an all-girls Christian boarding school outside Sydney, Australia, and she wanted another ear piercing. The school only allowed one piercing in each lobe, but Who wasn’t one to abide by the rules — so she enlisted a friend to do a DIY piercing for her. That small but defiant moment set the stage for Who’s trailblazing future. She’s now an award-winning singer-songwriter with a growing fan base and three studio albums to her name. Betty Who’s Rule Breakers 2019 performance proved she’s not slowing down.
Rule Breakers, Bustle's second annual celebration of the year's biggest music makers and trail blazers, took place Sept. 21 in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. Who took the stage with infectious energy to sing hits such as “Human Touch” and “I Remember.” Fresh off the heels of her recent U.S. tour, the Australian singer is no stranger to live performances, and her finely rehearsed choreography demonstrates as much. She has built a following with empowering hits about self-love and acceptance, and in 2018, she partnered with Queer Eye to revamp the show’s theme song, “All Things.”
Who looks back on that middle school ear piercing moment with fondness. “It set me on my path of being all bejeweled,” Who, who now sports metallic eyeliner and multiple piercings, tells Elite Daily. “It was so not OK, and I got reamed out by my teacher, and I’m so happy about it, still to this day.”
Who has been pushing boundaries for years in her career, in part due to her proud identification as a queer woman. “My queer identity informs everything,” she explains. “I’ve been working a lot on finding the places in myself that are a little more raw. I think I spent a little too long being really shut down and really hardened, because I felt like I was surviving … and I think it kind of formed a little bit of an outer layer on my spirit.”
Who credits her fans with helping her embrace her queerness and practice self-love. “I think the reason I feel so comfortable talking about it now is because I see all the young people … come to my shows,” she says. “[Their] stories really inspire me and make me want to lead by example with being comfortable with who I am, even if it makes me nervous still talking about it.” Now Who writes songs not just about hetero relationships, but also queer ones — she tells Elite Daily she’s recently composed a “bisexual anthem” called “Kristen Stewart” about her huge crush on the actress.
And not to worry — her fiancé, photographer Zak Cassar, knows about her love for Stewart, too. “I tell my fiancé all the time that if [Stewart] wanted to be with me, ‘I’m sorry babe, she’s the one,’” Who laughs. “I’m kind of kidding, mostly not.”
In all seriousness, her relationship with Cassar brings her a lot of joy. Who tells Elite Daily that one of her favorite things about him is the way he explains TV show plots to her when she starts watching mid-season. “I love to know what’s going on in a TV show,” she explains. “He’ll pause it and give me the whole rundown. He loves for me to be involved, and he’ll always be patient with, in many ways in life, but especially in film and TV. He always catches me up, and I really, really love that about him.”
The couple hasn’t announced a wedding date yet, but Who has been working on new music that she hopes will be out soon. “I’m really inspired right now. I’m really psyched, very motivated,” she says. “Hopefully you’ll be hearing stuff from me, and hopefully some other people who I’m really inspired by and excited to be working with, at the latest, top of next year. I’m really, really pumped.”
Who joined other female trailblazers, including Lizzo, Stacey Abrams, Busy Philipps, Katelyn Ohashi, and Valorie Kondos Field at the 2019 Rule Breakers festival, part of Bustle's overall editorial initiative to celebrate the individuals challenging the status quo and writing new rules for all of us. And Betty Who is certainly that.