Vérité, Betty Who and the State of Pop Music 2017

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Vérité opens for Betty Who at the Wonder Ballroom on April 28, 2017. Photo: Andrew D. Jankowski

Concert Etiquette

Before we talk about Vérité or Betty Who, let’s take a refresher on concert etiquette.

Dear Washington Squares and Lloyd Center frumpkins: When you get one of the rare seats in any venue, you stay in your seat. After your ninth pass to get beer or pee or smoke or cry I wanted to trip you, hard. Not just you, but your friends too.

I get that Vérité was the opener, but that does not give you or your #AllLivesMatter boyfriend permission to spill your messy lives all over me, talk throughout her set, and then have the audacity to be boring on top of it all. I get it, being a gay in the Midwest is hard. Not as hard as the rest of the world, but you know, save it for crying in the taxi.

That being said, April 28 is not a bad night in Portland. There are pre-teens and teens here with their parents, or with their friends, or by themselves. There are twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings, and there are more heteronormative gay men than I’ve ever seen outside of the Pearl District. There are probably queer femmes here too, hopefully? There’s a promotional candy booth for a candy that sounds like a burlesque jazz band and tastes like a lighter malted milk ball. The marketing campaign reminds me of buying two-dollar cigarette packs at the Crown Room during my two weeks as a smoker. Before Vérité came on, the house music played Rihanna’s “We Found Love.” Someone within earshot gave me the quote of the night: “If this was 2012, people would be losing their shit.”

Alt-Pop

Vérité, the alt-pop singer whose Applebee’s W-4 reads Kelsey Byrne, took the stage with her guitarist and drummer. She opened with a cover of The 1975’s “Somebody Else,” and sang songs including “Underdressed,” “Weekend,” “Living” and “Phase Me Out.” Vocally, Vérité is pop by way of Lorde, Tinashe, Banks, FKA Twigs, and, yes, Betty Who. Intellectually, Vérité has a B.A. in studio composition, and it’s clear that she has spent years on her artistic craft—but still has to deal with sexist audience members screaming “I LOVE YOU” or “UR HOT.” “How about some compliments for these guys, huh?” she said, to applause.

Vérité is exemplary of alt-pop. Remember how alt-rock, a cornerstone of 90’s nostalgia, had some of the angst of grunge without going expressly anti-corporate or post-grunge? Post-Recessional angst has permeated pop, rap and R&B. Pop 2017 is the fusion of these genres with rock and electronic sensibilities, like if Ariana Grande, the Weeknd, Florence + the Machine and her dance producer were subsumed into one performer, with all that pressure on their career. Pop music is still visual-heavy, but now sounds like someone gave Xanax to Lady Gaga ten years ago. Vérité sounds like if Katy Perry was as down with the raps as her marketing team is paid to make you think. She sounds like the type of femme vocalist that regularly turns down duets with Bastille, if they’re even still a thing.

Vérité knows she’s the opener tonight and isn’t trying to steal the spotlight. If she has never performed the summer festival circuit, she’s ready. Portland with Betty Who is the end of one tour and predates the start of another later this year that will bring her back to the Doug Fir Lounge. That will be Vérité’s fourth time in Portland: twice at Doug Fir, and twice at the Wonder Ballroom. I’ll be interested to see what she is like in a more intimate setting, where there is less pressure to create a visual audience experience.

As Vérité’s publicist is the one who reached out to me, she is the focus of this review. But let’s talk about Betty Who really quick.

Betty Who

Betty Who and Vérité together is an example of what it looks like when two talented women are not in competition with each other, whose talents together justify the living Boolean search for “What is cool 2017?” that is this concert (spoiler: both of these artists will appear in the living Boolean search for “What is cool 2018?” et al).

Betty Who is in love with herself, and it’s the kind of love that radiates, that gives you permission to love yourself, that gives this white boy permission to Drop It Like It’s Hot. It’s infectious, and it’s what’s going to save our sanity. Maybe that’s what all these people are here for: not the malted milk balls, not to argue about who has more courage to leave Wisconsin in a leased Ford Fiesta, but for authentic expression.

Q&A with Vérité

The following Q&A was conducted over email.

Vanguard: How does truth relate to you and your artistry?

Vérité: I try to write candidly and don’t really put on an act or persona.

VG: How has touring been with Betty Who?

Vérité: Great. We definitely are on different ends of the pop spectrum, so it’s good to meet new people and introduce myself to new people.

VG: Name a goal you’d like to see accomplished in 5 years:

Vérité: I want to headline Radio City.

VG: You’ve previously described your surprise at being labeled a pop musician. What is the State of Pop 2017, and the difference between pop and the rising “alt pop/alt R&B” movement, according Vérité?

Vérité: If we’re not considering top 40 radio, pop is whatever you want it to be. The term is really used to describe whatever taps into the mood of masses. Pop currently blends in with every genre.

VG: What is something you wish you had known before you started touring?

Vérité: Don’t get the cheapest Airbnb. You will regret it.

VG: Seemingly, you went from total obscurity to critical acclaim (mentions in TIME, Paste, SPIN and Billboard) within 18-24 months of starting your professional music career. What has that been like?

Vérité: It’s been a surreal experience that I’m grateful for. The feeling of people resonating with something you built from nothing is indescribable.

VG: Who is an artist you would like to be compared to, and who is an artist that you’ve been compared to but don’t understand the comparison?

Vérité: I’d love to be compared to Florence + The Machine. Every once in a while people will compare me to Katy Perry or Taylor Swift and those are lost on me.

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