If you haven’t heard of the Total Bettys, you will soon. The self-proclaimed queer, feminist quartet from San Francisco is making noise in the pop-punk scene. Especially considering “queer” and “feminist” are not words typically associated with the genre. With their sophomore LP This is Paradise, Maggie Grabmeier (vocals/guitar), Reese Grey (guitar/vocals), Chloé Lee (bass/vocals) and Kayla Billos (drums) continue much of what fans loved about their debut Peach.
The record finds the band navigating through the existential heartaches that happen when everything feels, well, shitty. On the opening track “Am I Glowing”, cheery tones mask the growing pains of moving on from past relationships and painful memories. Grabmeier sings, “Another week of heartache sharing my bed with my phone”. But Grey, Lee and Billos set a tone that would make you think otherwise. It’s that quintessential sad-lyrics-with-an-upbeat-sound that the pop-punk genre nails so well.
But as they’ve established, the Total Bettys aren’t your run-of-the-mill pop-punk outfit. On no song is that more apparent than “Dark and Stormy”. Grabmeier revealed to Phluff that the track was inspired by the allegations against Brand New’s Jesse Lacey and other men in the pop-punk scene who she herself once also admired. The power of the song (and of the Total Bettys in general) emanates for that personal connection. Refusing to remain in the abstract, the band brings it into the real. It’s why the most striking line (“I let myself fall in love with how the guys thought you were just so cool / I didn’t pay attention how all the girls seemed a little scared of you”) feels like a knife to the gut.
That dose of relatability hits home on songs like “So Much Better” (“I scare everyone I meet when I open up too soon”) and “Grown Up” (“I don’t want to risk more existential sorrow / I’ll deal with it tomorrow”). And while we sometimes wish we didn’t relate, it feels empowering to hear Grabmeier just lay it all out.
In the abyss of uncertainty lies a self-assuredness, a sense that you’ll be left standing even after everything else falls. The album closes with one of its strongest songs “The Worst”. While the track may not ooze Right Said Fred confidence start to finish, there are lyrical gems that leave us more hopeful than where we began. Grabmeier admits, “Deep down I know I can hold my own / As much as I wish you had stayed / There’s something sweet about being alone / As much as I wish it would fade”.
We leave This is Paradise confident the Total Bettys are going to be okay. What’s more, they leave us thinking that we’ll all be okay too, even if we let ourselves dive headfirst into the loneliness from time to time. A little self-pity never hurt nobody, right?
“Am I Glowing”
“Dark and Stormy”