BENEE Is In It To Win It

BENEE Is In It To Win It

BENEE Is In It To Win It

The breakout New Zealander is sending a friendly message to all of her fans and listeners in her newest album, Hey u x — out today.

The breakout New Zealander is sending a friendly message to all of her fans and listeners in her newest album, Hey u x — out today.

Photography: Harry Were

Text: Valerie Stepanova

You have probably heard at least one of her tracks go viral on TikTok — BENEE, or Stella Rose Bennett, is an epitome of a breakout star in this era of music-driven social media platforms. Growing up in Auckland, New Zealand, she soaked up a steady diet of downer Soundcloud rap, James Blake breakup hymns and experimentation artists like Bjork, Groove Armada and Radiohead. As she immersed herself in this high-quality, diverse variety of songs and genres during the early years of her life, this all-out exposure planted the seeds for her own music. And now, she has teenagers and young adults all around the world jamming out to a new genre that has largely been referred to as a ‘sad banger’ — BENEE’s signature.

Let’s face it: 2020 has been quite a year for many of us. But for BENEE, this year was special in its own way. In one short year, she managed to appear on three U.S. television shows, amass countless nominations and get her Tik-Tok-approved global smash hit "Supalonely" feat. Gus Dapperton Platinum-certified in eight different countries, including the U.S., Australia and New Zealand.

Today marks yet another one of her amazing accomplishments — a brand new album titled Hey u x that meshes two very opposing eras of modern society. The carefree pre-COVID times are playing in juxtaposition against the post-pandemic alternate reality where lockdowns and isolation have become a regular part of life. If I had to sum it up in a few phrases, I would say that: musical genres are explored and adopted, songs are constructed from otherworldly concepts, and even during the most melancholy moments, there is always this sense of playfulness hanging over BENEE’s work.

Driven by the shared excitement all of us have for this upcoming release, V have spoken with the artist about everything from creating her own record label to seeking inspiration and artistry in the rhythm of everyday life. As BENEE herself beautifully put it, even a couple of words can lay the groundwork for an entire creative project or series — meaning that now is a great time to celebrate life and its quotidian beauty, no matter how challenging and uncertain it might feel during this time.

To hear more from the breakout New Zealander, read the full interview below:

V MAGAZINE Where in the world are you right now, what's happening?

BENEE I am in New Zealand. I'm in Auckland, New Zealand right now and we're kind of back to normal life, we're not in lockdown anymore which is crazy. And I am about to release my album on [November] 13th!

V You have just really released "Plain", a track that you worked on with Lily Allen. Can you talk a little bit about how that collaboration came about?

B I had plain as a finished track and I just wasn't really feeling it. I had this second verse where I was rapping and I was like, 'This is really awkward, I need to find an actual rapper.' I wanted to make it like a bad-bitch song with a few people on it, so I got Lily Allen and Flo Milli to feature. I just figured that they were both so badass and had this really cool sass and obviously, Lily Allen is like the queen of like sass and being outspoken and everything so she definitely came to mind when I was thinking of features. And then, I basically just sent the track to both of them, and they sent their verses back, and I just loved what they did to the song. I think they definitely added something really cool to it.

V What about the content of this song? Was it inspired by your personal experience or maybe a shared experience that all of you guys had?

B I mean, it sounds like I'm dissing another lady, which is... mean, and my mom hates the song cause I'm talking about dissing another woman, which is not at all what I'm about and what I stand for. (laughs) But I think it's more just at the time when I was writing this song, I was kind of thinking about my ex-boyfriend like, you know, getting around and getting with different people. I just wanted to make a song that would make me feel good and just take my mind off it, like a song where singing about how this guy doesn't actually have it very great, he's not actually that happy and just trying to distract himself. I feel like that was kind of the direction that I was going in; I wanted to make a song that makes you feel good and sometimes you have to be a badass about it.

V You have another single "Happen To Me" which came out November 6. Tell us a little about that.

B This is my favorite song on the album, which is why it's best. (laughs) I think it is a complete opposite of topline, as I was very, very vulnerable and I really opened up here. And it's on it that I was singing about the Christian stuff, which is not really what I seem to write about. I haven't really written a song like this before. I don't know... I feel like I just wanted to start the album off on a very open note, and this track really means a lot to me. And I wanted the whole album to be very odd, to feel very honest to the listener. Even the title of the album is, Hey u x, is almost like a message to a friend. I wanted the listener to feel like they were up in my brain and just getting a big venting session from me.

V Since this is your favorite song, do you have a favorite lyric in it as well?

B I quite like that: "I understand why people leave / But leaving seems scary to me." To be honest, it's like talking about suicide and stuff, and I feel like that's something that is, you know, most people find quite uncomfortable to talk about. But I feel like it's something that is very relevant right now, with everything happening, so I just wanted to kind of touch on that in the album.

V Speaking of suicide — a lot of your lyrics touch on really tough, deep subjects while keeping the tune and overall tone of the song very positive and upbeat, so they can still be considered feel-good tracks. Was it something that you have consciously worked towards in your music?

B I think it kind of just happened. I mean, I tend to write about sad kinds of things and everything, but then I kind of mask it with a heavy beat. That's just what I've always leaned towards doing and what I always just how it always ends up being — I don't know why. I like sad songs, but I don't like only making really sad things, I also like upbeat and funky beats.

V Yeah, that's what's so unique about your signature style! Also on Hey u x you have this track called "Snail" that you have referred to as your lockdown song. Is the album overall also centered around being in lockdown and things that come from that experience?

B It's all a mix, I would say. Um, some of the songs I wrote before lockdown, some were in lockdown, and some were after, coming out of lockdown. But the whole vibe is quite eclectic, I was super experimental going into every session and making each song but I was also going into every session not knowing that the song would be in the album, which I think also gave me a lot of freedom and there wasn't so much pressure. I don't know if there is a particular theme here — I like the idea that it's kind of like just organized chaos, kind of all over the place.

V 2020 must have been quite a year for you, making TV debuts and getting all that praise and recognition from different award shows all around the world. What was it like for you? What does BENEE think about looking back at the year 2020?

B It's been pretty wild–biggest year for me so far with everything going on in my career. But it's also the weirdest year ever, just with everything else going on in the world. So it has been quite weird celebrating all of this stuff and then also having so many more important things to think about, bigger life things happening in the world. Just navigating my way through the year amongst all of this, if you know what I mean.

V For sure. Do you have a highlight experience or memory from 2020 that you're probably going to remember for many years going forward?

B The Ellen thing was pretty huge for me. [Benee performed her hit song "Supalonely" on The Ellen DeGeneres Show earlier this year.] I grew up watching a lot of Ellen. (laughs) But now almost everything is kind of pushed into a blur.

V And you also created your own record label called "Olive" recently, right? How did you decide to launch this project and what do you hope to accomplish with it?

B I decided to make the label because I just love the idea of supporting small artists and telling people about them. It's something that I already do, I'm working with this woman called Trieste [Douglas] and another woman named Poppy [Tohill] who house-managed me. It's a female name, obviously, and I think that's a huge thing for me because there are so many males in high positions in the industry so it's nice to have a point of difference in that sense. I think for me, just going out and finding new artists and telling everyone about them is the biggest thing, just getting them in front of people who might not have even heard about them. I don't know... I feel like there are so many cool artists that don't get heard about and for me, it's helped so much having bigger artists shout out my work. It gets people listening and everything. But yeah, it's just, it's a fun thing that I love doing it and it also helps out lots of people, which I think is pretty cool.

V Do you have anything left on your bucket of things that you want to accomplish— a dream of yours?

B Totally, there are so many! I don't really have bucket lists, but there are places I would love to go. I want to go to Japan and Mexico... There are so many nice things I want to do but I've got time.

V What about your creative process and the process of promoting songs while being in lockdown — has that changed for you? You've also blown up big time this year, did that also affect the way you go about creating and promoting your music?

B In lockdown, I did a lot of producing, just doing stuff at home by myself was pretty different. And a song I produced also made it into the album, which is different for me. I think the biggest change in the creative process is not being able to be in the studio a lot of times, so I found myself having to record and then send it to my producer, kind of bouncing ideas back and forth. It was very weird. Most of the time, the way that I have been writing music was that I would start to write all of my lyrics down and then just get into the booth, and I've found that that's a way that I really love to work recently. It's definitely changed because I used to like to figure out the structure and figure out what lyrics would go where in the melody ideas, but it's kind of nice to not have that figured out and just go in and see what comes when you hear the music. It's been working quite well.

V What do you want your listeners to take away from the album?

B I think I just want them to find comfort in one song or all of them, and feel like they can relate to something in it. That's always been the biggest thing for me — making music hoping that it will connect to someone in a way where it helps them.

V And what can your fans expect in the future going forward?

B Lots of new music and little crazy visuals and stuff! I'm working on videos at the moment, and I'm figuring out live performances and publishing shows coming up in New Zealand. But yeah, definitely gonna keep making stuff for people to absorb!

Listen to Hey u x, down below. 

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