Compared to everyone else in the world, indie popstar BENEE has had it pretty good this year. The 20-year-old Kiwi singer—real name Stella Rose Bennett—may have not been able to travel and tour internationally, but she recently performed two sold out shows in Auckland—a pretty significant feat given that it very well could be one of the biggest gigs in the world right now. Note: you can read about how she feels about that here. But, with her new debut EP, Hey U X, she reminds us that despite living in one of the countries highly regarded for “beating” COVID-19 (twice, mind you), BENEE is dealing with loneliness and heartbreak during coronavirus times just like the rest of us. FYI, you can catch an intv we did earlier in the year with BENEE on isolation, internet holes and Dakota Johnson here.
Bennett made a splash on the scene last year with her second EP, Stella & Steve, before she was catapulted into fame after her track “Supalonely” became a viral TikTok hit. And, in Hey U X, that trajectory has seen her work with the likes of cyber-goth Empress of Alt-Pop, Grimes, the legendary soft-but-poignantly-spoken Brit-popstar Lily Allen and Kenny Beats, the music producer behind Denzel Curry’s Unlocked EP as well as songs by Rico Nasty and Joji. Y’know, no big deal or anything… BENEE’s Hey U X is really just too good for a debut album.
To put it lightly, Hey U X is an album about the hardships we’ve all faced in 2020. Feelings of emotional abandonment, concerns about our futures, time spent staring into the void, odes to the friendships and loves lost and “fucking being lonely”. For BENEE, the album came about after she had just experienced a break up and left for a month-long recording trip in Los Angeles, but features random songs about snails and emotionally hibernating in winter, arguably songs that take her worries about isolation and being alone and recalibrate them into positive quirky tales.
“A lot of my songs have been inspired by not being able to see anyone or do anything, and being stuck and locked down emotionally,” BENEE tells Syrup, describing the process as “my way of painting. A lot of my songs can sound like relationship-y songs, but they’re actually just about me being fucking lonely and making up stories.”
“It is weird to have people listen to it because it’s so personal,” she adds, “I hate talking to people about my problems and how I’m feeling, so it’s ironic that I’m now an artist who is releasing every feeling that I’m feeling and every moment.”
While a majority of the songs feature hip-swaying slow-jam beats and lyrics that try to give a positive spin on her time alone and tell a story, the 13-track project opens with “Happen To Me,” a drum kick heavy track about her experience with depression and the concept of suicide. For BENEE, Hey U X was the first time she’s ever really written so intimately about herself and her inner thoughts, and lyrics like “I understand why people leave, but leaving seems heavy to me,” a line she explains is about suicide, speaks to that.
Elsewhere on the album, BENEE collabs with Lily Allen, the queen of sending a big old “Fuck You” to an ex, and rapper Flo Milli on “Plain,” a song about when you see your ex get with someone new: “What a shame your girl’s so plain, she’s got nothing on me.” Grimes digitally enters the chat to join Bennett on “Sheesh,” a club-beat cyber alt-pop track about the awkward experience of a nice person falling for you but not sharing the same feelings. In true Grimes style, her verse references the “belly of the underworld,” and echoing transcending vocals, as if she’s performing in a futuristic motorway tunnel turned cyberpunk concert hall in Cyperpunk 2077.
“With Grimes and Lily Allen, I just didn’t actually know that they would ever [say yes],” she says. “Grimes I had no idea would ever, like, “why the frick, would she ever want to work with Stella?” But she did!”
“My manager messaged me and was like, “they’re saying Grimes,” and then he was like, “apparently she’s into your stuff.” “I went on Instagram and she was following me and I was like, “what the fuuuck! What is life right now?” That’s probably a highlight of my life.”
“I don’t think I could perform with her,” she says, when asked about potentially playing “Sheesh” live with Grimes on tour in the long term future. “I think I’d be too intimidated. I’d be a mess, I’d be like, “oh my god…” Nah it’d be the coolest thing ever. It would honestly. She performed this song “4ÆM” at the Game Awards and, oh my gosh… *so good* 😘👌.”
Looking beyond Hey U X, BENEE says she’s picking up a side-gig/hobby as a DJ and recently launched her own music label Olive, which she hopes will help spotlight more Kiwi artists.
“I’ve always loved the idea of being an A&R,” she says, explaining that “an A&R is someone who goes out and finds artists and basically supports them. If I wasn’t an artist, I feel like I’d want to probably get into that. That would be my dream job.”
“Having a platform that’s kind of grown a lot over the last year, I realised I can take advantage of that. People are listening to me post about climate change and everything, why can’t they listen to me trying to push an artist? Bigger artists talking about you, it can get you in front of so many new people and it can help you a lot. And I think there are just so many crazy, talented artists who don’t get the recognition that they should definitely be getting.
Some of the said “crazy, talented artists,” BENEE tells me while going through her “Recently Played” on Spotify, include folk singer Nadia Reid, Wellington trio Heavy Chest and Muroki, a 19-year-old Raglan artist and the first artist signed to her label.
And, for any of y’all who miss the live music scene and are anxiously waiting to hear Hey U X live, with the Pacific-Tasman travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand, BENEE hopes to be able to come over and perform “next year.”
“I hope so,” she says, laughing. “I’m hoping next year, I’m pretty sure. Yeah, if everything continues the way that it is going, like here, I feel like, hopefully, I’ll be able to come over. That said, you never actually really know what to expect. And we’ve learned that this year to just roll, roll, roll with the wind.”
BENEE’s debut album, Hey U X, is available to stream on Spotify and Apple Music.
Hero source: 2020 Sony Interactive Entertainment LLC & Harry Were.