In the new social media world order, anyone with a front-facing camera can be catapulted onto the international stage. BENEE, the 20-year-old Kiwi artist behind the TikTok-fueled viral hit ‘Supalonely’ featuring Gus Dapperton, can tell you that better than anyone.
After releasing ‘Supalonely’ on her EP Stella & Steve in late 2019, the song gained isolation traction and became one of TikTok’s most popular songs, snagging 7 billion plays in March of this year. While chatting to Syrup from her studio in New Zealand though, you’d hardly be able to tell this is an artist whose racked up more than 361 million Spotify streams on a single song.
“I didn’t even really know what TikTok was in the beginning,” admits BENEE—the moniker is taken from her government name, Stella Rose Bennett. “‘Glitter’ [a Fire on Marzz track] gained a bit of traction, but not like ‘Supalonely,’ and then there were people dancing in these videos and people were sending me so many, it was crazy. It’s amazing that anyone can kinda just put something out there and blow up.” That said, you’d be wrong to think BENEE is an overnight ‘For You’ page success story.
After a “quarter-life crisis” that led her to drop out of a communications degree (big mood, tbh), BENEE made the decision to go after a professional music career. After debuting in 2017, she went on to land slots on the Triple J Hottest 100 and to support international artists including Lily Allen and Conan Grey. Artists she’s arguably eclipsed in current popularity with her dreamy, alternative pop earworms.
Syrup caught up with BENEE to chat about her recent wins, including an incredible collaboration with Beats for their Beat x Beat series, releasing her Kenny Beats produced track ‘Night Garden’ and her loose plans to marry Dakota Johnson.
BENEE, how are you? How has it been blowing up while staying in?
It’s been good! Kinda wild, doing all of these interviews literally from my room. But I am a bit of a homebody, I love staying at home. Sometimes I think I could literally stay home for a week and be fine, not that that ever happened before now. You can be creative just drawing from things inside yourself, or online you know. You need balance, I guess. I do think you need inspiration from the outside world, I write about people and going out and relationships and all of that, after all.
You’ve talked about ignoring pandemic productivity pressure and how doing nothing is good for your mental health—are there other things you lean on to keep yourself in a good space?
Yeah for sure. Lots of things really, I talk to people every day. I think that just talking to another human helps you because you realise you’re feeling the same things that everyone is, That we’re all going through it. You know, I have a group chat with my friends where we send each other memes and are like, “Augh, I’m feeling like this,” and talk it out. It all goes to show everyone’s feeling it. Our generation is kind of an anxiety generation. I talk to my mum every day.
What are some of the places you’re currently drawing inspiration from?
Being in isolation definitely sparked a lot of inspiration for my songwriting recently. There are a couple of songs I wrote when we were in lockdown that will be on the album. And the music I listen to! I listen quite widely so I think that has really pushed me to blend genres when making music. I listen to Bjork, The Japanese House, I’m into Travis Scott.
What it was like working with Kenny Beats on ‘Night Garden’ and what would you freestyle rap about in The Cave?
It’s crazy, he’s so nice! He put down in a beat in 30 minutes and turned around in his swivel chair like, “are you ready?” It was so fast, I was like, “No, I’m not ready!” It’s weird, you write these songs and then just have to hold onto them, I actually did it when I was in L.A. last year, the same trip where I wrote ‘Supalonely’. And yeah, I was in The Cave but not on The Cave… What would I rap about? Probably something silly because I wouldn’t want to take myself too seriously you know? Maybe food or something, maybe chicken? Something crunchy? Well, maybe not chicken. I haven’t been eating chicken since the beginning of the year.
How come, environmental reasons?
Yeah, partly environmental reasons, though I didn’t really eat animals that much before. And I mean the livestock industry in New Zealand is wild, we have so much. I didn’t eat beef because I felt bad for the cows you know, then I just kind started feeling like maybe I didn’t want to eat animals at all. I had a pet growing up so I haven’t even lamb since I was like nine.
How did it feel sharing your process in the Beat x Beat series and being part of such a recognisable brand’s series with some juggernaut artists?
Pretty crazy! I’m a big fan and have watched a ton of their past videos so it’s insane now to be a part of the [Beat x Beat] project! Very surreal.
If you could get inside another artist’s head or have them do a Beat x Beat episode who would it be and why?
Probably James Blake. I want to know what goes through his head when he’s making his music because it’s insane!
What inspires your style?
My style is inspired by all sorts of different people. I’ve always looked up at my mum’s sense of style—she’s super into vintage and I think that now I really try to incorporate that kind of stuff into my own fits. I do a mix of vintage shopping and online shopping. I feel like some of the most incredible pieces I’ve found have been through secondhand shopping, but then there’s also some really amazing stuff online.
Speaking of online, can you tell us about Steve and your account @iseeyousteve?
Ahhh, [laughs] yeah I’ve just been naming things Steve for like ever and I think people started noticing I did it. My car is called Steve, so Stella & Steve, and with @iseeyousteve I just take pictures of things I think look like they’re named Steve. I was gonna call this one Steve, but I thought she deserved something more special. (BENEE is coralling her sweet boisterous puppy throughout the chat.)
Can you tell us about Dakota Johnson, what’s the marriage plan and what are you wearing?
I just think she’s the best! I tell you what it was, we were all, the house was watching The Five-Year Engagement and I just think she’s such a crack up. So yeah, I don’t think I’d wear a white dress. I’d wanna wear a suit maybe.
What motivated you to start your YouTube series BENEEfied?
That actually started through my record label. We were in meetings and working through a bunch of ideas. I like the idea of having this kinda regular stuff people could watching coming out. Because when you find a new artist you wanna know everything about them. I love ASMR so we did an ASMR video, stuff like that.
Do you watch a lot of ASMR videos or have a favourite genre of them?
I like mukbangs and head scratching. I watch so many mukbangs.
What other content are you watching, anything weird?
I watch a lot of YouTube. And Netflix series, you know. Oh and Normal People! I watched that, I loved that.
Thoughts on Paul Mescal?
He’s a bit of a babe isn’t he? Hahaha, but I also kinda hated him a bit too. I felt bad for the girl.
IKR, so many moments you’re just like, “talk to each other!”
Exactly! What else, yeah I love YouTube. The weirdest internet hole I probably fell in was, uh, I can remember this. Probably when I was nine, was people feeding their baby crocodiles… like little mice and stuff, I was like how did I get here? This is actually quite weird? And Dr Pimple Popper of course. Love her.
Any final words of advice for Syrup readers?
Hmmm, final advice? Uh, maybe what’s on Kenny Beats’s wall, “Don’t overthink shit.” Or be kind, yeah. Be kind to yourself.
You can watch BENEE deconstruct how she made 2020’s biggest sad banger in the Beat x Beat video below and check out the whole series on the Beats YouTube channel.