Alternative pop sensation Stella Rose Bennett, who releases music as BENEE, is a rapidly rising artist who hails from New Zealand. The 20-year-old singer is set to release her much anticipated debut album Hey u x on November 13. Her Platinum-certified lo-fi disco beat track “Supalonely” featuring Gus Dapperton, appears at the heart of the album. The pop anthem went viral on TikTok and zoomed up high in the charts during the summer. The catchy track has gained over 2.1 billion global streams to date and is a classic example of the singer’s tendency to use upbeat music against melancholic lyrics.
Hey u x opens with a song titled “Happen To Me,” an indie-sounding track that delves into the anxieties surrounding how scary the world can be when you overthink, with lyrics like: “I think about these things too much, my mind likes to wind itself up. / And I don’t get a lot of sleep, cuz what if they happen to me.” This fragile track is followed by “Same Effect” which is an easy listen due to its stunning layers. BENEE picks up the pace in “Sheesh” featuring Grimes, which is a clubby collaboration that has a Charli XCX tinge to it.
Her recent single “Snail” also appears on the album, it has a bouncy, video game-like sound. The lyrics sum up her obsession with snails, that she formed an interest in while she was cooped up inside her room during lockdown. “Plain” featuring Lily Allen and Flo Milli is another recent single by the kiwi artist that features on the album. The chillwave track has a razor-sharp edge to it alongside a bouncy beat. The song is written about being jealous over a boring girl aka a “Plain Jane.” It’s moody lyrics include: “Hope she stays the hell away, I don’t wanna see her. / What a shame your girls so plain it’s got nothin’ on me.”
The album truly soars on the band driven track “Kool.” This fun song is a groovy, funky bass track that shows yet another side to BENEE and demands to be played loud and danced to. Things are taken down a notch for the low key elegant track “Winter” featuring Mallrat. It has simplistic lyrics that flow effortlessly: “The winter suits me better.” The moody guitar resembles Clairo and Billie Eilish is the best way, this song is definitely one you won’t want to miss. “A Little While” is another bass-heavy song that feels nostalgic and delicate. Her summer single “Night Garden” featuring Kenny Beats and Bakar adds to the Billie Eilish-like fragments of the album with its sweet harmonies and melancholic playfulness.
The last few tracks of the album include “All The Time” featuring Muroki, which has a catchy riff and a chilled vibe. BENEE showcases a dreamlike side to her sound on cosmic sounding track “If I Get To Meet You.” The eclectic album closes with the simply endearing song “C U,” which features beautifully poetic lyrics: “Shadow of a tree, falling all the leaves, so peacefully we lie, watching stars as they shoot by. As the waves roll out, I stay at your house.” Hey u x is an album that cannot be put into a box, it groovily subversives pop music and navigates the worries and wonders of our world in 2020.
We had a chat with her on Zoom about her new album Hey u x, her unique take on creating music in 2020, her summer hit “Supalonely,” collaborating with Lily Allen, meeting Elton John, and much more.
First of all, congratulations on your much anticipated upcoming debut album Hey u x which is set for release on November 13. I got to preview it and it’s an eclectic bop! What do you think this album says about you as an artist?
Yeah! Um, I’d like to think that it kind of like gives people an idea that I’m not wanting to be tied to any sound and that I like to be experimental and mix genres and that I play around with all sorts of elements of music and try to create something fresh with all sorts of materials. I like to think that it’s organized chaos, that’s sort of the vibe.
You just released the track “Happen To Me” which is the opening to your album. What is the song written about?
I was writing about my anxiety in this song and was kind of generally feeling pretty low at the time, you know I felt like writing about how I was feeling and it ended up being pretty honest and I was pretty vulnerable with everything. I hadn’t really written about that sort of stuff before so it means a lot to me and when I listen to it sometimes I cry because it’s like oh my god I know exactly what I was feeling at that time and it’s nice to kind of look back at it and see growth, you know! But yeah, it is a very important song to me.
You have had such an interesting perspective on creating music in 2020, with New Zealand mostly avoiding COVID-19 and being able to operate as normal. You were even able to perform to 12,000 people at a recent headline show at Spark Arena in Auckland. How have you been during the pandemic?
I mean yeah it’s pretty crazy that we’re out of lockdown right now and we’re playing shows. But definitely, when I was in lockdown it was obviously a weird time for everyone and it’s kind of nice knowing that everyone is in a similar boat and I feel like a lot of people were kind of relating to that feeling of being sad and lonely and stuff. But I was just grateful that I could still work and that I could still write and make music in the time. I was still trying to be productive but also like I could still do interviews which was great, but I also had a few days where I didn’t do anything and I was like this is also fine, because you know a lot is going on right now and you also need to look after your mental health and sometimes that is just like not doing anything, and it’s just chilling and watching movies so that was nice too.
Your hit song “Supalonely” is now Certified Platinum in the US, and seven other countries, including Australia and New Zealand, has over 2 billion streams worldwide & peaked in the Top 10 on the US Top 40 Radio Chart. What does it feel like to reach such heights?
It feels pretty surreal. I can’t even imagine how many people that is, I’m still like “oh my gosh this is so many people” in a room full of a hundred people. I can’t even count to a million without getting tired so it is kinda weird. It is very weird, but I’m just stoked that a million people are listening to me.
“Supalonely” also inspired over 10 million videos on TikTok. What are your thoughts on the TikTok world and its viral impact on the music industry?
Ooh. I just think that honestly it’s a really cool new platform for people to share music and I think it’s done a lot for a lot of artists, which is exciting. I think it’s always cool when there’s like a new way for people to talk about music and to kind of share it with one another, so I have a lot to thank the app for I have to say.
You recently announced that you created your very own female-run record label Olive, based in New Zealand. What made you decide to take on this project?
I just love finding new artists and telling everyone about them. I kind of joked about making a label about a year and a half ago with my manager and then it kind of came up again in my mind this year and I was like I actually do want to make a record label. I feel like people are listening to what I’m posting and my platform has become a lot bigger this year and I just kind of thought well, why not?
Why not use it to find lowkey artists who might not have been able to get these people listening to them without maybe like a shoutout or support. For me, having bigger artists shout out my music has given me so many opportunities and I think that it can help just having someone rooting for you. A lot of artists, especially in New Zealand, who are really talented unfortunately don’t have the resources or the connections so I think it’s just about you know, hooking them up with people and stuff.
“Kool” is such a groovy, bassy track that sounds very band driven. It’s one of my favorites of yours so far! Who were your musical influences on this particular song?
Yay! Who were we listening to? It might’ve been like Nirvana and some old rocky songs. We were just going on YouTube and playing like old rock superstar videos and we were kind of like, “we need to get this kind of vibe going.”
I feel like that was when we lay down the guitar and it was like *guitar noises* and that just kind of started off the whole session. Then it was just a matter of finding funky sounds and you know, kind of stanky things we could put into it. Then obviously I’m screaming in it saying “I wish I could be like you” and singing about being cool and it was a really fun session and it’s a fun song to perform live.
How did it feel to be recognized by Elton John and getting to be a guest on his Rocket Hour Radio Show?
Pretty crazy. That was a big thing for me, it doesn’t really feel real that sort of stuff. My family and I have you know always kind of looked up to him, he’s an icon. Having him know that I exist is insane and then asking me to come onto the show was like “what is my life?” I was talking with him about how helping out smaller artists is so incredible and it got me in front of so many incredible people. Obviously, I’m on a much smaller scale but I believe in helping other artists just because you can, you know.
Yeah exactly, you looked so happy in your pictures with Elton John!
Dude! I was so happy! I was beside myself. I was freaking out about meeting him and whether or not I would shake his hand or whatever, my hands were so clammy and I was freaking out. Then he went in for a hug and a kiss on the cheek so I was like ok, this man is a legend.
Your album features a bunch of collaborations with the likes of Grimes, Gus Dapperton, Mallrat, Muroki, Kenny Beats, and Bakar. You also worked with the iconic Lily Allen and Flo Milli on your recent single “Plain.” How did those collaborations come about?
I mean, again, it’s something that kinda mind boggles me. I guess I kind of had the songs finished, when I finished a song in a session I always think whether it needs a collab or not. With this I was like, I know who I want on these songs and I knew instantly what kind of vibes I wanted. For “Plain,” Lily Allen came to mind first because it’s a sassy, badass song and I wanted someone who’s the queen of that to feature. Then I got Flo Milli because she’s also super sassy in the best way. But yeah, I’m just stoked that they wanted to do it because I can’t quite believe that they are all on it.
I thought it was cool that you chose to write a song about “Plain Janes.”
Yeah *laughs* I know, I feel like such a b*tch, but nah, I guess sometimes to make yourself feel better you kinda do have to be one!
What was it like making your U.S television debut on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and most recently Late Night with Seth Meyers?
Pretty wild, I feel like I grew up watching a lot of YouTube and was always watching Ellen and you know, the Jimmy show. It kind of feels like I’m going to wake up and it’s not gonna actually have happened, it’ll just be a little thing I had in my mind that I thought I did.
It’s just insane, I’m sad that I didn’t get to actually meet them and go there, but also happy because we got to film it in New Zealand and we got to film it having full creative control over it. We got to art direct everything which was really fun, and work with a local team which is good for all of them. But yeah, I’m just like what the heck has been happening because that’s just wild to me.
You use such unique visuals for your music’s artwork and music videos. How did the vibrant, abstract album artwork for Hey u x come about?
I guess I’m definitely drawn to bright colours and stuff that looks crazy. I think for finding an artist for Hey u x, I knew that I wanted it to be abstract. Pretty much every piece of art that I’ve found for my music and visuals comes from me on a deep Instagram search finding artists and stuff.
I found this guy called Terry Hoff, scrolled all the way down his feed, and found this artwork that was just like oh my god this so cool. I kind of got people to reach out to him, not knowing that he would actually say yes. They asked if we could buy it off him and collaborate and he was super keen. I think it does a really good job of kind of giving people an idea about the eclectic side of what the album is gonna be like.
Finally, before you go, what is a song that always makes you happy?
Ooooh, “I See You Baby” by Groove Armada. It always makes me happy, I always put it on at parties.