Some songwriters may have written their first song after listening to Joni Mitchell or James Taylor. Some singers may have taught themselves how to do runs after listening to Whitney Houston or Christina Aguilera. Benson Boone, a now 20-year-old singer/songwriter from Monroe, Washington, decided to pursue music after watching Jon Bellion in concert.
Is that a little jarring? Perhaps, but Gen-Z’s artists are fully entrenched in the culture now, and if Jon Bellion is a standard-bearer for them, it’s time to admit we might all be getting old. Boone’s new song, “What Was,” is out now.
Boone was an immediate frontrunner after a standout audition for the 19th season of American Idol, but dropped out just before the Top 24 was announced. He’d go home to continue to hone his craft, and, just a few years later, has racked up multiple songs with hundreds of millions of streams and is playing sold-out venues across the world. His debut EP, 2022’s Walk Me Home, featuring the hits “GHOST TOWN” and “In The Stars,” made it clear that he’s here for the long run.
A performance of “In The Stars” on The Late Late Show With James Corden last June showcased Boone in all his late-teens glory. He looked, and sounded, like a 19-year-old, which is good. Even with his success, he hadn’t fallen into the trap of being someone or something he isn’t.
On the new song “What Was,” Boone’s artistry appears more refined. He sounds more seasoned and more aware of himself. Embodying a James Bay/Børns type vibe, Boone maintains control of his voice, on both the high and low ends, better than he ever has before, as he sings of regrets he feels towards a past relationship: “Fly me to a lonely place where you never see my face / So you never feel the pain of what was.”
Boone sounds reflective and contemplative, a vibe presented in the gentle fingerpicking of the guitar in the verses. While not quite old enough to be completely sure how to avoid making mistakes, he looks back on himself during that time period and sees that he may not have acted accordingly: “He’s dumb / If you blink he’ll blow up like a gun / Jumping to conclusions just for fun, that guy / Needs somebody to hold.”
The song perfectly parallels a track like “Will It Ever Feel The Same?” by Bazzi in that it captures the artist in an exciting new moment in time in their creative development. Boone is figuring it out, and he’s doing it fast. Maybe next time, he’ll be confident enough to allow the tenderness of the tune to sustain all the way through to the end.