Stella Rose Bennett couldn’t have predicted her global breakout at a time when people couldn’t see her perform live, much less leave their houses. Even still, the 20-year old artist known as Benee is taking on her new notoriety with optimism, a mentality Benee chalks up to her New Zealand roots. “It’s kind of like island time,” she told me over Zoom while the country was days away from lifting their second mandatory lockdown.
Benee infuses the same breeziness into her music, and this laidback attitude drew her fans to her viral hit “Supalonely.” Its buoyant, elastic keyboards combined with Benee’s animated lyrical delivery won over the most popular TikTok stars — catapulting the singer into viral fame — and captivated audiences across the world. It was elating for Benee to see her favorite YouTubers busting out intricate choreographies to her song and racking up hundreds of thousands of views, and even more surreal when “Supalonely” caught Elton John’s attention, who called it the “next global smash.”
Though the single boasts an upbeat tempo, Benee wrote “Supalonely” after a particularly painful breakup. Clashing cheerful beats with forlorn themes is Benee’s forte. “I really love the contrast between having happy, kind of playful, upbeat production and having really sad lyrics,” she said. “That’s what I’m drawn to when I’m listening to music.”
The same moody juxtaposition appears on her Kennybeats collaboration, “Night Garden.” Revealing the song was originally modeled after a Wu-Tang Clan track, Benee said: “I played him Wu-Tang at the start of the session and I was like, ‘I want to be like this. Let’s make something like this.’ And then I fully committed to making it spooky.” Underscored by a rhythmic beat, the song is equally playful and haunting as Benee details a story of a man watching her from outside her window. Benee remarked while the song’s storyline isn’t inspired by entirely true events, “It is this complete fear that I have.”
The fear of being watched is something she’s struggled with in the past, similarly using it as inspiration for her Stella & Steve EP’s “Monsta.” “I would stay up until like 3:00 a.m. until I literally had to knock myself out. I just had this really gross feeling there was someone watching me every night.”
Coming into fame has only heightened the fear as Benee suddenly finds herself being noticed in public. Benee even had to ward off a stalker who followed her in their car while recording her on their phone. “I’m sure [with] some people, that wouldn’t phase them. But someone like me, who overthinks everything and is anxious, it does not help,” she said.
Benee’s fame has caused her some anxiety but it has conversely led to newfound confidence in her songwriting, especially on her upcoming debut album. Benee has yet to announce her full-length release but much if it is already complete, and she’s hoping to ride the momentum of her “Supalonely” success. “I think with this album, I haven’t really held back on experimenting with genres and even lyrics,” Benee said. “Maybe I would have been more hesitant to do some of the things that I’ve done on this album in my previous bodies of work.”
For the first time, Benee is able to candidly write about her struggles with anxiety and depression, translating those experiences into music. While fans can expect to hear some of the same lush chords and exuberent beats heard on her latest releases, Benee notes her new work further blurs genre lines, infusing elements of “hardcore” electronic with trap-style beats. “I feel like some people who like my other stuff are going to hate this because it’s pretty different,” she said. “But I had a lot of fun making it.”
Pushing boundaries is important to Benee. It’s also something she’s used to, having dropped out of university two weeks after arriving to pursue music full-time. “I wanted to give this music thing more time and more effort,” she said. “And I felt like going to university was holding me back from that.”
Her aversion to convention materializes in her reluctance to conform to one genre. “I like the idea of blending genres and I don’t like the idea of kind of pinpointing,” she said. Instead, whether she’s modeling her sound after Wu-Tang Clan or experimenting with beats on her upcoming full-length, Benee leans on a metaphor to describe her innovative sound more aptly. “I would call [my music] a crispy apple because I try to make a fresh sound. So it’s a fresh, crispy, apple.”