Eddie Benjamin and I last met in February 2022 at a rehearsal studio tucked away in North Hollywood, California, days before Benjamin would embark across North America as an opener for Justin Bieber and his Justice World Tour. In the parking lot, he excitedly showed me his tour bus. Being in motion had always calmed his anxiety.
Benjamin can’t sit still, but he’s never been one to move erratically, dating back to his adolescence in Australia — hyper-focused on practicing scales and performing wherever he could in Sydney — and especially since relocating to LA with his family in 2019. He has co-written songs alongside the likes of Shawn Mendes, Meghan Trainor, and Ryan Tedder, released his four-track Emotional EP in 2021, and learned under Bieber.
The Justice World Tour exacerbated Benjamin’s trajectory from steady climb to sudden catapult for the better part of 2022, until his close friend was fatally shot amidst it all, and for once, everything stopped.
“Stargirl,” his single out now via Vol. 1/Epic Records, surfaced during Benjamin’s standstill grief. I’m finding Benjamin at another inflection point. “Stargirl,” according to the 21-year-old singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist, serves as “an appreciation to be able to sit above the war zone of existing” and a “transition piece.”
“It’s a circle, though, isn’t it?” he adds. “The next few records after this, the story that’s being painted is just a cycle of human emotion.”
Below, Benjamin further unpacks the cycle he’s endured over the most intense year of his life.
You don’t move without intention, and you won’t release songs without carefully considering each one. Why is “Stargirl” a song you want to release?
“Stargirl” is a really interesting piece of music to me. Sonically, it’s a bit of, dare I say, an experiment. This sound is an interesting kind of mesh of sound, so it intrigued me. Also, it was the last song I wrote about my ex-girlfriend, [Maddie Ziegler]. It’s getting released with a [Starface Pimple Patches] campaign, which is funny because the arrangement of the song is pretty dense, but I just love powerful music. I think it has that punchiness that I’m always looking for. But yeah, it’s special to me in a few different ways. After I made it, I definitely knew it was one of the ones that I would give to people.
What are those ways it’s special to you?
I think as an artist, one of the things you do have to let go [of] is trying to impress yourself for a good piece of art. Like, I heard Daniel Caesar — it’s crazy because I was about to go in the studio with him the other day with some of my friends, and this is not a diss of him; I love his music. He was like, “It’s just gotta impress me or else it doesn’t grab me.” And I just feel like, I don’t know if that’s how emotions work, and this song is a bit of a mixture.
Sometimes, complex things come out of your brain, and I think you can tell when that is a natural force or it’s being forced upon the music. I know that’s the vaguest thing ever. To give you the longest, most drawn-out, bullsh*t answer of all the time, it encapsulates my brain in a myriad of ways and is also so emotional. Now, I’ll give you a real answer: I was in such a low place at that time. My co-creator, [the Grammy-nominated producer] Kid Culture, who’s one of the best in the world, it was a hard time for us to make this song. I was really going through it. And he was like, “Damn, dude, you are just heavy.” But it’s quite a bright song, so in that juxtaposition is a really interesting place to sit.
The impression I’ve always gotten from you is that, first and foremost, music is about emotional release in the moment and not necessarily whether anyone is impressed with it – even yourself. But, of course, that perfectionism beast lives within us all.
Exactly. And sometimes, it’s really hard because the things you feel aren’t creating a song. This is the thing: Creating a song is structure; emotions don’t have structure. [With me], it’s just a complete throw-up of emotions, always. It just is. I look for the things that just are, in the center of my chest, and shoot it outward as hard as I can. It feels like you’re dying, if not.
So you made “Stargirl” with Kid Culture, but to borrow your phrase and ask the most bullsh*t question of all time: When and how did this song come to be?
Right after [opening on Bieber’s Justice World Tour], I did Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and one of my really good friends was murdered. He got shot three times. It was really heavy. Perhaps my therapist would say I went into an isolation stage, but I went to the studio [in Los Angeles] by myself for quite a while. No one knew. It was on my own dime and time because that’s the only thing that could make me vaguely comfortable. I made the arrangement and beat — the verse section and the chorus section — in a really, really old studio with one of the rarest recording boards in the world. It’s one of seven in the world.
I think I made 70 pieces of music. That was one of them. I would have a few friends stop by. Justin Lee Schultz played some stuff on this song. We sat with it. I took it to New York, and Kid was like, “Wow, this is really special.” When I made that arrangement before I brought it to him, the title of the song was “Stargirl,” and there were no lyrics, no melody. I think that sums it up, you know? Some things feel like they’re made before they’re finished — like they’ve always been made.
With a song like “Weatherman,” it’s clear the weather is a metaphorical device for your mood and your will to take control back over it. And then, there’s the hovering storm cloud and rain in the video for “Only You” featuring Alessia Cara. Does “Stargirl” add another layer to your Weatherman character?
We’re still in the Weatherman era. This is kind of like a bridge of sounds, if you will. It’s a little more organic but still has that power, punchy pop sound. Also, in this journey, we’re gonna need the Weatherman to come back and save this guy. Not to be too character-y and hyper-egotistical, but I do think everyone has really intense parts to themselves. I know I do. [But] the Weatherman era EP is coming out before the debut album.
It’s important to you to bring embedded meaning into pop music. Where do you feel that you are right now in advancing toward that goal?
I still find so many close-minded people. I just wanna f*cking roast some people. Go back to pre-classical music when Bach was writing. If you look at a perfect cadence, it’s just an ending of a phrase chord. They were all the same. And people at that time were like, “Oh, everything has been done! Every harmony’s been made, every song’s been made. This is it!” That was 600 or 700 years ago, and people say that today. I had a conversation with this guy, and he’s like, “I just feel like everything’s been made.” And I’m just like, “Oh, my God.” I couldn’t imagine living in a prison like that.
That says more about people being lazy than it is about ideas to be had, right?
Who knows what it is, but it’s a mindset that actually occurs more than not. So, to find people that are f*cking brave enough to want to push forward is really hard and amazing. This next EP is my first strike at creating that sound. I’m making my debut album right now, and I kind of always knew where I was gonna take it, but there’s still a ways to go — so many textures, so many tempos, so many conversations that need to be had.
You know, I only have eight songs out, but I think you can hear that transition of organic textures with that kind of abrasive chorus texture. Again, they’re just ideas, but I think what I’m making now is more inclusive. I’m so obsessed with textures and arrangements from so many different eras. I made these songs when I was 19. I’m 21 now. Life gets you, and I think you can hear that. I study music so much — too much! — but at the end of the day, it completely dissolves into a feeling. That sonic goal that I’m after, I do think it will be reached, but I’m right in the middle of that.
When I say the words “debut album,” where does your mind immediately go?
Oh, I’m just beyond excited to even have the opportunity to write an album. It’s important to acknowledge that, as artists, we run so fast sometimes, and, for me, it’s really hard to be grateful. I think a lot of people associate it with pressure. “The album’s so important, there’s so much pressure!” But those are just ideas. I’m so extremely confident in what I want to say and who I am as a person. I could really give a f*ck. Of course, your brain will get you and throw you into a hole occasionally and tell you are the worst. And that’s just also part of creating.
I remember being at one of your final tour rehearsals with you days before the Justice World Tour opening night. I remember thinking that we were toward the end of a precious, private time before you crossed the point of no return — trekking across the country and having more and more people want a piece of you. Do you miss your anonymity?
You’re catching me in the middle again. Interactions change between you and people, of course. I just also feel quite early in this. I try not to think about how 99% of the people I interact with start with a question about my work. But at the same time, I’m really grateful. You’re catching me in a time where I’m just trying to focus on being a human. Just a person.
Honestly, there was a moment, I think it was at Wembley [last June for Capital’s Summertime Ball]. I had been on the road for five months, and that first single came out, and there was a moment in time where I was finding it a little hard to sit down with my friends and be able to enjoy that. Because you’re in such a high state of being seen that your nervous system makes it really hard for you. I was struggling to connect and be grounded, but I think that probably happens if anyone goes traveling for half the year.
Why did you want “Who The F*ck Is Eddie Benjamin?” featured so prominently on your tour bus and merch?
Because it’s just taking the piss out of the hyper-attention, grabby vibe we’re all in. I sound like Matty Healy. But he’s right! Also, I love Mick Jagger, and he literally did the exact same print.
South Park is one of my favorite shows as well, but around that time, my team brought me that idea. I was actually at the creator of South Park‘s house, driving around on his ATVs. I’m a bit of a f*cking troll. He’s like the king of trolling. I was like, you know what? I wanna do that. He would do that. Again, I just like that juxtaposition. I’m introducing myself to the world. I’m quite a bright energy, so what’s the opposite of that?
You experienced a load of “firsts” at once during last year’s tour run. Do you have a favorite first from the last year?
That’s a crazy question because, holy f*ck, there were so many firsts for me. Daily. There were a couple of moments that really had me emotional that I still think about. Toronto was the first show where I lit the whole arena up, and it happened three times in a row. As a supporting act, it was a special moment to happen three times in a row. I’ve envisioned that for so long, and I think that was just a really beautiful moment. When you’re trying to focus and stay stable, you maybe can’t take it in, but that was a moment on stage where I really was so present. That was really meaningful.
It’s poignant to me that something that you’ve been imagining for yourself for so long actually happened for you, and you’re riding that high. Then, the unimaginable happens to your friend shortly thereafter. Those are polar opposite experiences and extreme emotions to go through in such a condensed period of time.
It’s interesting for you to even observe that because I wish some people around me that say they’re close to me could observe that, too. My dopamine receptors are shattered. Not really, but that was a really, really intense year for so many reasons — such an amazing year and terrifying at the same time — so I’m still going through the process to try and understand.
Even the line in “Star Girl,” “You’re right next to heaven / Hell is no place to be.” You were in heaven and hell, back-to-back.
Yeah, exactly. In music, you get subtle notes from yourself. And Kid’s perspective, someone who knows me so well and loves me, he was like, “What is this energy?” There are moments where it’s so ego-driven and so competitive, and then the polar opposite, the loss of someone. It’s a jarring place to be because you have to process all of that, [but] the light and the dark being so close together for me was an amazing experience — to feel the depth of my emotions. Selfishly, I guess, it impacted my music in such a crazy way. Even thinking about “Weatherman” and to think about where I’m at now musically with this album I’m making, you’ve caught me in a place where I’m making these songs about that time.
What are you the most obsessed with right now?
Someone asked me the other day, “Where’s your energy?” And It’s always been the same since I was a baby. It has never changed. Sometimes, Justin [Bieber] will be like, “What’s your mission statement?” But the core of me and what I need to do, what I want to express, and what I’m obsessed with has just never changed. It’s just always been these extreme emotions. How do I display them and show them with sound as best as possible? It’s just working on the tools to be the best at that. Quite honestly, as I’m growing and life is happening, it makes music mean way more and gives so much context.
How has Justin been a shoulder for you to lean on during this past year, especially touring together?
He’s the person I can call when I’m really going through it. And the same for him. He’s really been through a lot, even him getting sick [with Ramsay Hunt syndrome] last year. But the best piece of advice, he says, “Don’t choke it.” He’s like, “Man, you’re in there too long. You’re working too much. Don’t kill it before [it has a chance].” Essentially, just don’t overthink it. Give yourself relaxing moments. You have to experience life for this to even make sense.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.