BENEE (whose birth name is Stella Bennett) has created an original, upbeat pop sound, that combines elements of modern pop/soul with some quirky, experimental ideas. Her musical influences include cutting-edge artists like Bjork, Radiohead and Groove Armada, but there’s also a smooth pop/jazz flavor reminiscent of Sade on some songs.
Her hit “Supalonely” is an appealing, uptempo song that has a cool music vibe to go along with its catchy title and hook. This single was originally released last November (2019), and it has gradually become a worldwide hit. In the U.S., “Supalonely” has been certified platinum and it reached the Top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The single has also reached Top 10 in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the Netherlands, Croatia and Mexico.
Interestingly, “Supalonely” has gotten a big boost by becoming very popular on TikTok. Many fans have created short videos of themselves dancing to the song, which have led to millions of views. Also, an earlier BENEE song, “Glitter,” received major exposure on TikTok.
BENEE started to focus on music as a teenager, and a key moment occurred when she met and began collaborating with New Zealand writer/producer, Josh Fountain. The duo became a creative team, and began writing many songs together. Fountain co-wrote & produced all the songs on BENEE’s first two EPs, Fire on Marzz and Stella & Steve (which included “Supalonely”), and he collaborated on all the cuts for her debut album.
BENEE’s album, Hey U X, contains 13 songs that she co-wrote, and features collaborations with several notable artists including Grimes, Gus Dapperton, Lily Allen, Flo Milli, Kenny Beats, Bakar, Mallrat and Muroki. Key songs on the new album are “Happen to Me,” the fast-paced dance cut “Sheesh” (feat. Grimes), “Plain” (feat. Lily Allen & Flo Milli) and “Snail.”
Here’s the video of BENEE’s hit “Supalonely,” featuring
We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with BENEE. She discusses her hit “Supalonely,” her new album, and how life in New Zealand has been different for her during the Covid crisis.
DK: I read that you grew up in Auckland, and early on you took guitar and saxophone lessons. How did you get started with music and writing songs?
BENEE: When I was in high school, I would always play around with Garageband. Then when I was 17, I properly started working in the studio. I would work with (writer/producer) Josh Fountain, who I still make all of my music with. We got into the studio, and I loved his writing and I love to write songs with him. So that’s when I started to properly make songs, with Josh producing.
DK: You’ve written many songs with Josh Fountain. What make you and him a good creative team?
BENEE: We’ve just really work well together. Early on, he was patient with me when I was trying to find my sound. Then later on when I was making music, we just complemented each other very well. He’s kind of quiet, but he’s got really great taste in music. And I’m a bit louder and I like to call the shots and be the boss, and he’s quite good at making it happen with his production. So it’s always been easy to work with him.
DK: When you write with Josh, do you usually write the lyrics and melodies, and he creates the tracks and production?
BENEE: Yeah, that’s how it works. He and I will usually sit down and talk for an hour about music that I’ve been listening to, and figure out what kind of song I want to make. Then we’ll go through samples and different sounds, and we’ll both select the sounds that we want to put in a song, and he’ll create a simple beat. Then for about an hour, I’ll put down a bunch of words on my Notes or my computer. Then I’ll tell him that I’m ready to try something, and I’ll go into the booth and freestyle lyric and melody ideas. Doing it freestyle has been working the best at the moment. Then I’ll go back into the studio, and we’ll pump it up and I’ll select parts that I love, and we’ll create the structure in the song.
Here’s the video of BENEE’s new song, “Snail.”
DK: I like your hit song, “Supalonely.” How did you, Josh and the other writers create this song?
BENEE: I worked on this song with Josh and Jenna Andrews, who’s a songwriter and friend of mine. I was in L.A. for a month, and it was my first time properly working with a (pro) songwriter, and I was a little put off at the idea of someone writing my song, because I was scared that’s what was gonna happen. [Writing with Jenna] ended up being this huge venting session for me, because I had just broken up with my boyfriend, and we talked about it for an hour. I asked Jenna about how she worked, and she said, “I’m not here to write your song for you. I’m here to help you with your ideas.” That was a relief, because I like to write my own music. [It turned out to be] such a cool session because we were bouncing ideas off each other, and she was helping me get all the good stuff out (laughs). It was nice working with a female songwriter in the studio. We figured out a cool beat, and she and I would have my lyrics written down, and I’d go into the booth. And on this particular song, I would freestyle a bunch of ad-libs. It was a really fun session.
DK: “Supalonely” got a big boost when a lot of people on TikTok made videos with your song. How did your song become popular on TikTok?
BENEE: [There was] this girl who made a dance video to it, with choreography. And [then more people made videos] dancing to it and it went viral, which is crazy. It’s cool how they make this little video to a song they like, and people kind of copy that video andshare it, and then…Boom! It goes viral.
DK: On your new album, I like your song “Sheesh” featuring Grimes, which has a high-energy track. How did you connect with Grimes for that song?
BENEE: That was through Sony/ATV (Music Publishing). They work with Grimes, and I’ve just signed with them. I was looking for an artist to do a feature with, and they suggested Grimes. And I said, “That would be insane” (laughs), because I’m a huge fan of hers. Then she messaged me on Instagram, and we had a couple conversations about it. And I love what she did…she’s perfect for the song. I was stoked that she wanted to be on it.
Here’s the video of BENEE’s song “Glitter,” which has
DK: Besides “Supalonely” and “Sheesh,” what are your favorite songs on your album?
BENEE: “Happen To Me” is a favorite, because of how personal it is. I became quite vulnerable with my writing on that song…it touches on anxiety and depression, which is something that I haven’t explored much with my songwriting. So yeah, it’s a standout for me.
DK: I watched several of your videos, and you have some great animation in them, especially on your video for your song, “Glitter.” How did you come up with the idea for that video?
BENEE: For “Glitter,” I wrote the song about this crazy night that I had at this cool gay bar in Auckland, where I ended up being covered in glitter (laughs). I knew that I wanted the video to be crazy and colorful, and my label connected to director Steven Merton. I looked at this treatment and I looked at his previous work, and he has this crazy way. He hand drew all of the monsters and everything, and it was crazy how much work he put into it. I love everything that he did. Normally, I’m super hands-on with the videos, and I like to contribute to the storyline. But in this case I was like, “I just want to see what you come up with,” and he ended up coming up with something crazy that I loved.
DK: You live in New Zealand, and I read that the Covid cases are very low there, you’ve recently been able to play concerts and tour there. What’s it been like for you during the lockdown?
BENEE: The lockdown has obviously been very weird, and we’ve been in and out of lockdown in New Zealand, because random outbreaks would come up. But now, we’re Covid free, with no community cases. So fortunately, we’ve been able to play shows and tour here. It’s nice to be out of lockdown.