In collaboration with
- Words Notion Staff
- Photography Harry Were
New Zealand musician BENEE has just been announced as Apple Music's Up Next Artist for July - get to know the "Supalonely" hitmaker.
It’s almost impossible to not have heard BENEE’s song “Supalonely”. The earworm pop track went viral on TikTok and has been getting near-constant radio play over the past few months, racking up 1.3 billion streams worldwide.
Such was the song’s popularity that BENEE (AKA Stella Bennett) performed socially distant sets with Gus Dapperton on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
Like a number of incredible new artists breaking through, BENEE found fame by posting covers online. She then went on to share the 2017 single “Tough Guy” and two EPs – FIRE ON MARZZ and STELLA & STEVE – in 2019, before the smash hit “Supalonely” came out this year, taking BENEE stratospheric.
This week, Apple Music announced BENEE as the newest Up Next artist, Apple Music’s monthly artist initiative that identifies and platforms up-and-coming talent. Now in its fourth year, previous Up Next artists have included global stars such as Juice WRLD, Summer Walker, Sigrid, Megan Thee Stallion, Clairo, Orville Peck, Khalid, Conan Gray, and many more. Looks like BENEE is in good company!
BENEE’s Up Next short shot on iPhone 11 Pro is released on Apple Music exclusively today. In the video, BENEE recounts her younger years as a “weird”, music-obsessed, Harry Potter-loving kid. She also discusses how she is able to vocalise her feelings through music by using the medium as an emotional outlet. Watch the trailer here.
As well as announcing a headline tour in her native New Zealand this autumn, BENEE has dropped the new tune “Night Garden”, a collaboration with hip-hop producer, Kenny Beats, and Elton John-endorsed musician, Bakar. It’s a creepy tale about the fear of being watched.
BENEE sings on the introduction: “Feels like someone’s watching me/ A man is out there in the trees/ Think that’s the reason I can’t sleep/ I see him lurking in my dreams”.
We spoke to the 20-year-old star-on-the-rise about how she’s been getting on during lockdown, her “Supalonely” success, and how New Zealand inspires her sound.
How have you been over the past few months?
[Laughs] It’s been a very weird year! It was bad at the start, like, what the fuck’s happening to the world? It’s crazy what’s happened so fast this year, but I think it’s good that the whole world is very woke right now. It needed to happen… Humans are learning a lot of stuff that they need to do.
You’re in New Zealand – are you able to get back into the studio again?
I am. It’s been nice. We’re down to level 1 [at the time of speaking]. We were COVID-free for like two weeks… I went to a gig the other weekend, which was crazy. I didn’t expect that it would be this soon, to be honest.
You’ve had a crazy year anyway with your career – how’s that been?
Yeah, it’s been, weird dude! It all happened while I’ve been stuck in New Zealand during lockdown. It’s given me a lot of time to sit down and have really deep thoughts. It’s been kinda good I feel. When this type of stuff happens to people, you’re running around everywhere and don’t get to sit down. It’s been nice to be at home in one place, I feel like it’s kept me from going insane.
Tell me about some of your first musical memories. How did you begin your path to becoming a musician?
Well, I did music in school. I played the saxophone and carried it on in high school and did a bit of singing, but it was really only up until 2017 was when I put out SoundCloud covers, and that was when I got into contact with a manager, a producer, made music in the studio. I’ve always loved to write, and I’ve had a play around with Garage Band before that – really badly but it’s still a hobby.
Your song “Supalonely” went viral on TikTok. Did you wake up one morning and just think – gosh! What was that thought process like for you?
I didn’t even know about the app very well. I had another song of mine, “Glitter”, got picked up on it last year and then I was like, what is this ‘Tok’ thing? I was being sent videos so I kinda got an understanding of what it was like then. So, when the “Supalonely” thing happened, it was just another level of, ‘I don’t even know what’s happening’. Crazy but it’s interesting because I didn’t really know about it and then all of a sudden there’s this app where people can use your music…
What is your usual creative process like when it comes to music?
I work in a few different ways, I think. I’m always trying to try out different things with writing and stuff. It usually starts with me writing down a few lines in my notes – it can be anywhere, literally in my car and I’ll pull over and write a note in my phone. Or at home, I’ll write down a word or record a melody, then I’ll go into the studio and I work with my producer, Josh Fountain. It always starts off with an hour of just having a conversation, playing each other music we’re listening to, and then they start working on a beat, and I’m just sitting in my little bubble, writing away with lyrics. What I’ve been doing lately is taking my lyrics into a little booth and just freestyle. It’s nice when you hear the beat and just see what comes out. A lot of the time it is shit, but sometimes it works!
When you go to the studio, do you tend to just see what happens, or do you bring in an idea?
Sometimes it’s bringing in an idea – a lot of the time it is that. The other night I wrote – because I had a studio session in the morning – I sat there and thought, what do I wanna write about? And I wrote down a few ideas. Then I get in there and I play the songs that I want to set the vibe and I write down more notes about the note I wrote the night before. Or I go into the session and sit there and listen to a beat, and see what comes from that. Sometimes it can be a matter of me not actually knowing what I’m writing about and it’s just lyrics that come to mind when I hear the beat. You can do it in any way. For me, there’s no way I need to do it.
Who are some of your favourite artists you’re listening to right now?
I’ve made so many playlists! I love Slum Village. I’ve been listening to a bunch of Erykah Badu and Miles Davis… I’ve been listening to The Japanese House lately. I don’t really listen to that kind of music but my friend played me one of their songs and I was like shit… her lyrics! H.E.R., Radiohead, Tom Misch… Grimes! Grimes is someone else who I’ve been smashing.
Is there anything else that feeds into your music inspiration?
I think just where I live comes into a lot of my writing. When I’m writing songs, I’ve written about nights out I’ve had in Auckland, going to a party in Wellington… I dunno, I take inspiration from all sorts of things. I think there’s definitely a New Zealand sound with music.
In terms of your visual world, you’ve got a great style. What inspires your visuals, i.e. the videos you’ve got planned or just personal style?
I love the idea of everything being very eclectic. Even when I’m listening to music, I’m listening to all sorts; watching all sorts of movies, I like all different types of art. When I’m collaborating, I’m always wanting to work with someone who’s completely different to who I worked with before. For all my artwork, tour posters and stuff, I’m going on deep searches on Instagram. I use Instagram to find super low-key artists and stuff.
It seems through your social media and music that you have a fun energy. How do you keep that positive energy up?
I’m not gonna post when I’m crying in my room and I’m feeling depressed but I dunno… social media is weird. I don’t really share when I’m upset. I feel like I’m a hermit crab with that kind of stuff. When you’re feeling shit, go see a therapist – that’s what I did and it helped [laughs]!
What does your Mum think of your success?
I think she’s a little mind blown by it all. I don’t think that she expected that when I said I wanna drop out of university and do music, I don’t think she thought anything like this would come out of it. She’s happy!
What are you most looking forward to when there’s a sense of normality again?
Oh man, I just wanna play shows, to be honest [laughs]! I mean, I’m stoked that I’m gonna get to play the shows in October, but that’s gonna make me want to play shows around the world even more cos I had to cancel all of my tour plans and it was gonna be my biggest US and UK tour.
How does it feel to be an Apple Up Next Artist?
[Laughs] It feels insane! I’ve watched a few of the documentaries and it’s crazy. I don’t really know what’s happening. It feels quite surreal, to be honest, but I’m stoked.