‘Everything else felt like it was a distraction’: An interview with BENEE

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Stella Rose Bennett is ahead of her time. The imaginative 20-year-old New Zealand artist, popularly known as BENEE, released her technicolor alt-pop song “Supalonely” with Gus Dapperton last November. The coronavirus pandemic struck just a few months later, and with a boost from TikTok, the apropos song rocketed to the top 40 in more than 25 countries as a staple quarantine anthem lauded for its relatability.

Bennett had already achieved considerable fame in New Zealand, but she suddenly found herself an international star. While grateful for the song’s success, she admitted that achieving such success during a pandemic comes with mixed feelings.

“This is the biggest thing that’s ever happened to me with my song, and you know, I’ve got so much good stuff going on, but then also, it’s like, hello,” Bennett said in an interview with The Daily Californian. “There’s a global pandemic, there’s so much more important stuff to be worrying about, like Black Lives Matter, elections, everything. And I’m over here like, ‘Yeah! I’ve got an album!’ ”

Although gaining popularity during a time of unrest might feel strange for Bennett, she hopes that people find comfort in her music. “It’s the best thing when you listen to a song and you can kind of connect to every lyric,” she said. “It’s cheesy, but knowing that you’re not the only one feeling a certain way is super nice.”

For Bennett, songwriting can be just as therapeutic as listening to music. “I’ve found it to be such a great emotional outlet,” Bennett said. “I always feel a sense of relief after coming out of a session or at home and writing, like I always feel something’s being lifted off my chest.”

An artist at heart, Bennett has always had a passion for music and creative writing. Everything around her, she said, inspired her to write.

“I’d diary-write and write weird little stories, and sometimes I’d write weird little songs,” Bennett said. “When I got my first computer, I found GarageBand and kind of navigated my way through the system … realizing that I was loving it and having a good time writing and singing.”

Learning to write songs takes time, and while Bennett has clearly perfected her craft in past years, she remembers having fun writing what she called “really, really bad songs” when she was younger.

“I wrote one on this trampoline; I can’t quite remember what it was about. It was something about love, but I was 9, so,” Bennett laughed. “I wrote it with my friend Grace. We thought it was the best thing ever, and we recorded it badly into GarageBand.”

Experimenting musically in high school, Bennett uploaded covers and original songs to SoundCloud. She also played saxophone for several years, which she credits as her earliest memory of knowing she loved music.

“I asked my parents to learn it when I was 8,” Bennett recalled. “When I asked to learn the saxophone, I feel like that was kind of when I was like, ‘I love this’ … I regret not carrying on with it, but I ended up picking up water polo and football, and I was super into sports, and it ended up taking up all my time.”

Though Bennett came to prioritize athletics in high school, she never lost her passion for music. After two weeks of classes at Auckland University of Technology, she realized that pursuing a communications degree wasn’t her destiny.

“I got home and talked to my mum about it and was just like, ‘I love (making music), I don’t want to be doing uni right now,’ ” Bennett said. “All that was going through my mind was that I loved music, and everything else felt like it was a distraction. I feel like, when I love something, I want to put everything into it.”

And so she did. Two EPs and several hit singles later, Bennett shows no signs of stopping her growth as an artist. With her debut album Hey U X dropping Nov. 13, her latest music is what she “really want(s) to be making right now.”

“I think I was super experimental with every session I went into making each of the songs,” Bennett said. “I just feel really excited about it, ’cause it’s pretty different from what the other stuff I’ve been making is like.”

From starting her own record label to selling out headline arena tours, Bennett is undeniably a rising star on the alt-pop scene — but even as “Supalonely” surpasses 2 billion streams worldwide, Bennett remembers not to focus on numbers too much.

“It doesn’t matter if you have 1,000 people listening to you,” Bennett said. “I’m just a normal human, you know?”

Contact Taila Lee at [email protected].