BENEE traverses genres, dispositions in debut album ‘Hey u x’

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Grade: 4.0/5.0

If 20-year-old Kiwi Stella Rose Bennett, popularly known by her stage name BENEE, didn’t make a big enough mark on pop music with her TikTok hit single “Supalonely” earlier this year, her debut studio album, Hey u x, is sealing the deal. The Nov. 13 release may not have catapulted Bennett to the likes of Billie Eilish in terms of fame just yet, but her colorful wordplay and varied temperament invites listeners to enjoy her climb up the charts. 

This variety of styles is also the album’s sole, slight downfall, however, as it lacks a unified message or tone, seemingly drawing attention to various quirks and unique feelings simply for the sake of differentiation. Nonetheless, with features ranging from Grimes to Flo Milli to Kenny Beats, Bennett’s debut record marks her budding versatility and lack of willingness to commit to a single style. 

But while the rising electro pop star surveys multiple genres, Bennett largely explores self-reflection somewhere between bliss and sedation. This was already apparent on “Supalonely,” which finds a place on the 13-track album and defines the mentality of her signature sound. She is able to turn a feeling of uneasiness and anguish into relaxation, akin to triumphant relief, through the implementation of lackadaisical melodies and vibrant electronic sounds. On the album’s second track, “Same Effect,” for example, Bennett laments, “Now I want you, I’m sick of bein’ alone/ Lyin’ ’round here, and you’re all that I want,” amid a smooth, easy melody, which offsets her wordplay’s more somber tone. 

Similarly, in the penultimate song, “All the Time,” relaxed, guitar-driven surf rock is once again juxtaposed with darker, self-reflective themes, namely using alcohol and drugs to cope. “Spaced out all the time/ I’m fallin’ behind/ I’m spaced out all the time,” lulls Bennett, who duets with 19-year-old Kenyan and Kiwi artist Muroki, the first signee to her newly established record label, Olive. 

She owns her downfalls and molds them into successes, and this pensive nature is similarly apparent in songs such as “A Little While.” However, Bennett’s mindfulness bleeds into paranoia and anxiety in tracks such as “Night Garden” and “Sheesh.” The former, which features rising indie star Bakar and YouTube sensation Kenny Beats, employs a steady boom-bap rhythm alongside a funky, trance-like melody, which makes lines such as “Feels like someone’s watching me/ A man is out there in the trees” all the more stress inducing. An overload of speedy Mario Kart-esque jazz fusion is overwhelming enough on “Sheesh,” which features acclaimed electro pop artist Grimes. Combine that sound with the anxiety of ending a seemingly perfect relationship and you have sonic paranoia. 

But this sort of overt paranoia, apparent both lyrically and musically, is a testament to the Kiwi’s quirkiness, though this quirkiness blends into cheesiness on songs such as “Snail.” 

“I’m like a snail, you’re a guy/ Kinda mad I can’t fly,” Bennett reprises throughout the track. While these words carry little substance on their own, the bouncy, upbeat electronics and unnecessarily heavy bass are what defines the song as a less convincing yet still fun and catchy statement of uniqueness. 

All things considered, Bennett nails fun, authentic quirkiness in “Kool” and “Plain,” the latter of which features both Flo Milli and Lily Allen. Pop star Allen is a less surprising appearance than rapper Flo Milli, but the combination of the three works seamlessly into a pop rap anthem of confidence — the epitome of leaving behind a toxic ex. “Back when we met, I was a terrible mess/ I’m just surprised at how you’ve not been Me Too’d yet,” Allen sings. 

The eccentricity in “Plain” is offered in the following track “Kool,” as well, though this piece delivers the opposite side of the spectrum; “Kool” is a heavily rock-influenced song about admiring someone else’s traits, wishing to be as cool as them. 

One thing is clear from this dichotomy of bliss inducing energy, ranging from rap to rock: Bennett isn’t afraid to try it all and enjoy the process of establishing herself as an artist, a process which she has just begun. 

So yes, there is no unifying concept to Hey u x. Yet as the album traverses genres and emotions, there is a consistent, happy-go-lucky, pensive voice keeping listeners on their toes and guiding them through a range of sounds. It’s only a matter of time before Bennett skyrockets to the top of the charts again — she’s proving that she’s here to stay, and Hey u x is only her debut. 

Contact Ethan Waters at [email protected]. Tweet him at @ewate1.