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Get to know Benee, if you know what’s good for you

Photographer – Kristina Valdez
Stylist – Emma Boseley
Hair and Makeup – Lily Swan at Duval Agency
Talent – Benee
Words by Eliza Sholly

Stellar evolution.

A few minutes into Benee’s first EP, Fire on Marzz, she opens a song with the lyrics, “My tongue is sealed within my mouth / These certain words they can’t come out.” While it’s certainly a poetic glimpse into the 19-year-old’s inner musings, it feels like a laughable paradox when speaking to her.

In fact, the only time she feels mildly lost for words during our 20-minute interview is when I ask her to choose her favourite James Blake song.

“You can’t do this to me. I’m panicking right now. They’re all my favourites, okay!?”

Born Stella Bennett in Grey Lynn, Auckland (a town recognised mostly for its November music and arts festival), Benee is New Zealand’s answer to the new-wave, bedroom pop sound with which Generation X is becoming synonymous. Her career began in a not too dissimilar fashion to many of her contemporaries. Girl discovers immense singing prowess, girl records covers and turns to the Internet to upload them, girl gets picked up by an established producer looking for their next big talent.

“It’s nuts there are now teams in record labels who just spend days on SoundCloud looking up new talent,” she says. “I had no idea.”

The producer in question, Josh Fountain, spotted Bennett’s talent early. It was potentially the same breed of talent he saw in fellow New Zealand teenager Ella Yelich-O’Connor a few years earlier. Yelich-O’Connor, of course, became Lorde. And in the same Golden Age Studio where Fountain co-wrote and recorded her famous debut, Pure Heroine, Benee’s first EP was born.

Fire on Marzz feels way more sophisticated than your average debut.

“A lot of the songs I had been sitting on for ages,” says Bennett. “I called them ‘my little babies’ that I protected. It’s always kind of hard to know what’s going to happen to your music once you’ve released it, because you’re the only one that’s been listening to it. And then bam, it’s out for the world to hear.”

Bennett has since released her sophomore EP, Stella & Steve. The five-track project truly encompasses all that is good about Benee: mature in sound, yes, but whimsical, playful and assured all at the same time.

Like many of her musical peers, vulnerability in songwriting is one of Bennett’s strengths. Though, unlike most of those peers, Bennett has dyslexia. A condition that, she says, means much of her music just “doesn’t make sense”.

“Often things I put out just aren’t grammatically correct, but songwriting is something where I don’t actually have to be right,” she explains. “I think there’s a lot of songs out there with verses that don’t make any sense, but they have a cool meaning. So I have a lot of fun playing around with that.”

Gone are the days when music was a space for flexing aspects of your newfound status or wealth. Young artists like Bennett are proving that success can well and truly come when layers of your personality are exposed through your songwriting.

“I get a lot out of being able to vent and put my vulnerabilities on a track,” she says. “Maybe a week before it gets released, I have a moment where I think, ‘Oh shit, people are going to hear these lyrics, and this is a deep song written during a complex time.’ But I guess that’s all part of it.”

Another part of ‘it’, as she so wholesomely refers, are the milestones that come with industry success. When I ask her to reflect on the big moments so far, what’s interesting is that the majority of them are adjacent to her home country.

One followed the March Christchurch terror attacks, after which Bennett was asked to perform at the You Are Us/Aroha Nui Charity Concert (“I’m a cry baby anyway, but that just tipped me over the edge”). Another was the opportunity to record a te reo Māori version of her song ‘Soaked’ (“that was an emotional experience”) and the third, was meeting Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (“I definitely embarrassed myself, but it was okay”).

“I sound so cheesy, but I just love New Zealand so much,” she explains. “When I go to places like LA and stuff, it’s just crazy. There are so many people. And while it’s definitely cool in its own way, I love that I have this place to come home to that is just so chill. This nice little isolated island at the bottom of the earth, that’s home.”

beneemusic.com

This article was originally published in Fashion Journal 193. You can read it here.


Styling credits

LOOK ONE
GUN SHY
 U.F.O JACKET, ACNE STUDIOS CLASSIC FIT JEANS IN HOLOGRAPHIC, ACNE STUDIOS TECHNICAL SNEAKERS
LOOK TWO 
GANNI SEERSUCKER CHECK MINI DRESS, HOLIDAY KOKOMO PANTS, BALENCIAGA TRIPLE S CLEAR SOLE SNEAKERS
LOOK THREE
SANDY LIANG
 DEAN FLEECE JACKET, NEUW DENIM MAGAZINE WIDE JEANS, BALENCIAGA TRIPLE S CLEAR SOLE SNEAKERS, METAL COUTURE RINGS
LOOK FOUR
ACNE STUDIOS
RIBBED POLO NECK SWEATER IN FLOU RED, STAMMBAUM FISHING VEST, NEUW DENIM MAGAZINE WIDE JEANS,  METAL COUTURE RINGS
LOOK FIVE
SANDY LIANG DEAN FLEECE JACKET, ACNE STUDIOS RIBBED POLO NECK SWEATER IN FLOU RED, METAL COUTURE RINGS
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