If there’s one thing we’ve learned about indie-pop sensation BENEE over the past two years, it’s that she knows how to make the best of a situation. When the first coronavirus lockdown grounded much of the music industry in March 2020, the unsuspecting New Zealand singer watched her breakout single ‘Supalonely’ go viral from the comfort of her own home. Thanks to the explosion of TikTok, the platform’s biggest stars were body rolling and throwing up “L” hands to the song’s irresistible hooks, which has now reached a staggering four billion streams. Then, she managed to recruit the likes of Grimes and Lily Allen for her debut album ‘Hey u x’, which NME described as “the sound of a pop star who’s resolutely herself”.
Now BENEE is back with new EP ‘LYCHEE’, which she says brought a happier “energy” compared to her debut record. But the seven-track project still sees the singer weave real vulnerabilities into the largely “made up stories” behind the songs. From stripped-back ruminations on her mental health on lo-fi track ‘Doesn’t Matter’, to limber melodies and playful quips about dating on ‘Beach Boy’, the latest EP sees BENEE hone her lyrical and sonic range. We caught up with the singer for the latest in NME’s In Conversation series to hear about the creative process behind ‘LYCHEE’, stories of collaborations from her debut album, and plans for more music coming this year.
The music video for ‘Beach Boy’ was inspired by her love of Twilight
Having described sunkissed single ‘Beach Boy’ as “perfect for cruising down the freeway”, it seemed like an unlikely choice to channel the occult in the music video. “I was originally thinking, ‘let’s make it like a beachy date-y, kind of parody video,’” she explains of the early brainstorming. Reuniting with ‘Supalonely’ collaborator Rory Pippan, the director first suggested a demonic theme, but BENEE envisioned a slightly different direction. “We had this other discussion on the phone, and I was like, ‘I want a vampire moment’. I obviously love Twilight, and he had this weird idea of this vampire admirer dude, who is like my boyfriend in a video for a day.” The singer also confirms that she’s Team Edward all the way, who she jokes “would have been great in the music video.”
Lily Allen and Flo Milli collaboration ‘Plain’ almost sounded very different
BENEE’s 2020 debut ‘Hey u x’ featured an array of collaborations, including ‘Sheesh’ with Grimes who the singer says she “looks up to” as an artist. But on the track ‘Plain’ featuring Lily Allen and Flo Milli, there was initially a slight misfire from Allen about the song’s angle, which serves as a swipe at an ex’s new girlfriend. “I hopped on a quick call with Lily because she was writing her verse with my friend Jenna Andrews, and we were having a conversation about the lyrics,” BENEE says.
“We kind of had this miscommunication because they originally wrote this verse which was like, dissing me. And I was like, ‘no, no, we’re all banding together to diss an ex.’” She clarified that the song was actually an “anthem” with the three artists coming together. “So I had to have a call with them and be like, ‘we’re all together in this one, it’s not like hating each other’. It was kind of funny”.
Being diagnosed with OCD helped her grow creatively
Having been open in the past about struggles with her mental health, BENEE channelled these experiences into the poignant track ‘Doesn’t Matter’.“Maybe I’m consumed by my mental / Does it hurt me? / Maybe, oh well / If I medicate would it help me? / Cause I’m hurting / I feel unwell,” she sings. She reveals that the song came about around the time she was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, and explains that this, together with medication, made her a “completely different person”.
“I kind of was a little bit hesitant to go on anything because I was like: ‘is it gonna change my personality? Is it gonna make me less creative?’” she says. But it ended up having the opposite effect. “I just had this happy energy where I was like, ‘I feel like a little bit more myself now’. I went to LA for the trip as the meds had just kicked in. So I was stoked and I was like, ‘I’m ready to make some fresh music’. Because the stuff that I’d been making at home was just not it.”
Running her own label is her “dream job”
On ‘Hey u x’, BENEE took the opportunity to champion fellow New Zealand artist Muroki, who has since signed to her own label Olive Records. She’s also bringing him on the Australia leg of her upcoming world tour, along with recently signed band There’s A Tuesday for the New Zealand dates. She beams as she describes the joy of being a cheerleader for her fellow home-grown talent. “I feel like it’s like my dream job,” she says, explaining that the focus of the label is to be “artist friendly”, so newcomers can enjoy an all round positive first signing. “[It’s] doing everything that I don’t want to have to deal with, or maybe things that I’ve dealt with that have been bad with labels,” she says.
She’s featuring on at least seven new songs coming soon
After hosting a series of major guest features on her debut album, BENEE’s now reversed the roles and is set to feature on a number of upcoming tracks by other artists. “I’ve got so many feature songs with artists,” she says, keeping tight-lipped about who exactly. “I was counting them yesterday. This year people are gonna be like: ‘this girl is doing too much’. But I love featuring on people’s songs. So I’m stoked.” She estimates there are at least seven in the pipeline. “It’s fun to do features because they can be completely different to all of my music,” she adds. “There are no features on my EP, but I’ve made it up by other features.”
BENEE’s new EP ‘LYCHEE’ will be released on March 4