Lockdown can be very, very lonely, but for New Zealand alt-pop star Benee, isolation has firmly worked in her favour. Her 2019 single ‘Supalonely’ became the defining sound of quarantine life in March, going viral on TikTok as music fans took its message to heart. Now certified Platinum in eight countries, Stella Rose Bennett’s “I’m a lonely bitch” refrain is to thank for a meteoric rise to fame, complete with performances on American TV and numerous award nominations.
Given her immense success, the 20-year-old’s debut album, ‘Hey u x’, carries high expectations. But the Auckland native is no one-hit wonder; this is an ambitious, adventurous feat that shows off Benee’s pop-hook panache and genre-bending range. Having recently set up her own record label, the new release also demonstrates the singer’s astute A&R skills, with a striking list of guest features that range from edgy pop queens Grimes and Lily Allen, to Atlanta rapper Flo Milli and Australian indie-pop hero Mallrat.
Far from hiding behind her collaborators, Benee holds her own on ‘Hey u x’. The solitary heart-break of ‘Supalonely’ is old news on ‘Plain’ featuring Lily Allen and Flo Milli: “you went out with that? / oh that makes me real sad” is a piercing retort to an ex who’s moved on. Grimes-starring ‘Sheesh’, meanwhile, is a thrilling dive into drum’n’bass, as Benee tries to make sense of new, BMW-driving suitor. Sonic games continue via chunky rhythms on ‘Snail’, a lyrically minimalist bop inspired by lockdown daydreams, that captures the charm of Benee’s fun and quirky songwriting.
The album’s 13 tracks reflect Benee’s open approach to music, skipping from edgy, futuristic production to the easy-going melodies of ‘Same Effect’ showcases her versatility. But underneath the consistently catchy choruses, there’s a sense of unease; the jazz-inspired vocal riffs of ‘Night Garden’ featuring Kenny Beats & Bakar paint a picture of paranoia, whilst ‘Happen To Me’ soundtracks sleepless, anxious nights.
Despite the streams and adoration, Benee feels like a social outsider: “I’m not very cool / I suck, I want to be like you”, she bemoans over funky bass on ‘Kool’. Really though, ‘Hey u x’ is the sound of a pop star who’s resolutely herself and, ultimately, there’s nothing cooler than that.
- Release date: November 13
- Record label: Republic Records