The burgeoning star talks quarantine, cursing in music, and her upcoming debut album.

By Marc Hirsh
August 21, 2020 at 10:00 AM EDT
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BENEE
Credit: Harry Were

Benee is chill about you pronouncing her name wrong. "I find it quite entertaining," says the "Supalonely" singer of the urge to rhyme it with the first name of one Ms. Zellweger. "I kind of like it when people say 'Benée…' because it's kind of bougie. Or if people say 'Beanie.' I'm like, Oh, that's cute too."

For the record, the nom de pop of 20-year-old Stella Bennett is pronounced like "… and the Jets," and if she doesn't have electric boots (yet), she does have an armful of New Zealand Music Awards and a pile of gold and platinum records in her home country. With the sing-song sad-sackery of "Supalonely" currently la la la la-ing its way up Top 40 radio and the Hot 100, a new single (the joyously blippy "Snail"), and a debut full-length on the way, EW spoke to Benee the day New Zealand returned to lockdown about success in the time of coronavirus and why she's fine if you don't like her music.

What is it like having your breakthrough moment during a global pandemic?

It's pretty strange. I mean, it's the first time it's ever happened to me, so I'm not used to it or anything. It's crazy, but I feel like it's kind of nice, because I don't have to move anywhere. I don't really have to do all the stuff that you would usually have to do if you had a song that was doing something. I've just been literally in the same spot doing Zoom calls.

Is there any validation in the fact that because you can't go through any of the standard promotion machinery, the song is blowing up entirely on its own merits?

Yeah. I think that is pretty cool, being able to just be here and watch it do its own thing. It's [like] watching a child live its life. It's fun.

Have there been any frustrations about not being able to go on tour?

Yeah. Definitely. Like, I say that saying in the same spot and doing everything is cool, but there are also downsides to that, because I don't get to go out and I don't get to tour, which was what I was meant to be doing this year. That was my whole year. It was just me going and doing my biggest tours. And obviously I had to cancel all those. So I guess there's that. And also, I did the [Jimmy] Fallon thing and the Ellen thing, but I didn't actually get to go. [Laughs] But I guess you just got to make it work.

You wrote and recorded "Snail" just after New Zealand reopened from lockdown.

Mm-hmm. Yass. [Laughs]

Now that you've gone back into lockdown, do you feel like you have to scrap it, like "That didn't work"?

[Laughs] Oh, golly. I don't know, I think "Snail" is still a lockdown song. So even listening to it now I feel like I can still relate to it. And the rest of the world is still… It felt very weird for a little while in New Zealand, because we were going to gigs and we were doing very normal stuff. And it kind of felt too good to be true, because I have a lot of friends, obviously, in the States who are still posting about wearing a mask, and I'm like, Oh my gosh, okay, reality check. The rest of the world is still very much deep inside this pandemic. Yeah, I don't know. It's crazy. But we kind of knew that this would happen, to be honest, that we would go back into it. And yeah, "Snail" is still in the lockdown vibe. It's not so much like, "We're all free!"

On "Supalonely," you're sort of wallowing in your own sadness, but it is an extraordinarily buoyant and effervescent little pop song. So it does have that down in the trough and up on the rooftop [feeling] at the same time.

It does, yeah. I think writing it, I was trying to be super self-deprecating, because it was a breakup song and I was poking fun at myself for being sad. I don't know, with most of my music, I think, the themes are quite sad but I'll want to keep it kind of upbeat and happy to contrast.

Did you object to having to deliver a radio edit of "Supalonely" that changed the line "I'm a lonely bitch" to "I'm a lonely chick"?

I preferred saying "bitch." I think that it sounds a lot cooler. And I think that it really gets the true feeling out there, and it was exactly what I was feeling when I was writing it. I really wanted to swear in that. I always feel like when you change a swear word, it always sounds a little bit lamer. But, look, if it's getting played on radio, I shouldn't be complaining. Whatever works is fine. But no, it sounds cooler when I swear. In my opinion.

How is it watching a single from your last EP blow up at the same time you're trying to drum up interest in your upcoming album?

Oooh. I mean, to be honest, I'm gonna put that single in the album. I don't know, it's awesome having that success from that song and I'm just hoping that people like it enough to be interested in hearing what I have to put out next. I think that what I put out next is gonna be very different to that song, though. But that's my whole catalog. I feel like that's what I'm trying to do with everything, is just to put out a song that sounds entirely different from anything else I've made. So I don't know. I'm just hoping that people like it. But if they don't, that's also cool, because music. That's what it's there for. There's a lot to like and not like.

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