BENEE and Gus Dapperton turn breakup blues into sunny pop on Supalonely
The 20-year-old Kiwi pop kid premieres her vibrant new music video exclusively on i-D.
Photo by Imogen Wilson.
Stella Bennett, aka BENEE, has a come up story that’s become increasingly common. A young internet savvy musician records a few song covers in their bedroom, uploads them to SoundCloud, and catches the ear of a manager with a knack for fostering budding young talent. Except unlike most of her peers, Stella went on to sweep a national music awards ceremony after releasing her debut EP FIRE ON MARZZ, taking home four coveted honors in one prophetic night.
“It was pretty insane. I did not expect any of it,” says the 20-year-old Auckland native, who won best solo artist, single of the year, best pop artist, and breakthrough artist at the 2019 New Zealand Music Awards. “The whole night was a bit of a crazy thing and it doesn’t really feel real now. I don’t really understand it, but it was a very surreal experience and a very cool night.”
With a second EP, STELLA & STEVE, making waves in its own right and a headlining US tour on the books for 2020, it’s clear BENEE has sustained momentum. Today, the artist is premiering the music video for “Supalonely,” exclusively with i-D. The track features a funky verse from Gus Dapperton, and turns your typical breakup song on its head. We caught up with BENEE to hear all about it, her favorite Kiwi bands, and subverting the sad girl trope.
How did you get into music?
Growing up I was always surrounded by a creative, music-y scene; both my parents are in the creative industry. I learned the saxophone when I was eight and then asked my parents if I could learn the guitar, and I went to a girls-only school where music was compulsory for four years. When I was probably 17, I started to properly make and record my own music.
What kinds of bands were you going to see growing up?
There are a lot of classic New Zealand bands that I would go to see. We have a band called Fat Freddy’s that’s kind of like a dub-reggae band—it’s a classic Kiwi band that everyone loves. We also had these rappers in my neighborhood—one was called Savage, who was pretty cool and had a very New Zealand sound. That’s who I went and watched. In terms of who I listened to, it was a bunch of stuff that my parents played like Björk and Radiohead.
How did you go from playing music in high school to working with the guys of Leisure?
I had released a few SoundCloud covers and they got me in contact with my now-manager Paul [McKessar] and my producer, Josh Fountain. I did Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy;” I did “Special Affair” by The Internet—I really liked them at the time. I did “Ocean Drive’ by Duke Dumont, but I played the guitar and made it very slowed down, and I also did “Back to Black” by Amy Winehouse. After I released a few covers, I went to the studio and released my first song called “Tough Guy.” Then I released “Soaked,” which got a bit more attention than the first one and was a heads-up moment for my music that allowed me to quit my pizza making job and my washing dishes job. I could fully commit to full-time music.
You’ve talked before about having dyslexia—how does that factor into your songwriting?
In high school, writing was a matter of being grammatically correct—you didn’t have much that you could do in terms of being creative when you were doing an english essay. But we had a creative writing topic once a year and I loved to write about stuff that didn’t really make sense and make up stories. When I found that songwriting was this other thing I could do where I didn’t have to be right when I’m writing and could explore different themes, I felt like I had the freedom to do whatever I wanted with words.
When you got into the studio to start recording, what was your sonic approach?
I didn’t know exactly what kind of music I wanted to make right away, it took a little while for me to find the sound that I really wanted to commit to. We had a lot of songs that didn’t work out. They were cool, but not exactly what I wanted. The first song that I made where I was like, 'Oh yeah, this is what I want to do,' was “Tough Guy.” I was listening to a song by Rihanna on the radio, “Wild Thoughts,” and was like, 'Oh my god, this guitar part is cool. I want to write something like that into a song.' So, I kind of got a similar guitar sound and made that the intro.
“Soaked” blew up pretty quickly after being released—what was it like to go from relative anonymity to being played around the world?
Pretty crazy, to be honest. I did not expect anything. It was a song that we were all happy with and thought was cool but we didn’t think that it was going to be a hit or anything, so it was pretty awesome. I remember someone sent me an Instagram DM video of them in an H&M in Hong Kong and “Soaked” was playing—that was a what-the-heck kind of a feeling.
Tell us a bit about the two EPs you released last year.
With FIRE ON MARZZ, it was older music and I’d been sitting on those songs for awhile. STELLA & STEVE was a lot more fresh. I pulled out an old song called “Find an Island” and rewrote a verse and zhuzhed it up. “Drifting” was another old song that I’d had for ages. I had a few verses that I’d written but felt it was missing something, so I went to Jack Berry, who features in it, and asked him to do something. As far as “Supalonely” and “Blue,” those were more recent songs that I had made during a trip to LA. I had just had a breakup that sparked all of this inspiration and wanted to play around with the theme of being sad about a guy because that was how I was feeling. My first session was for “Supalonely” and I just wanted to be super self-deprecating and be real shit to myself. I decided to make a real happy-sounding, upbeat song. “Blu” was recorded the day after. We had gone out the night before so we were all quite tired and sluggish and I just wanted to be really sad with it. That’s what I want to do with all my music—I want to go into a session and make something that’s in a way different than something I’ve already made. I think that’s a cool thing.
Were you intending for “Supalonely” to poke fun at the sad girl trope?
Totally, completely. Sometimes when you’re sad you’re just like, ugh, get over it! I think when I listen to music like “Supalonely” where it’s making fun of the feeling of being sad, in a way it kind of makes me feel good in a very weird way. When I hear “Supalonely” now and when I perform it I feel happy.
The video for “Supalonely” is really vibrant and very colorful, which is a great juxtaposition to the song itself.
Yeah, we definitely wanted it to be overly happy and colorful. It contrasts with the underlying sad lyrics that don’t appear to be sad when you first hear them. I definitely want the video to make people feel happy. I think totally relating to that feeling of being sad but also making fun of yourself is fun for people. It makes them happy, which is cool.
Music videos are only getting more over the top. If you could do anything for your next one, what would you do?
I reckon an action themed video could be cool—like, doing stunts could be fun. Just taking it to the extreme and going to some crazy places to film videos would be awesome.
What’s up next?
I’m working towards releasing a bigger body of work this year and I’ll also be going on a US tour. I’ve done a supporting tour with Conan Gray, but I haven’t done a proper headlining tour—I’m really excited to go to places that I haven’t been to.